Reviewed by KAITLIN HATMAN
Tommy Pico’s IRL reads like a fragmented blog post educating its readers on the intricate interweaving of social media, race, sexuality, and mental illness. It’s a book I would recommend to anyone who spends a large portion of their day online, on their phone, texting, checking Twitter or Facebook, scrolling through Tumblr, etc.
The statements that Pico makes in IRL are as varied and diverse as the content he presents within it. The reader follows Teebs, a hopeless romantic writer whose most desired lover, the enigmatic Muse, seems to be forever just out of reach. This doesn’t stop Teebs from pursuing other relationships though – he’s got a long list of exes complete with nicknames. Alongside the romance, Teebs also struggles with homophobia on the streets of New York, the loss of his culture and language, as well as mental illness and, of course, his writing.
Within IRL, Pico demonstrates an understanding of internet and social media culture and slang that few who write about internet and social media culture are ever able to actually demonstrate. Sure, there is perhaps one or two slightly cringe-y out of date terms thrown into IRL (yes, PWN is one of them), but by and large they are easy to ignore and can be read ironically.
Pico speaks a language that most social media frequenters will understand, and uses that language artfully and with no small amount of wit:
keeps repeating on me
me me me me me me
me me me me me me
meme meme meme”
IRL demonstrates an ability to grasp and wield the proverbial sword of modern age depression humor, something which is very rarely found outside of social media platforms, let alone in a book of published poetry. In a single line, Pico manages to capture both the destructive nature of depression and insecurity, as well as the morbid comedy that arises from living with it:
last thought before
the gutting panic, before
the sure icy blackness:
I am a garbage
artist Which is my default
well for light banter tbqh
but I’m trying this new
thing called ‘Don’t be so
Pico uses a similar, and just as effective tactic when taking on issues of race and cultural appropriation:
“TBQH I’m so freakin tired
Of hearin abt everyone’s maybe
Cherokee great grandma
like, it’s past my bedtime.”
Pico’s humor is sharp and resonating and at the same time it speaks truth in volumes. This is to say nothing of the way that he has crafted his entire book and voice to reflect the nature of social media; the three fading dots used as titles between poems which effect the feeling of a real time text message conversation with the poems, the creative and realistic use of internet slang, abt, bc, yr, wd, meme, tbh, tbqh, etc., even the lack of consistent punctuation creates a feeling of alternating informality, passive aggression, or sarcasm that those who are full time residents of social media apps and websites will be well familiar with.
All of these themes interlock to form a truly inspiring, captivating and most of all, relatable story of young adulthood and the struggle to find your place within a society that seems hell bent on putting you down.
Meet the blogger:
KAITLIN HATMAN is an extraterrestrial living in secret on planet earth. She is a poet and fiction writer, occasional artist, and smalltime podcaster who loves dogs and D&D. One time she met Hulk Hogan at a Perkins.