Before we jump into this review, I wanted to share the first poem that appears in the collection Everything Saved by Isaac Pickell.
“Today’s lesson is to complete today’s lesson”
a life without
regrets is a life
desire there is no room for
small talk when cracking
open an amethyst or you
will almost never find a butterfly
And from here, I thought this collection was going to go into all the positive things people tend to regret at the ends of their lives. The I love yous that were never uttered or the chances to bare our souls that we never took, instead keeping our emotions close to the vest. In retrospect, it makes me wonder if I’m a little bit of a romantic, something I never considered myself before. But regardless, that’s what I was expecting based on this first poem, so you can imagine my surprise when the follow-up is about Hurricane Katrina and how it flooded New Orleans.
From “my friend Kota never talks about New Orleans”
It’s best to say her story began under plastic glow-in-the-dark stars making constellations along old water creases where the glue that holds your home together once strained but didn’t buckle.
This book isn’t about what we wish we could have said. No, it’s a collection full of things we’re too afraid to talk about. The trauma and heartache that we tend to avoid, instead finding solace in the small talk and pleasantries. This is a book that gets into the bigger picture and actually has a conversation about it—and I love it for that. The exposed nerve Pickell prods in Everything Saved is raw, but so important to examine. I’m grateful for him and this collection because we’re forced to focus in on things that need to be talked about more often.
After the New Orleans poem, we get “imbrute,” a look back at when our speaker awakens to the concept of race.
I knew I was black when I was
seven-years-old and only knew
because before seven I knew
I was white.
This moment cracks open how our culture perceives individuals and how they fit into our society. This is when Pickell first takes on the self, and he then goes on to poke at it from different angles throughout the collection. Occasionally in the book, we get these negative pages, where the background is black, and the text is white. The first one talks about “how sweet—to slip / inside of whiteness / To feel nothing & / To still get full / Credit for being alive.” What’s so compelling about these poems is that he’s straddling the line between two existences in America while also providing us insight that we’re able to empathize and better connect with. This is a personal, deep, and true experience that we’re allowed to witness unfold page after page.
Everything Saved is a wonderful collection of poems about expectations. Pickell starts it off by laying the foundation for regret, but the further he launches into this viewpoint the deeper we go. He brings in communal moments, reminding us of infamous situations where black lives were needlessly lost. The subtext here is that there are two realities for people in our society. On one hand, white people are applauded for making mistakes and getting into a little trouble. Black people, on the other hand, are routinely murdered for it. I applaud the strength and bravery found in Everything Saved. Pickell refuses to back down or shy away from uncomfortable topics and—when we get down to it—that refusal is where these poems get their strength. That refusal is why these poems are so loud and deserve all the recognition coming their way.