Adam Fell, I Am Not a Pioneer, H_NGM_N BKS, 2011

[Review Guidelines]

In I Am Not A Pioneer, Adam Fell's poems limn a landscape of lust and longing, destruction and desuetude, a world filled with "the illimitable fullness" of "its own emptiness", illustrated in "Reckoner" by the attempt to fill a lake that has overnight invented itself, and which no amount of rubble, sod, shore, trees, or cliffs can fill. Though the town destroys itself to create new rubble and those gathered at its edge consider throwing themselves in, we understand this unquenchable emptiness is, of course, inside them.
     In the face of this loss and endless ending, courage endures; love and human connection endure. In "For Suzi, April 6th," the speaker has created crowds of dead, waiting "nearly still in the street outside" as he tries to explain his plan to save her. She feels guilt for the ruin of his body, which we understand (this creating of the dead, this ruin of his body) to be internal as much as the poem projects it externally. The speaker here is no "infallible hero," he is simply "scared to [his] animal blood...of what they will keep of me / and what will be grist," as the speaker of "There Must Be Something Left of the Minotaur in Me" describes the moment between being led, lowing, to the abattoir and his sudden striking out against those who are trying to herd him to his end, goring their soft bellies and running, running.
     Beyond the bravery is the desire to connect, shown in the surreal rescue of the speaker by the cheerleaders in "Bomb-Making Materials, Pt. 1." They lift him up from the blood and the burning all around, "scared up from taserpoint & plasticuffs, / from boot-necked to the young bar floor," hold him high above this fiery reality, and leave him safe—we learn in Pt. 2—where all that remains are "their footprints now just crushed grass" and his longing for them. Likewise, in "Near an Empty Fountain in the Food Court," his desire is embodied in the high school girls gathered there who "ignore the young / iridescence of their grackle necks" before disappearing to "try on brighter dresses." In "A Young Technology," the high school girls are also "filled with every kind of loneliness," but "they don't know yet that makes us powerful."
     The speaker looks from a distance at this world of brightly lit but untouchable beauty—of the cheerleaders, the high school girls, Suzi who "will survive me, I know"—and is perhaps compelled "toward a more quarantinable lust." In "Transmissions from the Satellite Heart," the image of writhing, frenetic desire kept apart from the object of that desire is crystallized in near-religious imagery:

     She stands still on the stage above them.

     She stands still as they scrape their trunks
     In oblique, apostolic agony.

But the ruins and the loneliness and the longing come through in their own stark beauty. In "Universal Healthcare," while "men take our house away / in handfuls," the speaker describes watching them,

     I see the small bones working in their wrists.
     They see the small bones working in mine.

                                         The sky has its carpals too
                                                                 and a smaller way to yawn
                                                      without its mouth rearranging;

     a white mouth blowing cold wind at us all,
     untangling summer's aigrettes from our teeth.

Again, in another poem we survey the savage landscape of a "Wisconsin emptied / of its old concussion of distance // left with only the logic / of abandoned materials" through the voice of a speaker filled with what once was ("I try to imagine there is still a Burlington / across the river, where my mother loves me"), and we arrive at the affirmation that we persist despite this destruction, this unreal excavation: "There is life still in the drainage of our skulls, / in our least love and cry and synapse."
     The emotional power of the poems is illuminated in moments of desperate connection, like in "For Suzi" when the poem climaxes as the dead have splintered the door, and the speaker calls out "I love you," followed by "please, / don't make me look at their mouths." In "Friend Poem," the speaker becomes a bridge that collapses to save the you of the poem, this time bringing with him the religious zealots who were in pursuit, and all then pass on, down to the river below, all dissolved, become one with the "world that is the collected / deepness of all of our bodies."
     These poems build this landscape of the internal, these transmissions from the satellite heart; they map the feelings of loneliness, longing, destruction, and desperate courage onto an ashen world. In "Lake Effect," the snow becomes the sad white oblivion left in the wake of two lovers now alone,

     Inside me and outside me there is a glisten without light.
     Inside me and outside me
     there is a piling of moisture that will not last the day.
     The conduit snaps shut
     and the dusk light contains her.
     I contain her. She contains me.
     I reach for her and we scatter slightly
     into the dust and cush and phosphorescence.

But this landscape does not resolve these feelings, does not make permanent by mapping; as the speaker says in "Ten Keys to Being a Champion On and Off the Field":

     I guess,            in a way,
     I am trying to tell you
     there are no answers here.

     These poems sing a ruinous beauty, a human longing for connection that survives the apocalyptic world, outlasts the attempts upon it; a love and an illimitable fullness inside the deepness of all our bodies.