Vincent Ferrini: The Initiations
by Craig Stormont
Itís impossible to summarize Vincent Ferrini; his energy defies it. Heís ninety years old now, yet he still drives his car around Gloucester. Itís difficult to believe that heís as old as he is because heís so full of life. The man has more vigor than most people half his age, and that can be attributed to something he tends to say a lot in conversation: ďMy subject is life!Ē Vincent knows his subject well and heís mastered it. His priorities are in an order conducive to longevity.
I initially contacted Vincent in order to collect some facts concerning Charles Olson and Gloucester from someone who would know. What I had read suggested that he and Olson became and remained close friends until the latterís death, but I didnít actually believe it. After Olson attacked him in ďLETTER 5Ē of The Maximus Poems (1953), how could they possibly maintain a sincere friendship? It was more than a year later when Vincent invited me to his home on E. Main St. in Gloucester for the interview that follows; then I learned how. His response to Olson was a thirty-two paged ďlove poemĒ titled ďIn the ArrivingĒ(1954). After leaving Vincent that day, I realized that Olson was fortunate to have had him for a friend.
Vincent knows that the world doesnít revolve around him, and heís been aware of that for some time. His altruism is clear as far back as 1941 with the publication of No Smoke, which details the Depression-era predicaments others find themselves in, not his own. Olson, who had argued for the extrication of the ego in ďProjective VerseĒ (1950), witnessed a living example of such a movement beyond the self in Vincent. Iím convinced that Olson made amends for his earlier attack by proclaiming Vincent a ďCo-kingĒ of Gloucester in ďFerrini Ė IĒ(1963). Vincent now holds the title Poet Laureate of Gloucester, and deservedly so.
Vincentís aesthetic goal is and has always been the integration of art and life. Where his life is concerned, heís succeeded remarkably in achieving that end. If every town and city had a poet with the artistic devotion and concern for others that Vincent has shown and written, the conditions of all our lives might be much improved. Thank you, Mr. Ferrini. Itís an honor to know you.
Vincent Ferrini: Thatís a heavy subject. You know why?
Craig Stormont: Egomania?
VF: I run across it all the time. And itís offensive! Because you canít move into a conversation this creative because they have to face it right up there and they have to pay attention to their face and their posture and everything else about them because theyíre coming on strong. They have a feeling of fear! Thatís why they come up strong. You understand?
VF: Otherwise timeíll get a hold of them and push them aside. Where the hell were you? I was here. Nobody paid attention.
CS: Did you read Olson like that? When Olson was alive? You had said that he was in your face.
VF: He was in my face. But nicely.
CS: In a good way?
VF: Thatís right. Curiously, and he was also very friendly. He loved people. If you give him the floor, heís got the floor. See, he liked that, and he impressed a lot of people with his stature, his force, and his learning.
CS: He was a scholar.
VF: I mean, when I read that ďFerrini--IĒ! I was stunned!
CS: Can you explain?
VF: I read it three times - over my head. I got a little book there in my library called the dictionary of mythology. I read that (bangs hand down) - it was a great poem. But he comes up as though- through the serpent heís gonna kill me and resurrect me. So I asked Ralph Maud. I said, ďHave you read that poem?Ē Well, I didnít get the feeling as though he really read it because he didnít remember it, or did he?
VF: And so, when he put out these Selected LettersÖ
CS: That just came out.
VF: The way he placed letters to me there, especially toward the end. When Olson says, ďYeah, ok, everythingís ok, everythingís fine, you know, youíre carrying on the work of the creation.Ē So he put that in for a sense of chronology, so that people would understand - well he did his job in ďLetter 5,Ē but he made up for it toward the end. You see?
CS: When he calls you his brother?
VF: To get himself off the hook.
CS: He regarded you as a brother?
VF: As a brotheróyeah, definitely, but also as a threat.
VF: I came into his territory.
CS: Oh, you mean Gloucester?
VF: He knew that No Smoke was set in Lynn, and he thought I would do Gloucester.
VF: So he tried to wipe me out.
CS: So you felt that there was kind of a competition between the two of you for Gloucester as a territory?
VF: Oh in this city, oh God, itís strong. He was an intellectual and, when his pieces came out, oh you know, his poems and the letters to the editor. When he comes through, even now, they wonít pay attention to him because they canít understand him. The Gloucester Daily Times wrote a poem, ďAppearing for Vincent FerriniĒ and the City Council made me Poet Laureate, through Gus Foote, who nominated me. It was unanimous.
CS: I read about that. Youíre the Poet Laureate of Gloucester.
(Sound of banging)
VF: One guy who publishes a magazine out on the West coast, his name is Roger Taus, he said when that editorial poem came out that Gloucester saw what was going on, and Olsonís probably in his grave gnashing his teeth.
CS: Do you mind if I ask you these questions? The specifics?
VF: Ok. You can ask me. That would save time.
CS: Are you working on anything now?
VF: Yeah Iím working all the time. People ask me, ďAm I working, am I doing any writing?Ē I just say, ďIím breathing.Ē Iím breathing because Iím alive with my breathing. Iím alive with my words, whether on paper or not on paper. You get it?
VF: Iím in a different place than most poets are. I donít consider myself a poet. I consider myself an alchemist. I want to change the structure of society and people so they can come across fulfilling their private lives. The golden element that they possess and are asleep on. You understand?
CS: Yeah. That has to do with your whole aesthetic approach.
VF: It has to do with who I am, what I am, what Iím doing, why I do it, and all that.
CS: The integration of art and life.
VF: Thatís right.
VF: You innovate and you integrate Ė the unity of art and life. Thatís it in a nutshell. I donít separate the two.
CS: You were very critical of the situation of the American worker in No Smoke, when you wrote that.
VF: Critical of the American worker, well yeah.
CS: The situation in which they were being used?
VF: They were used, yeah. The exploitation.
VF: That was very bad and it came on strong. And if it wasnít for Franklin Delano Roosevelt we wouldíve had a revolution. He provided, through Congress, Social Security and Medicare. Without that, I mean, hey.
VF: Can you see the country as it was?
CS: The country wouldíve been pretty screwed up. Do you think that the treatment of the American worker has improved over the years, or do you view the situation as being relatively the same?
CS: Being the same?
VF: The American worker now is-- The guy that caused all the problems is Reagan.
R-a-y-g-u-n. Reagan. He deregulated the laws. I go to a store to buy some vitamins and thereís, uh, cotton with about maybe sixty capsules, seven dollars. Now itís eleven dollars and fifty capsules. Can you understand that?
CS: I know.
VF: Itís the system. Bush is bad for America. Very bad. He goes drilling for oil in those sovereignties that are private and belong to the people. Weíre in trouble!
CS: And I donít think itís a coincidence that heís in the oil business.
VF: Yeah. The working class, especially the unionsÖ let me put it this way, very simply. The Soviet Union was an example of a possible socialist society. When it collapsed, free enterprise came on. Free enterprise is now riding on the four horses of the apocalypse. Free enterprise Ė sheís riding roughshod. Theyíre getting away with murder. This way the unions have been deballed. Maybe the working people will raise their balls and fight back. But they donít fight back. In Lynn, I wrote No Smoke. In Gloucester I wrote Know Fish. Know fish. K-N-O-W. Know fish. Iím working with the community to change and better their lives. I go to the City Council, and there (pointing) are letters I wrote to the City Council and speeches I gave there. All my life in Gloucester is in those four Volumes. Now the people here are beginning to understand that this is an important city, and they love it, and theyíre fighting for it. Thatís a change of quality, and thatís why they made me Poet Laureate.
CS: So what you want to see is a revolt?
VF: I want to see a recreation of the city where the democratic process becomes available to everybody, and intelligently, theyíll know how to vote (slapping his knee to emphasize the point)!
CS: OK. So youíre not advocating a violent revolution or--
VF: No no.
CS: Öoverthrow of the power structure.
VF: What we have to have is an evolution of the spirit.
VF: Evolution of the spirit or an evolution of revolution. You understand?
