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everything saved will be last

Publication Date: March 2021


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.

From everything saved will be last

We are all living fiction  

It never occurred
to me to open

the window, the hell
would I want

with the sky?
The sky’s stuck
in last year’s snow

or something else
soft to sink into;
maybe we’d sound

soft enough on another
planet—finding yourself

a repository for all those
things that can’t be killed.

I trust near misses
more than wounds
& someday you will

turn seventy-seven
even if you die first
& even then not

a day will pass
when you don’t

break something
for the first time.



Here are poems that crackle with intelligence and terror. Here is an awareness rueful enough to brood over the racialized call to write rage (“at least … as density not darkness”), saving the acridest ironies for pages saturated into dense, dark mirrors. And who finds what there? A reversal, a self, a piece of the poet? That mirrors may scry, reflect, and distort, Isaac Pickell works over, taking lyric’s simultaneous introspection/exhibitionism, he stands in the thick of conflicting gazes and views. This is being up in his US where “they tell us to just hang/in there ….” And who finds what there, among bricks, teeth, and matchsticks? I found a place I’ve seen before, but never at these keen angles.

—Douglas Kearney, author of Buck Studies and The Black Automation

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, author of Crawlspace and Houses

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, author of Unsolved Mysteries and Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul

About the Author

Isaac Pickell

Isaac Pickell is a Black and Jewish poet, PhD candidate, and adjunct instructor in Detroit, and a graduate of Miami University's Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing. He is the author of everything saved will be last (Black Lawrence Press, 2021) and It’s not over once you figure it out (Black Ocean, 2023). Isaac has taken a seat in all 50 states and has so much to look forward to.

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