London Grip Poetry Review – Drew Pisarra

Poetry review – FASSBINDER: HIS MOVIES, MY POEMS: Charles Rammelkamp examines Drew Pisarra’s poetic tribute to the films of Rainer Fassbinder


Fassbinder: His Movies, My Poems 
Drew Pisarra
Anxiety Press, 2024
ISBN: 9798323355099
97 pp   $15.00

Drew Pisarra’s poetry collections are unique and innovative in their conception and construction. His previous book, Periodic Boyfriends, is a collection of 118 sonnets organized around Mendeleyev’s Periodic Table of Elements, beginning with Hydrogen and proceeding through the end to Oganesson. Periodic Boyfriends’s theme is romantic love. The sonnets are often funny, witty. Fassbinder: His Movies, My Poems, is similarly ingenious, the forty-six poems all referring to and mostly named for the forty-four films Rainer Fassbinder made in his short but brilliant career. Fassbinder, who died at the age of thirty-seven from a drug overdose (the same age and same manner of death as one of his idols, Marilyn Monroe) was a major figure in the New German Cinema movement, a group of postwar directors that included Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Peter Fleischmann and others. It flourished throughout the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s. The movement was influenced by the iconoclastic French New Wave art film directors (Truffaut, Godard, etc.), low budget movies with elements of noir and existentialism. They explore the aftermath of Nazism and other relevant Geman social trends and conditions.

The poems in Fassbinder proceed from Fassbinder’s first film, 1965’s eight-minute short, This Night, and move chronologically through his oeuvre to his final, incomplete works, Rosa L. and Kokain. As in Pisarra’s other work, the tone of the poems is irreverent and playful, occasionally erotic.

The collection kicks off with the villanelle, “Dear Rainer”:

I’ve never written a fan letter to anyone.
How strange to write one now, even to try.
Everyone knows you’re dead. Everyone.

Pisarra goes on to tell us, ‘But dying doesn’t mean you’re done.’ Fassbinder is both an expression of Pisarra’s themes of personal angst (death is certainly one of these) and a love letter to Ranier Fassbinder. In his Acknowledgments section (“Credits”), Pisarra lists the journals in which many of the poems originally appeared and concludes slyly, ‘Finally, ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’ was also recited by a nude model at a festival entitled ‘Lit Undressed.’ That too seems worth noting.’ How can you not be pulled into Pisarra’s sense of theater?

Fassbinder’s own career started in theater, in Munich, as actor, director and scriptwriter. He led a troupe called Anti-Theater, many of whose members, like Hanna Schygulla, worked with him throughout his career. Indeed, in “Love Is Colder Than Death,” a clever recipe poem for Fassbinder’s early films, Pissara lists 1 Hanna Schygulla as an essential ingredient, along with such things as ‘4 white corpses (male)’ and ‘2 petty criminals (shaved)’ – as well as ‘A dash of nouvelle vague.’ In the Directions, he lists other noir elements when he writes, ‘Use black market gun to off an archrival, a random waitress, an arms dealer and two undercover cops.’ The final instruction? ‘Serve cold.’ Pisarra notes that the film should be ‘88 Minutes,’ which happens to be the very length of the next film/poem in the book, “Katzelmacher,” which begins:

First I thought I’d write a poem about hate.
Then I thought I’d write a poem about gossip.
Then I thought I’d write a poem about what
it means to be mean, like what’s its meaning.

Each of the stanzas of “Katzelmacher” concludes with the line, ‘Then I masturbated.’ Fassbinder’s movie is about a Greek immigrant who joins a group of aimless young people in Munich, then the trouble begins. The reader must guess at Pisarra’s inspiration/interpretation; the poems do not regurgitate the plot but take off from the general theme, atmosphere and drama of the films. Indeed, outside of Efie Briest, Lili Marleen, and Lola, I was not familiar with most titles and googled many of them to see if I could discern the connection. Fassbinder’s Like a Bird on a Wire is inspired by a Leonard Cohen song of the same title, and Pisarra’s poem begins:

God, that eternally avant garde
indie filmmaker, says he’s going 
to shoot the story of my life.

In this cheeky poem, Pisarra tells us how God is going about making the film, his style and the equipment he uses, including:

For my teen years, God opts for
the camera on his phone. He calls
this “Cinema verité for millennials.”

God, who is very much tied up with the concept of mortality, after all, makes cameo appearances throughout. “Fear of Fear / Angst vor der Angst,” based on Fassbinder’s 1975 film, is satirically addressed to God:

Thank you God for providing so many ways to go crazy.
Thank you for traffic jams and disobedient children,
for broken smoke detectors and a job with unruly hours.

As noted, Death is a close relative to God. “Blood on the Cat’s Neck,” based on Fassbinder’s absurdist 1971 play (sometimes subtitled Marilyn Monroe vs. The Vampires), features aliens from outer space. An alien named Phoebe is described as the ‘voluptuous blonde in a torn dress.’ Sound like anyone you know? Pisarra’s poem concludes:

Death’s forward-looking,
a pragmatist who thinks like a plant.
Be still, face the sun, rise, collapse.
Be done with it all.

Gay and lesbian themes and characters are a salient aspect of Fassbinder’s films – and Pisarra’s poems – including Qurelle, Fox and His Friends, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (often cited as Fassbinder’s magnum opus), Beware of a Holy Whore, among others. They reflect the turbulence, the sheer sense of “noir” that underlies his work.

The final poem in Drew Pisarra’s Fassbinder, “Kokain,” based on another incomplete work (cocaine and barbiturates were the lethal dose that killed him) is addressed to Fassbinder, bringing the love letter to a close. It ends:

One day, I’m going to be a movie.
I’m going to move at 24 frames per second 
and spin my own wheels and be fluid,
transparent. I’ll project fire and burn orange 
and black until the image disappears,
dissolves and glamorously self-destructs.

You know what that’s like.
And if not, you should.