Frederick Feirstein is a playwright with a dozen New York productions. He
also writes for film and television and has had eight books of poetry published,
two of which were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Among his literary awards
are a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, the Poetry Society of America’s John
Masefield Award, England’s Arvon Prize for Poetry, and the Rockefeller
Foundation’s OADR Award for Playwriting. He was co-founder of the Expansive
Poetry movement and originated the Barnes & Noble reading series. His latest
book of poems is Dark Energy.
Dark Energy is a spellbinding event, a major new book from one of our living
masters of formal (that is, musical) poetry. The immense sequence "Gravity
of the Black Hole" weaves fairy tale, classic myth, and modern psychology into a
seamless tapestry, abounding in ironies and keen insights into the lives we
lead. Moreover, a generous rasher of strong new Feirstein poems completes
one of the standout collections of this or any year. — X. J. Kennedy
Dark Energy is a feast served up by a master poet. In the opening sequence, Feirstein had a few helpers—in the kitchen, Dr. Freud,
the Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney—their insights and characters. In the anteroom,
the ghosts of Mozart, Dickinson, and William Blake. Prowling the outer
dark, death in its myriad forms, and masks. In the second sequence,
Feirstein, the poet of dream, myth and fantasy becomes the narrative, mortal,
poet of modern Manhattan and its own myths. Manhattan's myths slowly lose their
glitter. The dark prowler steps out from the shadows. The poetry is
This savvy, savage, and moving book of poems from Frederick
Feirstein, a Master formalist at the height of his powers, takes as its motto
“Teach us to be courageous and naïve.”
Feirstein knows the human condition as only a seen-it-all psychotherapist
can, and he uses his adroit rhymes to make his insights sing in
Dark Energy, a series of gimlet-eyed
and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny riffs on the material of fairy tales.
From the witch’s oven in Hansel and Gretl to the ovens of concentration
camps, from Red Riding Hood to Freud, Dark
Energy is replete with memorable aphorisms that make the transient nature of
the world comprehensible. In these
lucid, direct, thoroughly unsentimental poems from a wise man who is also a
romantic, Feirstein offers a rich appreciation of what it means to be alive. —
Disney on Parade
Wheeling down Main Street in technicolor light
Are Disney’s heroes, our mythology,
A comfort in the middle of the night.
Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Uncle Donald help.
The children of America are sick
Of war, cultural suicide, and greed.
Snow White, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp,
It’s midnight now, help us in our hour of need.
You helped us with the witch’s oven and
Her poisoned mushrooms. Goofy, Pluto please.
Those childhood traumas were much worse than these.
Teach us to be courageous and naïve.
Originally published in
Quarterly Review of Literature
Gravity of the Black Hole
Blind at first to his self-destructive drive,
The first world war would terrify and thrill him.
Likewise Freud chain-smoked cigars, although
His worried doctors told him they would kill him.
He heard the Nazi Wolf banging down doors
But closed his eyes with smoke to keep alive
Mentally, though he elegantly described
The gravity of the Black Hole — The Death drive.
Like Christ, Oedipus, Dionysus,
Freud played the role Fate cast him in.
Biology, not intellect or art
Can counteract destructiveness within.
Otto Rank who is now anonymous
Called it The Birth Trauma, where we put to sleep
Unconscious meanings in the rhyme tomb/womb.
So, the pull toward Mommy brings us six feet deep.
The mystic quest for light inside the dark
Witch’s wood always is doomed to fail.
Heroic in our search for mother’s milk,
We find poison in the Holy Grail.
So we must cherish every nanosecond
And not turn Paradise into a hell—
Public in war, private in neurosis –
But live in every nonmalignant cell.
Storytellers know what scholars learn
That we in time, because of time, must burn
And to the womb of Death we must return.
Fairytales tell us what we can’t forget;
That we are always children, to expect
The witches’ woods of trauma and neglect.
In almost every fairytale we’ve ever heard
We children can’t be seen, can’t say a word,
And know our Fate must always be absurd.
For instance, when the father suffers grief,
He sends us children to our stepmom’s double
Who puts us on a cross or bas relief.
Our task, then, is to be resurrected
By challenging the unexpected,
To re-appear the fractally perfected.
Hansel and Gretel, Snow White are the best
To learn from, learn never to trust or rest
— The poorest of us and the wealthiest.
When we toast Life, remember we’re Death’s guest.
Originally published in TRINACRIA, Fall 2011
The Prince and Cinderella: The Ending
In comedies the lucky couple wed
And didn’t hide but, wakened, frolicked in bed.
Sex and love are Life, repression Death.
Zen masters teach us: Cherish your breath,
Breathe in, breathe out; health isn’t wealth.
It’s flexibility and love of what we do,
Not say — unless we talk in rhyme
And meter where we play with Time.
Or else we’re tragic, trapped in dead metaphors,
True as clichés; trapped in fairytales
Whose plots we know, whose lessons we avoid,
Winding up lonely in the witch’s void.
“Momma don’t go/Daddy come home”
—John Lennon “Mother”
You’re left alone, you’re left alone.
Disney’s Dog Tramp buries his bone.
Alone in bed, alone in bed
You wish your fucking parents dead.
Blind with rage at the cross roads,
Oedipus, blind with rage, explodes.
Fatherless, Hansel in a cage
Dreams he’s Jesus on a stage
—The Witch’s oven, Auschwitz Hell.
Abandoned, no one acts like him so well.
Hungry, he cries and sings,
“I’ll eat the waste only Death brings.”
Dying Giants, red as autumn leaves,
Or Dwarves, white as leucocytes, form a Red Cross
How can we measure human life spans, loss?
How can we grasp what The Quintessence grieves
Or know what the primitive brain believes,
Prays to, to the Invisible above its head,
Prays for the rebirth of the almighty dead
Or understand what magic He/She pulls from sleeves?
I have no understanding anymore.
I’ve practiced yoga, psychoanalysis
Until I’ve turned into a simpleton, a bore.
We live it seems for just a mother’s kiss,
A lengthy fuck from lovers and The Muse.
We take what’s given, leave what we can’t use.