Dear Corporation by Adam Fell
H_NGM_N Books, 2013; 79 pp
Reviewed by Matthew Guenette
In 2010, in the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment Right of corporations to make political donations. This generally unpopular decision—a judgment made possible through the fiction of Corporate Personhood—triggers the concept for Adam Fell’s fantastic new prose-poem collection Dear Corporation.
The opening poem begins—as all 25 poems in the collection do—with the salutation “Dear Corporation,” then summons a series of directives: “Dream at night always / of your loved ones in danger…Un-hood / the windows. It’s becoming harder / and harder to tell whether the motion / detector has been triggered or it’s already / morning.” This warning reads like a statement of risk-management against the volatilities of desire and fear. And it swings both ways—against power, and against those who fight it—so that when the poem concludes with its understanding of the value of loss, of losing, it ends with what might be Dear Corporation’s decree: “Fail / ardently. Fail gloriously. Fail over and / over and over again.”
But who exactly this “you” is in Dear Corporation, this “you” who should so ardently fail, shifts from poem to poem. Is it Corporate Personhood? A protestor? A citizen? Or is it the narrator himself, whose confessions of his own corporate habits haunt the book?
To be sure, Fell’s narrator addresses corporate power, as in the poem that begins, “Say the senator meets / you in the lobby of your building.” About this senator there is “something midwestern vampiric...a glow of suspirian blood in his / sockets, an oil spill of Nick Cave hair.” This character, deceptive in a way that should surprise no one familiar with the religion of capitalism, is the classic corporate snake: cocky and cynical, “the shade of / a new false father”. And this snake dutifully plays a number of his scenes as the bully. In such poems there is a relentless, confrontational quality that feels good in the way a well-deserved “fuck you” can. But when Fell speaks to the “Dear Corporation” as if in search of decency, the book leaps in startling ways.
One of my favorite of these poems begins:
I know I will never
outlive this gritting on the pale
plasticulate of my own culpability.
I know I will never outlast this too-
human season of proms. There is too
much money involved, too much power
at stake, and I can’t stop watching…
Turns like these, where the narrator situating himself in markets of power refuses to wave off his complicity, loom throughout Dear Corporation, and they find Fell at his skillful best. Slowly the book devotes itself to an idea that Corporate Personhood—our Dear Corporation—carries out its investments, its conflicting strategies of selling junk and earning trust, within any one of us. It is a sympathetic idea, gently pushed at times, at other times more insistent, that transforms Dear Corporation into a remarkable protest, one that, by getting at the difficulties of acceptance, even forgiveness, cautiously offers clues for carrying the fight forward.