VF: Weíre a democratic country, but we donít exercise it. That example of, uh, Rehnquist, saying, ďStop the votes.Ē From that time on, the Supreme Court is no longer sacrosanct. Bush is a thief!
CS: Oh. You mean back in the Bush and Gore-- that whole Florida fiasco with Bush and the vote.
VF: Thereís now a party of people unelected to pass the laws.
CS: I agree. Mike Gold wrote reviews of No Smoke and he was fond of it.
VF: He did. In the Daily Worker.
CS: What was your relationship with Michael Gold like?
VF: He came to Gloucester to spend the weekend at my house at 3 Liberty St. He played the recorder. Beautiful human being. A wonderful guy. He wrote Jews Without Money and a weekly column in the Daily Worker called ďChange the World.Ē
CS: Did you keep in touch with him after that?
VF: Yeah, but we didnít exchange too many letters because he was busy all the time. And then I didnít get any closer there because I was going through some problems working out my own concerns about where the communist party was and how they operated.
CS: That comes right into my next question.
VF: He was the only guy in the left movement that paid attention to me except for Walter Lowenfels. Walter Lowenfels said I was the last proletarian poet.
CS: Butterick (Olsonís editor) states that you were a member of the communist party.
CS: You were?
VF: Yeah. I was!
CS: What difficulties did you endure as a result of that affiliation? Do you think that had any affect on your status as a poet?
VF: Not my status as a poet but my status as a living person working in General Electric.
CS: You took a lot of flack for it over there?
VF: Yeah. An incident occurred where they said they saw somebody dumping oil from the ceiling there onto rolls of wires. And they asked me, and they looked at me, and they figured I was responsible for that.
VF: I said thatís it, Iím leaving.
CS: They tried to blame you for it?
VF: Yeah. It was cruel and stupid and when peopleís emotions are locked into a state of being, you know what happens, they canít see correctly. They get blinded.
CS: Do you think they were trying to physically injure you? Did that have-
VF: I donít get it.
CS: Well, if that oil had hit the wires you could have been electrocuted or something.
VF: The rolls of wire were covered with insulation.
VF: Well, they were looking at me.
CS: They blamed you for it?
VF: No, they didnít blame me, they pointed at it and they looked at me. You know? Without saying a word. I didnít know what they hell they were talking about or thinking about. I said itís time to go, and so I left it and I came to Gloucester.
CS: Do you consider yourself a Marxist today?
VF: No. Marxism came from Hegel. Hegel said thesis, antithesis and synthesis. The holy triangle. If the Russians, when they had power, utilized thesis, antithesis and synthesis, they wouldíve been a powerful nation. But the communist party, made of people, ordinary people with holier than thou egos destroyed it.
CS: So you blame egotism for the downfall of the USSR. OK.
VF: And corruption, and the American fear and hatred of the USSR influenced by the ruling oligarchy here.
CS: My next question concerns your opinion of the current administration in Washington, but I think youíve already answered that one. OK. I noticed that you have a poem in here, in The Indweller/Emperor of Mars, called the ďRhapsody of the GodfishĒ thatís concerned with Bill Clintonís indiscretions, but you seem sympathetic toward him.
VF: Well, yeah.
CS: Is that your intention? Do you think Bill Clinton was a good president?
VF: Did you read the poem?
VF: OK. What I wanted to show in the poem is sexuality as part of mankind and part of womankind. OK?
VF: Natural. Itís natural; itís a God law. God is revealed in sex. I was trying to show that all through history sex has been a big, big item in peopleís lives. Now this guy here made a cowardly mistake. If he said, ďYeah, I did and I enjoyed it!Ē that wouldíve stopped everything cold right then and there. But he didnít have the balls and he didnít have the intelligence, nor the foresight to see it and understand it, and he lost out.
CS: So you think he wouldíve been a greater man had he come clean?
VF: Yeah! They would have said, ďOh my God, that guyís got guts!Ē
CS: He wouldíve been a hero.
VF: Yeah. Who knows.
CS: I agree.
VF: First president who came out and said, ďYeah, I did it and I enjoyed it.Ē
CS: Yeah, and all the other ones before me have done it too.
VF: He lost his opportunity.
CS: Yeah, he blew it. OK. Ecological concerns appear to have become more important to you over the years.
VF: Oh yeah.
CS: And what changes would you like to see regarding environmental issues?
VF: Well, Iíll give you an example. There is the local and the global. Combine the local and the global and youíre working with ecology. Gloucester now is going to have a meeting, next Tuesday, the twenty-fourth. The Planning Board is going to work on the law about open space, affordable housing, and how theyíre going to organize that. How theyíre going to make the money. Theyíre hoping to meet on a specific calendar date, Tuesday. Iím going there.
CS: But what does that have to do with the environment though?
VF: Itís called a Community Preservation Act.
VF: Ok. The Community Preservation Act. Itís going to go on the November ballot. You oppose it and it wonít work (he reads):This means that this important source of funds and about three key purposes of historic preservation, open spaces and affordable housing, will go on the ballot as a propose percent surcharge on the tax bill and there will be three exemptions. All seniors and low-income households will be exempted as well as owners of commercial industrial property.
So, in other words this is one phase of where the people are going to vote on what they want to see done in Gloucester. Participation in democracy is going to affect their lives. Now thatís only one phase. As they seeóas you know fish. See, the fish are not only in the ocean the fish are in the human body. Once people know that the fish are in the body, theyíll say, ďWell jeez I want to have a good body, I want to have a good life, I want to enjoy myself, and I want to be in touch with myself so that all these anti-forces donít come in to destroy me.Ē Once you get that sense of personal love of life, personal love with your body and your mind you relate that to the community. Once youíve made the connection between yourself and the community-- Itís in one of those books there.
CS: The Community of Self.
VF: The Community of Self! That phrase there is so simple. Iíve been working on this all my life. I even have diagrams on how to achieve that, so people become aware. What good is a poet if he canít communicate his enthusiasm, his feeling about literature and life to common people? See? Olsonís in way over their head, and Iím down here. But itís good that heís up there and Iím down here because you know why? Between the two of us we cover the whole shabang. He was also a playful guy. I enjoyed being with him a lot. I understood him. And there was one time we had a session or a conference celebrating Olson at the City Hall.
CS: Yeah in í95.
VF: Were you there?
CS: No, I wasnít. I was just learning about Olson at that time.
CS: The, what did they call it, the Charles Olson Celebration. I believe that was the name of it.
VF: Yeah. It was a floodtide of love. All of his special friends of fame were there. Sanders highlighted it with the Dogtown songs.
CS: Ok. Butterick states that your aesthetic goal centers on the integration of life and art.
CS: What influence did your friendship with Olson have in that regard? Did he play any role in your aesthetic concern for the integration of art and life?
VF: No. No. None at all. Heís a teacher. Heís a poet. I donít consider myself a poet like he is. Like I said before, Iím an alchemist. Working with Matter and Spirit. Helping ears to move into the golden Here and Now. For the perfect combination that is eternityís. One poem that can exemplify that is called ďThe GoldĒ (he reads):
The suddenness flowers have
startled the air
with their fire and ether
as we do with what is ours
because we are
the gardeners of each other.
Itís all there. Itís clear from where I live, and he worked and talked and demonstrated his belief in his poetics. To train poets to master their medium. In doing that perhaps changing people to come forth on their own, for their greater good, and from my perspective, societyís.
CS: Can you elaborate on how you see yourself as a catalyst?
VF: Yeah, Iím a cauldron for changing behaviors in others that are self-destructive, by how I live in society. I turn the ground over and plant ideas for the reader. I live in my body. Iím familiar with my body and I know what my body loves. My body loves laughter. My body loves to be happy. My body does not like getting diseases. And so, I figure that if I become healthy and I dance on the Earth, Iíll exemplify art in action. Poem in Action, which is a film my nephew Henry Ferrini made, one hour long. Have you seen it?
CS: No, but Iíve heard about it.
VF: You have got to see it. It tells you all about who I am. And it shows you what I do and how I live. Itís a very important film.
CS: I intend to check it out.
VF: Yeah, check it out. Poem in Action. Thatís the title of it. So Iím a poem in action. Iím not in the paper. You get it? Iím talking with you right now!
