everything saved will be last (PB) (2021)


Poetry. African & African American Studies. EVERYTHING SAVED WILL BE LAST, the debut poetry chapbook from Isaac Pickell, considers the body and the environments that hold it while navigating the personal, generational, and societal consequences of passing as white. Pickell's work pursues small moments of self, embodied memory, and politics that bleed away from the skin, toward whatever can be accessed as home, onto what remains there.

Melodic and often unsettling, this collection allows nothing passive about passing or in choosing to refuse it; Pickell's speakers do not shy away from the specter of blackface fantasies, of not always recognizing ourselves in the stories we tell. In The future was better before, the speaker questions the boundaries and permeations of identity and selfhood: When are we gonna get tired / becoming genre and cower // into the helpless terror / of being just one person // [ All my life, I've wanted skin / like that ].

Part reflection and part indictment, the meditations in these pages take aim at the long story of racial capitalism and its contemporary keepers. everything saved will be last asks the questions we should all still be asking and invites sometimes uncomfortable answers. These are poems that require sinking into, poems that will stay with the reader long after the last page.

Here are poems that crackle with intelligence and terror, and a poet who, acridly, saturates pages into dark mirrors. That mirrors may scry, reflect, and distort, Isaac Pickell works, taking lyric's simultaneous introspection/exhibitionism, he stands in the thick of conflicting gazes. This is being up in his U.S. where 'they tell us to just hang / in there...' And who finds what there? I found a place I've seen before, but never at these keen angles.--Douglas Kearney

Vulnerability and the desire for an open reconciliation with the self are key themes in Isaac Pickell's debut chapbook, alongside what it means to be a human being with an interracial heritage. Unlike some writers who identify as mixed race, Pickell does not choose the easy route of using the buffer of whiteness to his advantage, 'we could look / so pretty outside: liberty, still / that very bitter joke.' What could life outside of the white supremacist racial caste system look like? Pickell has no answers but gives us reflexive warnings: 'do not present a problem without a solution because you will get used to it.'--Nikki Wallschlaeger

In EVERYTHING SAVED WILL BE LAST, Isaac Pickell renders an ambient world of quiet objects and reverie, a peacefulness of the built environment and, simultaneously, the impossibility of maintaining this quiet, pensive world for more than a moment. In these poems, the reverie is disrupted, over and over. These poems don't give us any out. Pickell '[picks] the splinters out from history' and then '[piles] them crosswise into a cabin, ' the place we're going to dwell. This gorgeous and unnerving work picks apart the material of daily life, haunted by its location in larger structures, and itemizes what we have to work with in building something else.--Marie Buck

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Isaac Pickell
ISBN 10:
Black Lawrence Press, Inc.
Publication Date:
March 30, 2021