poetry like this—-gnomic, different from what I was used to, yet
somehow deeply familiar because it struck an instinctive chord—-that
sent me looking for more of the same. Browsing in the stacks at the
Sawyer Free Library, I came across some worn volumes containing the
poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Then I found Yeats’
collected verse and a series of poems by Amy Lowell in an anthology
edited by Alfred Kreymborg. I absorbed this poetry with interest, but
I still wasn’t essentially satisfied, just as music didn’t
really speak to me until I discovered Stravinsky and jazz.
that time, Ferrini published Mindscapes, a chapbook
of Haiku-like poems, which I rushed immediately to W. G. Brown’s
book store on Main Street to buy. Reading and re-reading Ferrini’s
jewel-like meditations, I resolved to meet the poet. Perhaps he could
direct me in my search, I thought.
So I presented
myself at the shop where for many years Ferrini crafted fine picture
frames, located in a shed at the rear of Ferrini’s current home.
I poked my head in the door late one afternoon on my way home from school
and a welcoming face turned from the table saw. Eyes lit up, the saw
was shut off, and I received the first of thousands of strong handshakes
I would be getting from Vincent the rest of my life.
told Vincent I was interested in poetry. When he asked me who I was
reading, I could only come up with names like Whitman and Yeats.
yes,” he said, not impatiently, “but who are you reading
who’s living, who’s alive?”
at a loss for words.
begin,” Ferrini said, grabbing some volumes down from what I observed
were shelves stuffed with books of poetry.
Vincent introduced me to the work of Ezra Pound, to William Carlos Williams’
Paterson, and I began to visit him regularly to talk
about poetry, indeed about life. And he never asked my name initially.
It was first things first with Vincent, then as now; and poetry was
it turned out hew knew my father; and even later we talked about our
common roots in the Mediterranean, his in Italy, mine in Greece. Only
after that did he share with me the story of how, in 1948, he moved
with his family to Gloucester from Lynn, where he’d been a factory
worker at General Electric and had published his first book of poems,
No Smoke, which is now considered a classic of the Great Depression.
I will never forget those early years of our friendship, when I was
in high school and Vincent was so accessible, a storehouse of information
about poets and poetry on my way home from the very place that was supposed
to teach me about those things but only ended up boring me.
to college in Brunswick, Maine, elated to discover that the Bowdoin
library had most of Vincent’s books in its extensive collection
of contemporary verse. While I was a graduate student in Italy, Vincent’s
letters kept me abreast of everything that was happening in American
poetry and in Gloucester. When I returned home in 1962, our friendship
picked up from where we’d left it and it has never waned. Meanwhile,
over the years, along with our frequent talks, we’ve exchanged
hundreds of letters.
I am only
one of the many people, young and old, who came to Vincent to talk poetry
and ended up talking life. For him there is no separation, for Vincent
makes poetry live in his own work and in his vital presence. I can’t
begin to record what I’ve learned from him during the more than
fifty years of our friendship because it has become so intertwined with
my own life and the workings of my psyche.
do know is that Vincent was the first model of an artist for me, a writer.
He didn’t show me how to do it, he showed me how to BE it and
revealed himself in the act of living and writing simultaneously. For
Vincent had, as he describes it in the poem I’ve quoted, entered
the caves of other people, and he did find himself; and he has spent
the intervening years helping and exhorting the rest of us to do likewise.
earlier version of this essay appeared in The Café Review, Vol.
2, Number 10, 1991, a special issue honoring Vincent Ferrini. A more
detailed biography of Ferrini, along with an extensive discussion of
his poetry, can be found in Ferrini's THE WHOLE SONG: Selected Poems,
edited by Kenneth Warren and Fred Whitehead, published in 2004 by University
of Illinois Press.)