CS: Can you discuss an instance of your alchemy?
VF: During Bushís period of stealing the election, his preparations for the War in Iraq, the War itself, and after it, my stomach was a mass of knots. The sickness of the human condition laid me low. I went to the hospital for a vacation to get rid of that poison, in my social body. I spent nine days and nights at the Addison Gilbert Hospital being drained of that mess with the ulcers of that ordeal. Not long after, it came to me why I was so deeply involved. I remembered two lines of a poem in a 1967 book (he quotes his poem):
I have the world and all its creatures
dear to me is the idiom of their natures
I canít cure humanity of its dilemmas. I canít do it alone, so I relaxed and shed the national international burden. I had the answer and the root cause in my personal constitution. The light opened up the darkness of that powerful underground.
CS: Someone said the thing they appreciated about Olson was the fact that he lived his life as if it were a poem. Do you see any kind of similarityó?
VF: No. Heís an intoxicating poet and a teacher. Heís a bookworm, a disturber of the status quo in the art of poetry. Iím in action; heís in words and on paper. Heís also before the students and anyone he could seduce to listen all the time. Heís into education. Iím not into education - Iím into action. Iím moving into my city. Heís never moving into anything like that. I do! Heís written a number of letters, but he didnít sustain it. He tells you what he thinks and thatís it. Me, Iím here. Iím bodily here. Affecting peopleís lives, affecting the city council, affecting everything that goes on. Thereís a big difference.
CS: Do you think he had any effect on the City Council at all when he spoke there?
VF: They didnít know what the hell he was talking about!
CS: He would speak asólike he wrote?
VF: He spoke like he wrote, yeah.
CS: And they just were lost.
VF: Thereís a guy by the name of Peter Anastas who put his letters to the paper together in a book. Olsonís letters to the Gloucester Daily Times.
CS: Iíve read it. Itís a great book.
VF: Itís a door to his politics.
CS: You canít get these books in New York. I guess you have to come to Gloucester to get them.
CS: You introduced Olson to Robert Creeley.
CS: How did you become acquainted with Creeley? Thatís pretty important. You knew Creeley before Olson, right?
CS: Was he editing something?
VF: No. No. I said to Cid Corman, ďLets get about five poets together and let each one submit poems anonymously.Ē So we all did. I talked to Cid, and he told me that one of those poems was his (Creeleyís).
CS: Did you submit poems for it?
VF: Oh yeah, I sent two. Yeah. ďFerrini and OthersĒ was printed in Majorca, where he was living, but later the poets replaced their names to the poems. An abortion. You want to see it?
CS: Yeah sure. (He looks for the book) Donít worry it if you canít find it.
VF: I gave a lot of stuff to the museums. Books, correspondences, magazines, and manuscripts ready for press.
CS: To Storrs? Your archives at Storrs?
VF: No. My earlier archives are at Storrs, but they only have me up to about 1970. But the museum in Gloucesteró
CS: Oh yeah the Historical Society.
VF: I gave them my life in manuscript, so the books are there. Including that one Ė ďFerrini and Others,Ē originally titled ďNessuno Ė No One.Ē That was too much for the poets.
CS: But thatís how you knew Creeley? From his journals? You had submitted poems to him?
VF: No, I met him just as new poets were coming through. Then Cid Corman had a radio station where he taught poetry and had people read.
CS: So you met him through Cid Corman?
VF: Creeley through Corman, yeah. Through Corman, yeah. Then -
CS: And how did you meet Corman?
VF: It must be in here (points to his library, then gets a book).
CS: The Gist of Origin.
VF: Check under my name.
CS: Ok. He was editing poets for his radio program and you submitted poems to him. Thatís how you met him?
VF: I said, bring out a magazine, see. And he brought out a magazine, Origin. And in the first one he had Olson, he had myself, he had Creeley, and I think I-- I wonder if I have a copy here. I think itís in the museum.
CS: Ok. Well, you donít have to worry about that.
VF: Does it say when we met?
VF: It doesnít? In the beginning it talks about me. The very beginning.
CS: Oh, in the introduction. Ok. In 1949. Ferrini, yes! (reading from The Gist of Origin):
By the time I reached Yaddo in July of 1950, Bill and Floss Williams were there that month too, where I first met him, working on Book IV of Patterson. I was aware of Olson through both Creeley and Vincent Ferrini. Ferrini, somewhat older than me, had also been on my program and we had become quite good friends. I visited him out in Gloucester a number of times, and the shambling house on Liberty Street became a haunting diversion as time permitted and need demanded. Peg and Vin, thin with meager income for themselves and their three lovely and lively children, were the very souls of hospitality, and their place was a way station for so many. Vin had told me of this huge guy, a local mailman.
VF: A local what?
VF: Letter carrier.
CS: (reading continued)
An unusual poet who had filled his doorway unexpectedly one day responding to a poem he had seen in a local journal. Charles Olson. The first Maximus poem was with Vin, at the time, intended for another mag that never got off the ground.
VF: Itís a good background, you know.
VF: Of the things that happened.
CS: Thatís from The Gist of Origin, an anthology edited by Cid Corman.
VF: He made selections of the best for his magazine. After he did five years, I said, ďCid, five years is enough!Ē
CS: Grossman publishers, a division of the Viking Press. Let me get onto the next question.
VF: Go ahead.
CS: Do you believe that Olsonís reported attack on you in ďLetter VĒ of his Maximus poems has been misinterpreted? How so?
VF: I donít get it.
CS: In his ďLettter 5.Ē
CS: A lot of people have said that he is outright attacking you. Do you think that maybe there was some other motivation behind him mentioning you? I mean, frankly, weíre talking about this man who was such an influential scholar.
CS: For him to have even put your name in there says a lot. I meanó
VF: Yeah, but that was because I was publishing this magazine with several other people, Four Winds. Itís a literary world, see? And so heís the number one in literature. He sees me connected with these other people, and Iím an editor, and Iím THE POEM!
CS: So you think it was an intentionaló
VF: Yeah. I think what he wanted to do was wipe me out of Gloucester.
CS: So he could have it for himself.
VF: So he could have it for himself, thatís right. So he could be number one.
VF: Yeah. I understood that. Heís a big guy. You know what I mean? He wants it all.
CS: But you stayed friends with him afterwards?
VF: Well yeah! Of course Iím his friend.
CS: Didnít you hate him for that?
VF: No, I didnít. When I read it I was at a meeting at Helen Steinís house. There was a group of people there, and Cid Corman brought the first issue of the Maximus Poems. I read it and I was shocked. You know what I mean? What the hell is going on here? This guy, why has he got it in for me? You know what I mean? Heís going to point out all the wicked so-called ignorant flaws!
CS: He tells you to go hide in youíre cellarÖ
VF: Yeah. So, anyhow, what happens is that, I read it. I think about it, and then I write him a 32-page love poem called ďIn the Arriving.Ē
VF: Yeah. So, in other words I says, hey. I says, you donít judge. You know what I mean? Love is too busy making anew. Whatís going on?
CS: So, you feel that you countered his attack on you? That you rose above the attack?
VF: I threw him the other cheek.
CS: Ok. Thatís beautiful.
VF: What else could I do? I mean, I loved the guy.
CS: In spite of his attack on you, you still valued his friendship.
VF: Yeah. In the third volume of Know Fish there, I get dreams where heís in them. Have you ever read those books?
CS: Yeah, Iíve read some of it.
VF: Thereís a lot of stuff in there.
CS: Butterick states that Olson is referring to you when he mentions his only brother in ďJust As Morning Twilight,Ē on page 520 of the Maximus poems. Do you share that opinion? Do you consider him a brother?
VF: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah because, see, weíre two single figures, and we make the cross. Iím the heart, heís the head. But weíre one figure that makes us one. Weíre brothers in the sense that we communicate.
CS: So in other words, youíre saying tható
VF: He teaches me, I learn from him.
CS: And you each learn from one another.
VF: He learns from my way of living.
CS: Do you feel that you influenced somewhat of a sense of humanity and caring in Olson?
VF: Yes and no.
