The heaviness of corporate being: a review of “Dear Corporation” by Adam Fell

by Dinesh Raghavendra

Book  Reviewed:

Dear Corporation by Adam Fell (H_NGM_N Books, 2013)

Adam Fell says Dear Corporation is a collection of poems that deals with how he feels “about our political system, our communities, our friendships, our loves, and our general chance of survival as a species that has kept our humane soul. Poems that helped me to interrogate my own emotions and opinions about the lengths we go to make money, grab power, fulfill our greeds, or why we DON’T do that at all. They’re hopeful and hurting.” One should always be careful taking an author at his or her wordl, but these epistolary poems do hit an very specific cord in our contemporary landscape. The word landscape here is appropriate, along with writers like Edward Abbey and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and artists like ROA, Adam Fell is part of a group who are trying to bring up environmental issues through literate, lyrical, and painstakingly crafted works. Fell’s work builds on much-discussed issues that have been plaguing the American conscience from the drone bombings to the inequality debate. Timely and relevant, these poems are a welcome change in a climate where 63 percent of Republicans still believe in the existence of WMDs.

Fell’s poetry is interspersed with music and pop culture references that shows Fell wears a lot of influences on his sleeve. From the music of The Pixies, Joy Division, Neutral Milk Hotel, Titus Andronicus, and The Walkmen to the writings of Italo Calvino, Roberto Bolano, Cormac McCarthy, David Mitchell, and George Saunders. He even acknowledges Louis C.K. at the end. The seeding of contemporary culture into the works aids in keeping in mind the relevance of the pop culture as both a product of and a critique of corporate culture.

Dear Corporation has protagonists who have a well observed, passionate perspective on reality. I wish the prose had been more meticulous though. Fell does communicate his apprehensions into your mind, but at times it feels a bit tiring. This collection is a deviation from his award-winning debut “I am not a pioneer” which was about surviving the horrors of a dystopian apocalypse.

The voice in almost all these poems are at times bitter, at times tender, and mostly wry. It is, however, distinct and essential. I love how they made me feel conflicted in the beginning. I couldn’t categorize it for a while, and then I realized that while it looks cringe-worthy on the surface, its plain honesty and heartfelt sincerity at work. Fell is not disillusioned. He doesn’t judge or complain; he is just bearing witness to the suffering that has enveloped the world.

Fell’s protagonists are ordinary people. The regular Joes who lie at the heart of every endeavor. Revolution is built on these individuals; each with their own agendas and their revolution also stumbles on these same ideals. Fell seems to be hinting at the same conclusion that China Mieville reached in his novel ‘The Iron Council’ that the idea of revolution is sometimes as powerful (and perhaps a gentler force for change) than actual revolution.

The poem in which the protagonist and his lover have intercourse in the office of a subprime mortgage lender made me feel sad for the couple because what they enact as a gesture of freedom is actually a symptom of their cage. Mindless aggression towards power is essential although it will not bring about lasting change but it keeps the idea of subversion alive. The dream of insurrection runs through all the poems and adds a tinge of hopefulness for a lost generation.

The postcards with the words addressing Dear Corporation scrawled on them are poignant and insightful. Then there are images in between the poems that act as interludes and have a tinge of melancholy and reverie. Their innocence contrasts with the prose that is stark and angry. The one in which there is a bear hugging a girl from behind haunted me the most. It momentarily becalms the reader while quietly intimating the oncoming fury. We turn the pages hoping to prolong the moment, to pin down the peace in our memory then, the storm erupts.

The poems that stood out for me in this collection include the one that starts with the Tohuku tsunami. The imagery is vivid –

“A retired Buddhist undertaker

was carefully gathering the first of a

thousand bodies from what the ocean

had left behind, clearing the mud from each mouth and throat, massaging each

stiff limb living soft for identification.”

The last poem has a man in a grey hoodie throwing stones at a second-story window. The man keeps at it even though there is no response from the person or persons behind the window. There is a feeling of helplessness about the act but his persistence tilts the tone of the poem towards a hopeful mood.

Dear Corporation is thought-provoking and illuminating as a collection. There are flashes of charm and dazzling imagery in between and the protest song couched in the form of prose poems taking on the different evils of late capitalism work well. I’ll take this any day over novels about “yuppie somethings articulating generational problems” a la Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision.

That being said, I think a fair amount of anger directed at the overlords stems from people’s refusal to contemplate the values of capitalism the way the capitalists see it. (I am an apostate from this moral synthesis-I live in a city that I remember was being fondly called the “Garden city of India” but there are no longer any beautiful gardens or lakes here.) Finance is a useful tool but it is not the ultimate goal or achievement or intelligence. I’m sympathetic to people losing their jobs and if you think capitalism is just about grabbing the largest piece of the cake you are underestimating the complexity of capitalism and moralizing it in a way that disregards the various proponents and critics of capitalism who have thought on this subject beyond a moral reaction.

Consumption is toxic — value-destroying. This is true even in our daily lives. Every time we buy a good, from an iPhone to a yacht, we’re taking something of value from society and using it for our own purposes. That’s why consumerism is toxic. As long as the money is tucked away in a bank account, we’re safe. But the moment it starts to leak out, via consumption, we all become that much worse off.

The Roman historian Sallust wrote “When I was a callow young man, I plunged enthusiastically into public life. Instead of modesty, brazenness flourished; instead of self-restraint, bribery; instead of merit, avarice. My youthful weakness was corrupted and gripped by ambition. Although I refrained from the wicked ways of the rest, still the same craving for advancement that plagued them with ill-repute and jealousy plagued me too.” Rather than bemoaning the greed of the 1%, it is better to realize greed is embedded in human nature and try to build a greed-resistant system. The idea is of course part of another discussion.

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