Gloucester’s Poet Laureate, Vincent Ferrini, will turn 94 this year. The following is a reminiscence of their friendship by one of Ferrini’s oldest local friends.

Vincent Ferrini: Memoir of a Friendship by Peter Anastas 

I was fifteen years old when I first sought out Vincent Ferrini in his frame shop at 126 East Main Street. I’d already read some of his poetry in Four Winds, the literary magazine Ferrini and a group of local artists and writers began publishing in Gloucester during the summer of 1952. It was just after I’d moved from the Boulevard to Rocky Neck with my family that I discovered Four Winds, on sale at a gallery and coffee house owned by ceramicists Doris Hall and Kalman Kubinyi, located only a few steps from the Rocky Neck Marine Railway.

Before moving to the Neck, which had been a vibrant summer art colony for half a century, I knew nothing of art and less of poetry. But I had a yearning for what I hadn’t yet experienced. That yearning expressed itself in a fascination with words, words that evoked or sustained deep feelings in me.

The poetry we read in school—-Longfellow mostly, and some Wordsworth I wasn’t ready for—-didn’t give me what I was searching after. But in Four Winds I began to find it. That first issue, which I still own, contained poems by Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, Cid Corman and Ferrini himself. They were poems the likes of which I had never seen or read before. I was especially taken by a poem of Ferrini’s that was printed on the inside back cover of the journal:


I pass
by day
and night
no one has
seen me

If you ever
want to find
me
and know me
leave behind
yourself
and enter
the caves
of other
people
there you
will find
me
who is
yourself

It was 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.

Just about 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.

I had 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, yes,” he said, not impatiently, “but who are you reading who’s living, who’s alive?”

I was at a loss for words.

“Let’s begin,” Ferrini said, grabbing some volumes down from what I observed were shelves stuffed with books of poetry.

That day 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 Number One.

Later 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.

Still, 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.

I went 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.

What I 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.

(An 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.)

Peter Anastas is the editor of Maximus to Gloucester: The Letters and Poems of Charles Olson to the Editor of the Gloucester Daily Times, 1962-1969 and author of, most recently, the novel No Fortunes. This memoir was published in Larcom Review, Spring / Summer 1999 and reprinted in Minutes of the Charles Olson Society # 47/48 (November 2002).

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