CS: Where that had been lacking?
VF: I donít know what to say, thatís uhó
CS: How would you define your affect on Olson?
VF: My affect?
CS: Your influence on him.
VF: He was a friend, and a brother, and someone whoís going to teach me. Going to teach me about poetry.
CS: So you learned from him.
VF: Well, all I learned was what he does. It didnít influence me. I did what Iím doing.
CS: It expanded your horizon somewhat.
VF: But how could I change?
CS: I guess in some way, you must have felt that since you had already written No Smoke, and received acclaim for that prior to him ever getting any recognition whatsoever, that you didnít need his approval. You were already here.
VF: Thatís right. Yeah. Exactly.
CS: That makes sense.
VF: Yeah. I had published about seven books before he even came here to visit me.
CS: I guess in some sense you must have been asking yourself, ďWho the hell is this guy and why should I even care about him.Ē Right?
VF: Well, no. I mean Ió
CS: Did you know who he was? Were you familiar with Black Mountain College and that?
CS: So you were. You knew.
VF: I knew who he was. Yeah. But not as much as when I first met him. You see? When I first met him, he came here and I inspired him to write the first Maximus poem. You know?
CS: Well, thatís great! Thatís what I meant before. Even though he attacks you, and so much has been made of this attack, weíre talking about this tremendous radical scholar. It says something about you that he would focus on you!
CS: You know?
VF: Yeah. I meanó itís fortuitous.
CS: Have you given that a lot of thought? That this man who had been familiar with Pound, who had been Poundís more or less secretary, and everything else, that he was so concerned with what you were doing?
VF: Cause I was in Gloucester.
CS: Yeah, you were on his turf.
VF: I was in his territory.
CS: You had taken it.
VF: He used to come here with his family, summers and all. He loved the place. But I came here too, and I loved the place.
CS: So he was trying to dethrone you and claim Gloucester for his own.
VF: Heís going to show me whatís going on. Whatís going on and how to see it, if you know what I mean. Heís a literary man. Iím not a literary man.
CS: Youíre not an academic.
CS: He was.
CS: Do you have any respect for academics?
VF: No. Iím going to tell you something. How much time do we have?
CS: Iíve got all day; Iím in no rush.
VF: Iím going to read you this.
VF: This is Italian-Americana. My ancestral background is Italian (he begins reading):
I knew when I was in the second grade that I would have trouble dealing with
the Edifice of Education.
To give back what the teachers tried pounding into my local brain, ran against
the growing sense of self.
I trusted my instincts, my feelings steered me. I heard the voices of my
I was happy out in the streets among the few Negroes in my neighborhood, the
Irish, the Jews, the Greeks, the Russians, the Armenians, the Italians, and other
The Great Depression was my proving ground; it scared me by what I saw. I
had to know why.
The schools could not provide answers.
The Lynn Public Library was the refuge for my searchings. I devoured books,
my soulís food. I could not get enough of them.
I wrote poems and had them published in strange sounding little magazines. I
had my first manuscript, Onions and Bread.
FDR came as a gift of the Interdependencies; he initiated the WPA. I was
eligible, my shoemaker father was out of work, and we were on welfare.
The Teachersí Project gave me a job: I had to collect students at the homes of
the unemployed, at the Russian Club, the Armenian Center, the Greek Lyceum, at
bocci games. I was surveyed by the supervisor to check on the quota expected.
Lynn during that hiatus was in rags, the monumental redbrick factories were
empty. The bosses had gone South for cheap non-union labor.
I was in the WPA for five years. During that period I worked on the book of
Lynn, the greatest Shoe City in the world, called No Smoke, published by a man in
Maine who said heíd bring it out if I changed the names. Reluctantly I did.
That was in 1941. It is being reprinted by a man who has a press in Gloucester,
born in Lynn, 1941.
Education was my nemesis, so was money.
Because I am a bridge the two shoes are exchanging views on shedding
The whole city was my opus. The realities a crude subject for poetry.
Which was the quickest way I had to get across what was obsessing me.
I published book after book delineating the stages of my experiences.
Truman Nelson and I graduated from the Lynn Public Library.
He became a historical novelist, who recommended me as poet-in-residence to
the Lesley College Expressive Therapies, for the once-a-year colloquiums of one
full week, they took me on for the alchemy that was in my veins.
I wrote two PhDs for graduates who said it meant more to them than the
degrees that promised professional positions.
My classroom is wherever I find myself and in whatever condition.
Fifty years in Gloucester, walking in the shoes of the fishes, I wrote Know Fish
in seven books, over 1000 pages published by the University of Connecticut Library.
I crafted plays about the lives of the fisher people.
And wrote about twelve PhDs as springboards for innovators.
For my dedication to this city of fishes, the City Council knighted me
Education is revolutionary; it is more than a scaffolding for the treadmill of
monetary and prestige success, waiting to spark the elan vital seething in the
It is happening in a city of struggles learning about the ecology of fishing.
Deep as the raw roots of experience (end of reading).
This magazine is supported by almost all professors who are Italian. They climb up the ladder, they get prestige. I come along with this raging exegesis telling them that Iíve given out about fifteen PhDs in poem forms to graduates who I recognized as deserving of them by their lifework.
CS: So, you consider every book of poetry youíve written a PhD.
VF: No. Iím an example of an extra curriculum education outside the system.
CS: Youíre a university of one?
VF: Thatís right. Yeah. Not really. Each book is a hunk of my living experiences. Itís my artlife. I hate formal education because Iíve been excluded from the process. They didnít deal with my inner self. Youíll see it in my nephew Henryís film, Poem in Action. So, itís exciting. You know? Iím living right to the hilt. My life is educating me, just the opposite of the tradition.
CS: So you would say, ď Get out of the classrooms and go out and live.Ē
CS: You agree with that?
VF: One day they invited me to give a talk to a group of students at Endicott College, in Beverly. I said, ďWhat are you doing here, you should be outside!Ē The teachers looked at me in despair.
CS: Itís a beautiful day!
VF: Another time, at Leslie College, I was going to give a talk on poetry. There were eighteen girls and five guys. I said, ďIím going to be frank with you right off the bat. Iím going to tell you that poetry is like having a good shit.Ē Two of the girls went to the supervisor and had me dismissed.
VF: I had to get out. They fired me.
CS: You had a regular position there?
VF: No. No. Just a reading.
CS: Like a seminar or something.
VF: The summer sessions of Leslie College Expressive Therapies, where they had one week programs for the students. I was Poet in Residence. I attended their colloquiums for twenty-two years.
CS: As guest speaker?
VF: I was there to be seen by students who had problems in writing and whatever. One with real heavy problems asked her teacher, ďWhat should I do?Ē He said, ďGo see Vincent.Ē She came to check me out. I asked her, ďSharon, whatís wrong?Ē She said, ďI hate my father, I hate my mother, and I hate myself.Ē Oh God, she struck the whole dilemma on the nose. I told her what to do.
CS: What did you tell her?
VF: ďSharon, when youíre alone in your room, go to the mirror and look at your face as though itís not yours. Observe it with interest, trying to spy what youíd never noticed. Turn around and then look again. Taking your blouse off, then your bra, raise your tits to the mirror, the first time seen nipples, their beauty. Then drop your skirt, look in the mirror, then slide off your panties, appraise the bush, trot around, as though in a dance rhythm you like. Then caress the strands. Slip your fingers into the secret of yourself. Feel the elixir, wiggling your torso, coming into a delicious high. Stare into the mirror and say to it, ĎI love you Sharon.íĒ And she did. Before the week ended, she told me that she spoke to her father, and saw him as himself in his life, and then saw her mother as her own individual for the first time. She and the family were liberated.
CS: Was that the only time that happened?
VF: Yes. I told her that she and her father and her mother became the material of the poem. That poetry is not on a pedestal, it is to be lived personally.
CS: What about someone like Shakespeare?
VF: Heís the master of the process of verses released from their interiors.
CS: Thatís great.
VF: In deeds.
CS: Can you expand on that?
VF: Poetry is the queen damsel in the universities. They own it as a sacred art. When I tell them something, itís ripping the carpet from underneath their power. They canít handle that. See that picture there? (he points to a painting on the wall).
VF: Iíll let you look at it. Thatís an oil portrait, this big. Full size, of me. Thereís one in the museum. No education!
CS: Thatís great.
VF: My life, I love my life!
CS: So, obviously, you must have had some discussions with Olson about this, right? I mean Olson was an academic.
VF: No, I listened.
CS: I mean he walked away from any upfront method.
VF: He talked, I listened.
CS: You never got--
VF: I didn't engage him too much with so much mythology in his head. He's going to just throw it at me. I wouldn't know what the hellís going on.
CS: Was he an imposing person to be near just because of his size. Would he ever threaten anybody physically or?
VF: Yes, heís a sweet ominous force.
CS: You actually saw him hit somebody once?
VF: No. I know a story about him.
VF: One time he went to Lynn, you know, to have his hair cut. And the barber says, ďJesus, you're a monster.Ē He says, ďI am?Ē He went there the next time, and he says, ďShake,Ē and he crushed all the bones in his hand.
CS: Really. Why do you think he did that?
VF: Well he resented being called a monster.
CS: Really. Not a very nice story. But it says something.
VF: But there's something lovable about the guy, you know what I mean? He's a human being, and constantly intensively relaxed, and entertaining Ė learning every second.
CS: Ok, lets go to another question. How do you interpret his poem entitled ďFerrini--IĒ?
VF: I interpret it as an attempt on his part to clarify what he did in ďLetter 5.Ē And that he had to teach me a lesson. In order to do that he had to kill me. The passage about the snake clarifies it.
CS: Why do you think he keeps saying, "Dewsnap Ferrini"?
VF: My nephew found out in the newspaper morgue he unearthed that Dewsnap was a person that died. An obituary was there. I never paid too much attention to it.
CS: Iím not sure if itís important.
VF: Except for the beauty Dewsnap represents. Like beauty snapping in your eyes, saying, ďBehold!Ē
CS: But you think that this poem makes up for his attack in ďLetter 5Ē? That he's trying to make amends for that by stating that youíre brothers?
VF: That's right. I brought this to the attention of Ralph Maud when he published Olsonís Selected Poems, so heíd know exactly how to shape it upÖso that he would be vindicated for doing what he did.
CS: You mean the Selected Letters.
VF: Yeah. (he reads from the poem ďFerrinióIĒ):
Freud who did not know the Germans were
officialdom - and did not therefore properly
interpret dream. Co- kings, Hines-Orpheus and
Dewsnap-Ferrini. Dewsnap means impartial
beauty. We rule, beyond the maresí hooves.
CS: So you-- oh I got you now. He attacked you because he wanted Gloucester for himself when he wrote ďLetter 5.Ē Here, he's acknowledging that he didn't beat you, that you're both in Gloucester. So, youíre equals.
VF: Thatís right. Weíre equals, you got it. Co-kings!
CS: Wow. Thatís great.
VF: Now thatíll teach all the students who find out that Olson, here, did a job on Ferrini and they find out what the hell did he do that for? See? Then when they see the whole story, well thatís fine. Theyíre two brothers in charge of Gloucester. Co-kings. Beyond the maresí hooves. What does that mean beyond that maresí hooves? Beyond the women who have these hooves, you know, to silence the male mind and the female body. I donít have that problem. You know one of his best books?
VF: Those letters to Frances Boldereff.
CS: Yeah. Edited by Maud.
VF: Yeah. So this way, see, weíre Co-kings. And I brought that to Maudís attention, so that heíd realize that he would have to wind up his Selected Letters so that Iím seen in the light that he wanted everyone to see me in and not as one he attacked. You get it? It rounds it out.
CS: And Maud agrees?
CS: Great. How do you interpret his poem entitled ďJohn BurkeĒ? Thatís the poem in Maximus where he says that John Burke refused to stand at the Gloucester City Council whil everyone else was cheering Ben Smith, and he stated, ďI am not a hypocrite!Ē He refused to stand up. Why do you think Olson wrote that poem?
VF: I havenít studied it well enough.
VF: Itís one of those political things.
VF: Itís a political incident see? I didnít pay much attention to that. I didnít give it a study like I should have because it was a political thing and he was peeved about something. Did you ask Gerrit (Gloucester poet Gerritt Lansing) about that?
CS: Yeah, he kind of agreed with what I had written about it in my thesis. That what itís about is how the whole political system, the way itís set up, that itís just bound to lead to corruption. And these guys, both of them, Smith and Burke, are just so dirty that Olsonís polis or everyone whoís in Gloucester pays a price for what these two guys are doing that they shouldnít be.
VF: Yeah. Thatís right.
CS: You would agree with that?
VF: Yeah. Basically because I also put theóI put the finger on, -- whoís the other guy? Burke andÖ?
VF: I put the finger on Smith in an area right near Olsonís place. Ever see his house?
CS: Yeah. 28 Fort Square.
VF: Right across in the waterfront district there was a fish factory, Cape Ann Fisheries. A certain area that was in total ruins. I asked Smith about using the place as a theatre. He wasnít interested. But those are small things.
CS: He just didnít care.
VF: Right. Didnít care. Yeah. Very simple.
CS: Ok. When you reflect on your association with Olson now, what comes to mind?
VF: When I reflect on it?
CS: When you think about Olson. Do you feel good about knowing him or--
VF: Yeah. Yeah, I feel good about knowing him.
CS: Do you miss him?
VF: Well, he was big enough when he was alive.
CS: In some sense are you glad that heís gone? That you have Gloucester for yourself?
VF: No. No. No. Donít say that. Iím not glad that heís gone. No, jeez, that was a time for me to come into the picture of his poetry.
CS: I know that you went to his funeral. You mustíve been--
VF: Yeah, no. It was special. He made history in Gloucester. At the table were his principled favorites, including VF, who provided the Telling image.
CS: You look back on it fondly?
VF: Let me put it this way, heís gone but heís not gone. Iíve got all his books here, you know what I mean? His son is here.
CS: Youíre still friends with him.
VF: Yeah, oh yeah. Iíve been friends with him since he was a kid. I remember the three of us were going someplace. I forget where the hell it was. We stopped to take a piss, Olson, his son, and me. We tried to see who could piss the farthest? The son did. Things like that you know? Heís not gone. Iím going to read you a poem.
VF: Thereís a guy at Stage Fort Park, where Olson used to live, and heís a guard. He keeps track of when people come in and they have to pay. So, his name is Jordan. It used to be Giordano. He told me a secret. ďThe Secret of Ed Jordan(o),Ē ok? (he reads):
At 12 he drowned when
they fished him back
O boy was he happy dead then
years later his heart astounded
into his Bounty
returning him cheated and yearning
The 3rd strike his heart gave up
automatically his fist
whacked the clock saving him
the Soul of his senses
swinging with Beautyís enigma
and that Knowing washing his lenses
heís at the end of the Lottery
and Heavenís awaiting him
to dissolve in Being
O There here in Eternal Bliss
the intuiting Light
without the Time the Shadow of This
CS: Wow. Thatís great.
VF: Huh? I got it! I got it! There and here! Eternal bliss! You canít divide it! Thatís where Iím at! A lot of people donít know it. But peopleÖ they pick it up. They pick up my energy. Yeah. So, where was he? There and here. Thereís no split.
CS: Life and death.
VF: Life and death stuck together. You know, Iíll give an example of that. This is a gold dollar. Look, you can see it canít you?
CS: Yeah I can see it. Itís flat on its side.
VF: Goddamn it. (he spins coin on the table) Heads and tails, you canít see them. You get it?
CS: Yup. Well I guess I mean youóHow old are you now?
VF: Me? They just gave me a birthday party a while back. They said I was ninety. Theyíre full of gull wings! Iím not ninety! Iím in no time! One woman sent me a card. Iím going to show you the card. ďYour life is like the fruits of this tree. Ever soaring, never changing. Through all three hundred and fifty two seasons of you.Ē I tell these people I donít believe in death. I only believe in seasons. Just the seasons, and they go around and around and around. But the system, their system, their deadly system! Itís organized to keep people in prisons of time. You go down 128 [the main road into Gloucester] and you see these guys, theyíll pull past you going zip zip zip zip zip.
CS: Racing to work or whatever.
VF: Theyíre angry!
CS: I agree with that.
VF: Americaís a nation of angry people, inwardly.
CS: Itís a rat race.
VF: Yeah, and they know it and theyíre angry about it.
CS: Are you familiar with the Olson poem about that? Where he talks about the people at the bus station?
VF: Which one?
CS: Itís one of the early Maximus Poems. He talks about theóthe cop on duty.
VF: Oh yeah.
CS: And he says, ďThat hour, how dare they!Ē Referring to how theyíve made it the rush hour. This wonderful time that he isolates in the poem.
CS: So, you agree with that?
VF: Oh yeah.
CS: For sure.
VF: Yeah. Itís a tough scene weíre in. It gets worse because all that anger and the inability to do anything about it is corroding the ecology of the Earth!
VF: You know that this is July? Itís not a real summer day. We had some days in May. But the weatherís changing. I woke up one nightóat nightóthe nights are cold! I woke up and my door was open there, and I started to freeze. I thought of how the pollution is all up in the air. Like a mantel, you know, over the world. People have no idea what the hellówhatís going to happen to them. Itís scary that they donít think about their future generations.
CS: Iím camping in West Gloucester right now. Thatís where Iím staying, on a campgroundÖ
CS: And I noticed, from looking up at the trees, that all the tops of the trees are dying from the acid rain.
VF: See that?
CS: Nobody gives a shit though.
VF: If you make use of your life creatively. I mean, live a creative life, you will move in directions where youíll change peopleís attitudes. Theyíll pick it up. Itís easy to forget, you know, and the hell bent commuters canít get out of it.
CS: Yeah and it all boils down to money.
CS: They need the money.
VF: Canít live without it.
CS: And they hate what they have to do to get it.
VF: Thatís right. Go to college. Get a degree. Climb up the ladder. Then youíre fixed. Get married. Have kids.
CS: And then youíre fucking trapped.
VF: I have three kids. Whatís the next question?
CS: You donít want to talk about the three kids, huh?
VF: Well no, my daughter died at sixteen of leukemia.
CS: Iím sorry to hear that.
VF: Yeah. Then my, uh, and Iím divorced. You know?
CS: Do you keep in touch with the two surviving kids?
VF: Oh, I keep in touch with them. When itís a divided homeóyou know a broken family is the worst thing in the world.
CS: Yeah, I know.
VF: When kids are split.
CS: Oh, they went with their mother?
VF: They went with their mother, yeah. And now their motherís dead and theyíre coming back to me. And weíre making it.
CS: Ok. Do you think the political situation in Gloucester has changed much?
VF: Oh yeah.
VF: Ohhh. The attitude has changed. The paper has changed. Iíve been writing letters to the paper, and eventually a collection of my letters to the editor will be published as Letters to My Social Muse. There have been two better things. The first editor was a woman. The second one is a woman. I can communicate with them. And those words will be published. Meanwhile they all know me in Gloucester. Understand? And my energy has seeped into the consciousness. The only thing is that there are people, for instance, who figure sometimes that they donít understand me, you know what I mean? So, I got the problem that way. And the rest of them, whatís going to happen is that the fisher people, you know the Italians, the Catholics, I canít seem to get anywhere with them. I look forward to a time when maybe theyíll invite me, you know, just to talk or just to have a drink. Iím getting to know these people. And when the time came to have a memorial service for the names of all the dead fishermenÖ Have you seen it?
VF: Youíve got to see it. 5368 people. You look at it, see? You check out all these names. They had this celebration and, a lot of people there, business things and all that. But they didnít invite me to read.
CS: Thatís odd.
VF: Then another thing is that they just put up a statue of a fishermanís wife and children, see?
CS: Oh yeah, I saw that.
VF: You saw it?
CS: Down by the oldóthe Fisherman at the Wheel.
VF: Yeah. Iím going to read you something. Itís going to be two poems.
CS: Great. Before you start reading the poem I just have to ask you. I parked my car out here in front of yours.
VF: In front of mine?
CS: Yeah. Nobodyís going to mind that, are they?
VF: In front of mine, no. No.
CS: Iíll tell you one thing, they sure place a big emphasis on where youíre parked here in Gloucester. Theyíre ready to give you a ticket in a minute. I guess thatís your local government at work.
VF: Yeah. They need money. They say they need money. But I donít want to get into that.
VF: This is called ďAbsolute Fishing.Ē As the paper says, honoring the new Fishermanís Wife statue. Ok?
VF: ďAbsolute Fishing.Ē (he reads):
Ah, the uplifting shock
of the permanent Wife and Children
from that intimate Ocean
beside the lonely Man at the Wheel
together in private weathers
of Departures and Arrivals
the keel of the named vessels
in the deep interior
Blood of the Seas
any cut off between them
the Bronzes triumph over
establishing the Family
as the Circle of Soundings
the Female Firmament
balancing the perpetuating
divisions of Milky Voyages
ah the Spectacles
the Lighthouse heartbeating
You get a good feeling absolute fishing, you know? Youíre fishing all the time whether youíre in the ocean or not.
CS: Thatís great.
VF: Yeah, Iím having the time of my life. Believe me, Iím enjoying it because I get across to the people and they hear me, and they listen to me, and they love me and I love them. And I love the city and the city knows it. Yeah. When a poet does that to a city, thereís an example. Imagine if all these poets went to a place and said Iím going to live here and Iím going to inspire the city for more of beautyís participation?
CS: And benefit the place.
VF: Yeah. Imagine what could happen?
CS: As opposed to somebody like Pound. Whatís your opinion of somebody like him?
VF: Pound was a great figure. But heís an anti-Semite.
VF: He made a big mistake. Big!
CS: Did you ever discuss Pound with Olson?
VF: Two different guys.
CS: No, I mean when you knew Olson, did you discuss Pound with him?
VF: Not too much.
VF: Thereís no reason. Why should we discuss Pound when Olson was there.
VF: You got to bring it up.
CS: But you didnítóSo, youíre not fond of somebody like Pound? You can appreciate what he didó
VF: I appreciate what he did, and he said one thing. He said poetry should be as good as prose. And in the last year I found the greatest writer in the English language.
CS: And who is that?
VF: His name is Philip Wrath. Ever hear of him?
CS: No, how do you spell it?
VF: W-R-A-T-H. But itís really r-o-t-h. Itís Philip Roth.
CS: Oh, Philip Roth!
VF: But I call him Wrath. I donít read poems like his prose. Donít read Ďem. Did you read I Married a Communist?
VF: Did you read The Human Stain? About a black man who was born in a black family, but heís almost white, and he goes through the fact that heís not going to have any color in his blood all his life. And he becomes a great teacher. The students are all crazy over him. Then one day he sees two peopleótwo of his students missing. He says, ďWhere are the two spooks,Ē and he loses his job. Youíve got to read that book, I tell you! Youíve got to read it! And then this other one here, The Dying Animal, a line from W.B. Yeats. Did you read that?
VF: Put him on your list.
CS: So, Philip Roth isó
VF: Right here.
CS: TheDying Animal.
VF: Got to read that guy!
CS: So you appreciate him?
VF: Heís strong. Heís strong! He writes from his gut!
CS: Philip Roth.
VF: Jeez. You know I read that Beowulf translation by, uh, Seamus Heaney.
VF: He gets the feel of it.
CS: So youíre not a fan of Seamus Heaney, huh?
VF: Itís good but it doesnít have fire. This son of the Bible Roth! Iíll tell you. Heís loaded! Youíre in for a treat.
CS: The Dying Animal.
VF: The Dyingóthatís the last one.
CS: Thatís the new one.
VF: The Human Stain. Get that Human Stain.
CS: The Human Stain.
VF: Ohhh. Itís four hundred pages, ohhh. Youíre in for a blast! Youíre a lucky man reading him.
CS: Well, that kind of brings me to another question I have for you. It says here, Butterick cites Shelley as an early influence on your work.
CS: Which poets do you value the most today and why?
VF: Which poets?
CS: Who do you respect in poetry?
VF: One guy I like a lot. Wonderful. His name is Gerard Manley Hopkins.
VF: Ever hear of him?
CS: Yeah, a religious poet.
VF: Yeah. Oh boy, he loved language. He really does.
CS: So you would consider him an influence onó
VF: On me? The way he handles words. His love of words, yeah. Not an influence in that heís influenced my style. No. No.
VF: The pitch. The pitch of his enthusiasm and his energy to deliver whatís inside him. Like Iím delivering whatís inside me. The same pitch. The same tempo. The same zen rhythm. Heís got it. And who else?
CS: Do you read a lot of other poets?
VF: Yeah, Iíve read them all. I liked William CarlosWilliams. I donít want to go back to him. T.S. Eliot, believe it or not. And Hart Crane. Currently Tom Taylor and XTANT, the magazine.
CS: What do you mean you donít want to go back to Williams?
VF: Re-read him.
CS: Oh. But you found him valuable when you were reading him.
VF: Yeah. He was important.
VF: Paterson, yeah. That was important. But Paterson was about a place. And even Maximus was about a place. They lacked Wrathís energy. He combines various energies. Look at it this way. There are two kinds of poets. Those who write it and those who donít. But theyíre all poets. And what these people like is language that gets into their ears and stirs their blood. And sometimes the best of those people, there, are the guys who have the number one instrument, the guitar. They repeat one line and it gets into your mind. It got to me. So, Iím talking about the big guys, like Wrath. Thereís no difference. Thereís a guy in Gloucester whoís a historian. I call him a poet who writes prose. Heís with the history of Gloucester. He did one book, someone told me, The Gloucester Guide. Joe Garland is the historian Olson dreamt of becoming, if he had his wish. This native knows every inch of this island, the streets, the houses, people who lived and made their marks, the fishermen, the vessels, the disasters. One section is solid gold, ďDown to the Sea: The Fishing Schooners of Gloucester,Ē with maps, drawings, photographs. Indispensable if you want to have the feel and the guts of the fishermen, and the city that is upfront on issues. Come what may, thatís Gloucesterís crowning masterpiece! That book. His memory of the particulars is extraordinary. His letters to the Gloucester Daily Times are a document of the mood and spirit of events. I covered all the aspects, but he did the historics with a language heightened by emotion and cool enthusiasm. His generations here, the stuff we are made of! You hear me?
VF: Language. Language is charged.
CS: So, it makes no difference to you whether someoneís consciously trying to write a novel or a poem.
VF: Thatís right.
CS: Poetry is Ė whether or notó
VF: The energy of the words. The energy of the emotion. When itís got that, whether you do it this way here or just do tall talesÖ
CS: It makes no difference.
CS: It all depends on the effect it has on the reader.
VF: Yeah. You know what I do there? I tear down the Goddamn false pedestals that these poets stand on. You know? Pay attention to me! Iím a good poet and all that crap! Now, who needs that? Huh?
CS: I agree one hundred percent.
VF: Let them come down to your level. Whitman was one of them, and Emily D.
CS: So, youíre more for an accessible type of poetry then?
VF: Iím for both. I want the poet to engage my mind and engage my emotions. And when they do it together, thatís it!
CS: Ok. To affect you both in the head and the heart.
VF: You got it.
CS: Ok. And thatís why you feel that you and Olson together were necessary in Gloucester because, as you said, he was the head and you were the heart.
VF: Yeah. Applause that. Bravo!
CS: Thatís great. Ok. How would you define the goal or agenda of your lifeís work and how does it relate to the human condition?
CS: Agenda. Letís go with the goal.
CS: Your goal. What did you hope to accomplish with the body of your work? If you had to concisely state what you hoped to accomplish through everything youíve written?
VF: That readers would be inspired even more than they are. The more they are, the more they give to this city. The less they are, the less they give to the city. So, if you charge them and move them and affect them in a way that suddenly thereís a shift going on in their consciousness, then thereís a great period. I mean, the love of life. How can you beat it?
CS: An aura of a celebration of life.
VF: Absolutely. Right.
CS What advice would you give to young poets and playwrights?
VF: Young poets and playwrights? Iíd say find out where youíre feelings are. In your head or in your heart. And then all through the places, recognize that. Whatever it is that stirs you, pay attention to the emotions that stir you and then write them down. Then see yourself, if possible, as a center and a circumference. Here. Itís the same thing, you see it, that center there and the circumference unlimited.
VF: Itís the same thing! That little dot is the same thing as the outside. Once you see that, youíll have wholeness. When you have wholeness, that wholeness in your body will love being there. Youíll feel good and nothing can take you away from yourself or put poisons inside you. We live in a poisonous world. We just have to deal with the fact that all of itís the conditioning process, and thatís why since two years old I hated the status quack education. At two years old I knew it! The educational system thatís just there to prepare you for supporting the exploiting classes. Thatís what they teach them: support the system. Maybe itís changing, if kids are having fiestas, painting pictures, writing simple poems, and are alert looking.
CS: Maintain the status quo.
VF: The status quo, yeah. Once you stay there, then youíre gone. You no longer exist. You lose your life. Whoíd you lose your life for and to whom? Youíre dying and saying, what the devil happened to me? Who was I? What did I do? Education? Education should beóI see a time when kids will be running through the mystery education should be. Starved to learn. Theyíre not going to do that now, theyíve got a computer. Thereís something about the computeróI donít have a computer. Some friends loaned me one time a Macintosh. I started to work on it, and Iíd get stuck. Theyíd help meóIíd get stuck again. I kicked the mind machine out. I donít have the patience. Then one time I was with a friend of mine and he had a beautiful computer on his desk there and jeez, I start looking at it, you know? And I kind of liked it. I said Iíd like to have it if it was like a typewriter. But itís not like a typewriter. I donít understand the rules and regulations, see? You know what Iím starting to feel? My precious energy is going into the computer. My ability is going into the computer.
VF: I said get this mechanism out of the way here! Itís trying to rape me. Imagine all the people who are stuck in the computer all day long without knowing that their energy is being sucked out of them, at the eyes, the gut, the crotch?
CS: Oh, I agree one hundred percent. But I donít know. I donít think thereís any way to get rid of the computer at this point though.
VF: The human brain. Whatís the next one?
CS: Ok. Ok. This is the last question. What cultural change would you most like to see occur in America today?
VF: Cultural what?
CS: What cultural changeó
CS: Would you most like to see occur in America today?
VF: Good question.
CS: Thatís why itís the last one.
VF: The destruction of power in the form of entertainment and the culture the news strengthens.
CS: The media?
VF: The media.
CS: Well I guess you could even include the computer and the Internet with that.
VF: Everything. Thatís the conditioning process.
VF: As long as that watching process is going on every moment, you donít know who you are. And youíre a marvelous creature who never was before. Youíre probably never going to be here again unless you want to come back. But they donít give you a chance to find out. Take the disease of egomania. Everybody wants to become famous. Everybody wants to become rich. Iím going to read you something.
VF: This is the last letter Iíve written to the paper that hasnít been published yet. The planning board is at work on how they want to see Gloucester in ten years from now. (he reads):
The first attempt at real democracy. Practicing what we believe. The hungry fundamentals missing in the deliberations. The stark necessities haphazardly met. Societyís greedís breeding, intertwining social and private diseases. Who are the common people with worriless security? Civil service workers, government employees doing what they do for the benefit of our city. Is money the holy goal, and fame? Did economics come from the serpent and Eden. The creed of a city of enough for everyone. One fish in a school is all of them. The community of self. Can you imagine this revelation? Positive actions are a self-generating exchanger. Zopa Zen Master said cherish people and your burdens will vanish because you wonít have time to dwell on your personal obsessions. Human beings have forgotten their divine origins. When they recapture them, they will inherit exquisite powers. Language, not yet totally free, has still to go on trips. Creations that will loosen the eye in every one of us. We have nothing to lose but our blind invisible bad habits and letting the others do it, and blaming them when they donít come through. Delve into the calendar of nowís incredibles and psycheís explorations. Match the brilliances of sensitivities to the care of people. Start from scratch. Donít settle for anything less than the noblest values. The unity of spirit and matter, heart and head, to save our city and the planet. We are crawling in that direction.
CS: Wow, thatís great. So, you obviously find self-aggrandizement problematic and worth investigating?
VF: Oh yeah. Yeah. But donít be afraid to dig! Dig deep! Itís a lie. Deceiving, and a dead end!
CS: Would you say that thatís what lies at the core of whatís wrong with America?
VF: Yeah (he reads):
Accepting by indolence and powerlessness as the Pig Corporations of
this USA taking over and going Hogwild for the global Wealth by
expropriation. A Greed unlike this world has ever seen. But the villages,
towns and cities are moving slowly in participating in the machinery
of a lopsided Economy to alchemize the ill gotten Materials of the Earth.
The Oligarchy is forcing a showdown, sooner or later. Movement
There is a miniscule/to teach them the way through to peace instead
of wars. A furious ungodly train that canít listen, and yet the atom bomb is paying attention.
CS: That pretty much sums up the state of the world.
VF: Yeah. Yeah. Thereís a friend of mine whoís working on a second novel and he canít get it published. And heís got a son whoís published two novels with a big publisher, and heís worrying about his work all the time. Heís consumed. To be consumed about a projectóexisting on hope? Thereís a guy, for instance, in Gloucester whoís written four novels. I want you to look at the size of them. These are two of them. Those are novels. (he produces two very large books)
CS: Oh yeah, they had one of these in the library. The Sawyer Free Library.
CS: But they had a bigger one than this.
VF: Yeah. These are deeply involved philosophical and psychological books, if you can read them. The drive for writing is publication, and thatís a headache. The lucky have the goods wanted and they get in. The unlucky are forced into self-publishing, as Whitman did, peddling his own changing editions, and Emily didnít publish at all. Whitman knew what he had and went with it hook, line, and sinker. For me, self promotion is a hacking irritation.
CS: That isnít what motivates you to write though?
VF: No. No. No. I want to change the world. I want to help people be more of whatís sleeping inside them. The more you are you, the more you give me. The less you are you, the less you give me, and the less you give yourself.
CS: So itís a reciprocity.
VF: Thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. It goes on all the time. When youíre in that trend, you know, things are holy creative. HO and WHO. Wholy creative. What goes out comes back, good, better, bad, evil.
CS: And where do you fit in?
VF: As a catalyzer Ė an initiator.
CS: Thatís great.
VF: And you would think that the poets, of all the people - of all the creators who are into language - would understand the miracles that language can produce. And fail. Theyíre writing poems as unknown prophetic exercises to stay healthy.
CS: Do you believe that itís necessary for, or that itís best for a poet to have an agenda to try to be of some benefit to the world around them?
VF: Know how Iíd put that? You want to be a poet? You want to be a playwright? Ok. When did you decide on that? When youíre small? A teenager? In your twenties, thirties, forties? When did you decide on being a poet or a playwright? When you were little. Ok. When youíre little you want to be a playwright or you want to be a poet. You read. You read books. And while youíre reading books you study what youíre going through as youíre growing and developing. Study your perceptions. Your feelings. Study yourself. The more you look like yourself, the more you can write. So the more you know about yourself, what happens is that, you start to expand. And you feel good about yourself. And eventually youíll find that maybe what you write is not as good as being who you are! Get that?
CS: So it contributes to the quality of your work.
VF: Yeah! Then, forget it! The other thing says fame fame fame fame poetry fame attention and money. Theyíre pushing you, push, go ahead, fame, push. Meanwhile youíre suffering.
CS: Because itís not there or youíre chasing it or whatever. Yeah.
VF: Itís a disease. Egomania is a disease. Itís healthy when you are enjoying your life.
CS: But if itís interfering?
VF: Iím going to tell you something that youíll never forget. The body loves laughter. All the organs in the body worship laughter. You know why? It makes them feel good. So, for instance, youíre in here. Youíre in a place thatís depressed. You know it and you donít feel right. Thereís something wrong, you know? You hunger to get out of it. You do this (laughing). Thatís cosmic laughter. You laugh at the whole show. You laugh at it! What the hellís going on. Itís a crazy world. Thatís the real poem. When you feel it, astonished as it speaks. Your pupils stare wild eyed. When you grasp it, you donít put it down, you live its presence. In touch with all the spirit senses of the phenomena of spiritual intercourse. You go to see a movie and somebody else is living the shadows as you are. You are not the one who is in ecstasy. Itís better when you know who you are and thriving at your empty center, the whole interior shaping what the exterior is.
CS: Yeah. Thatís great! Alright. I want to thank you very much for letting me interview you here.
VF: Everythingís on time.
Vincent Ferrini interviewed by Craig Stormont, July 19, 2003 at Ferriniís home at 126 East Main Street Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Poems from No Smoke
A 10 cent wedding ring tied the nuptial knot.
Their bed is the Welfare
And their rooms rest on quicksand.
Her hatchet nose defies all enemies
And eyes spit fire,
Blunt as a sledge blow on fingers.
Organizes mothers on her street to strike for low rent,
And committees to cut the price of milk and bread ;
They never knew how before and it works,
And they love her for it.
Visits them bringing gifts of leaflets
and pamphlets with answers.
She sails into offices of the Powers That Be
And rocks the roof of their smugness.
Get smart with her and your head's in pincers.
Quickest time to get results is a straight line of attack.
Persistent as a flood,
Her words and manners punch you in the nose.
Offers no excuse
And changes her tactics.
Loses herself and evolves
New ways of living.
Loving this life fiercely for what it must become.
Everything his protean brain touches he
breathes to life.
Rooted in the revolution of 1776.
Palms calloused by pick and shovel
On the pulse of the people
Are fists full of liberty.
Poetry spills from his lips
And his consciousness is a sleepless eye.
When he imitates people your stomach
knots with laughter.
His criticisms cut the legs under you.
Hammers the time as it happens into songs
for workers' ears.
Old clothes need him.
His head is a faun's.
Friend to square pegs in round holes.
Honest as the sting of truth
And suffers for it.
In his house there is free speech.
Wherever he is the air blossoms,
Exciting you with a drama of stories,
Unending jokes and anecdotes.
His rooms are splashed with paintings.
You are reborn when you hear him freeing music
And around his fireplace you chew a bit
With him you become an explorer,
The dormant universe electrified within you.
His blood throbs with the untaught American past,
Bringing it back to the people.
Sunsets splash blood in our broken eyes
And the moon splinters.
Dead, we are huge and ugly
With derelict canyons between.
Our floors empty as Sunday,
Abandoned by the Bosses
And a few abusing us.
Our skeleton teeth locked on the sky.
It is not our fault you starve
Idle without purpose.
Workers, resurrect us--
Put life back into our hollow bodies!
Let us breathe again
And the word 'fired' be a nightmare that
died with the past
And for the first time own your jobs!
The Union to operate us for the good of the people
And the profits divided among you
To build a city of love!
Fill us with the bubble of bustle :
Your tools clicking a chorus of work
Stitching leather into shoes for the feet of the people,
Laughter splitting the air!
Human voices warm with intimate happiness
Exciting our veins and arteries and cold floors!
We'll feel we are wanted!
We'll drink your singing at the machines,
Wait for your coming daily!
And glow with the jagged electricity of seasonal picnics!
We won't hurt you with accidents!
No more speed-up torturing the nerves
and the bottled anger!
And no Bosses cracking the whip of low prices!
Patch us up and air-condition our lungs!
Shoes you make will be your own
And you'll love them like works of beauty!
And the reality of the 5 hour day!
Invented machines ending drudgery
And pouring leisure into your laps!
And the wages will buy you your own homes!
Your example will be a fuse leading to
coffin cities and ghost towns,
Igniting the people to possessionóto free America!
Think! Believe it!
You've got nothing to lose but your poverty
And the creative life that should be yours will begin!
Time rots us and buries you.
O workers, we are yours for the taking.
For what are you waiting?