Friday, December 28, 2007

Deaths; Stephen Rodefer: Mon Canard

I'm not sure I'm ready to get back to semi-regular blogging, despite the fact that (most of) the holidays are over & I've survived them. There seems to be a haze of melancholy, due to a string of deaths: Benazir Bhutto, of course – & I, like everybody who's been watching affairs in Pakistan with any sort of interest lately, am rather in a state of shock – but also, in the closer-to-home world of poetry, the Gloucester poet Vincent Ferrini, who was so much more than "that guy Olson attacked in Maximus"*; and Sylvester Pollet, a genial & familiar presence at poetry conferences in Orono, Maine, & the publisher of the lovely & modest Backwoods Broadsides series: one of the few men who could wear a late-Basil Bunting beard & hairdo, & get away with it.
But the year winds itself down. No, thank heavens, I'm not going to be at MLA this year, much as I'd like to hang with my friends in Chicago & get away from the surreally warm weather down here. Instead, I'm girding my loins for the coming semester's courses & finishing up a few books. The tip of the week is Stephen Rodefer's Mon Canard (The Figures, 2000). All six of the poems in this collection are first-rate, but the real tour de force is the title poem, some sixty-odd fourteen-line stanzas that seem to marry Zukofsky's Catullus "translations," Finnegans Wake, and a snazzy trans-dictional, translingual crosscutting into a wonderfully erotic cassoulet (which, as a fine violinist once showed me, must always be eaten with vinegar). It begins
Julie my duck, mama's lute, chouchou in lieu of amore
of our loo, butte of my butte, beate of your butt
mont rue, my verity former not HERE, not her
mob spent of row, flowers in rue Lappe, pet asinine pot
my lovely cinder, mine ashen heart, onliest wit
ness to my witness, jump in Seine, berth, ankeberry
every thin necklace nested, sturdiest hysteria, white
patent leather policefemme, unreading gaoler, op
pen opera, princess mon amie electuary Jew, petit rat burg
er, my choo choo, coughdrop of my esophaguy, my lu
dens, by my mitten, minion of my invisible cake, liz
ard die of my destiny, mutt, cuff, flycast, gal
oshes, SMITTEN GLOVES, smith of my smith bull
's blood drawn in sleepy smiles....
And on and beautifully on. Hot stuff.

*I was astonished some years back, in conversation with someone or other, to learn that my interlocutor regarded Edward Dahlberg primarily as "that guy Olson wrote letters to & had a falling-out with": Because I Was Flesh, after all, is something like a benchmark in American memoir-writing.


Ed Baker said...

just here to me the obituary that Henry Ferrini wrote re; Vince Ferrini. Henry said that it was/is ok to send to your blog. also on the Silliman blog.

"Vincent Ferrini died December 24th. His death was the result of a recent heart attack and bout with pneumonia. He resided at Den Mar Nursing home in Rockport since last May after returning from his latest reading at Beyond Baroque Literary Art Center in Los Angeles. He was 94 years old. For anyone who knew Mr. Ferrini his passion and engagement for the art of living will always be remembered.

If the poet were writing this obit he would say he did not die but rather merged into the pleroma. The pleroma was a word on his mind during the last few years. In Greek it means, "fullness.” The early Christian Gnostics saw it as the dwelling place of spirit and to scores of people in his community Vincent was the spirit & conscience of Gloucester.

Venanzio Ugo Ferrini was born in Saugus, Massachusetts on June 24, 1913 to John and Rena Ferrini. His parents emigrated separately from Abruzzi, Italy to work in the shoe factories of Lynn. Vincent’s own experience in the shoe factories and during the Great Depression instilled a great sensitivity for the life of the working poor.

In high school he found that books contained the keys to discovery and it was then that he resolved to become a writer. Ignoring his father’s admonition that a son of a shoe worker could never become a poet, he graduated from Lynn Classical and not having the money for college, pursued his education in the Lynn Public Library spending each day reading, studying, looking for answers to illuminate why humanity settled for poverty and war. When the Great Depression hit, the young bard worked as a teacher in the WPA as he worked his first volume of verse about the people of Lynn. In 1940 at the age of twenty-seven he published “No Smoke.”

A simple poem by the poet tells a great deal about the man.

Folk Song.

I pass
by day
and by night
no one has
seen me

if you ever
want to find
me and know me
leave behind
and enter
the caves
of other

there you
will find
who is

Mr. Ferrini married Margaret Duffy a schoolteacher in 1942. The couple had three children Sheila, Owen and Deirdre. In 1948 his young family left Lynn for Gloucester. Working at the GE by day, he soon gave up the security of a weekly paycheck to make a living as a frame maker. As he said in his 1975 autobiography, Hermit of the Clouds, being an independent craftsperson provided “the freedom to write when the poem is hot within.”

Mr. Ferrini’s move to Gloucester marked a shift in his poetry from the political and social to the personal and cosmic. Gloucester became a dream place that he made his place. Here his poetry and his life would find no separation.

In the late 40’s after reading a Ferrini poem in a small magazine the poet Charles Olson paid the poet a fan call. Olson first addressed the Maximus Poems as letters to Mr. Ferrini and even after an excoriating attack; the two men remained lifelong friends.

In the sixties after the death of his daughter Deirdre from leukemia, Ferrini’s marriage ended. He later married the artist Mary Shore. When his second marriage ended in divorce he moved back to his frame shop at 126 East Main Street. The little shop became a nexus for many artists and writers who came to Gloucester.

Vincent’s view of the individual, the family, the community and the nation working together for the common good compelled him to write not only to the Gloucester paper but the Globe, the New York Times and the Nation. At city hall he voiced his concerns at hundreds of council meetings. His focus was always the preservation of his city from the wildfire greed that will destroy the spirit and originality of his city.

Overcoming all odds Mr. Ferrini chose life as a poet. He was an academic outsider who lived with no financial remuneration from his labor. His vigor, unbound creativity and compassion kept him publishing for over 67 years producing 31 volumes of poetry, four volumes of plays and an autobiography. He is the subject of his nephew Henry Ferrini’s film, “Poem in Action.”

Mr. Ferrini leaves his daughter Shelia Ferrini of Boston, his son Owen Ferrini from Gloucester, two grandchildren, Ben and Cara Ferrini and dozens of extended family and friends whom he will continue to inspire. His younger siblings Yolanda, Dante and Lindo predeceased him.

A celebration of Vincent Ferrini’s life will be held at a forthcoming date. His upcoming book of poetry “Invisible Skin” is slated for release in the spring of 2008. Literary requests can be sent to"

December 27, 2007

Anonymous said...

Mon Canard also collected in 'Left Under a Cloud' (Alfred David Editions, 2000) along with the hauntingly erotic 'Erasers':

There are women of great experience
who lying with a man
elevate their feet vertically
in the air and put
lamps on them
full of oil
with wicks burning.
While the night suffuses
them they keep the lamps
steady and burning
and the oil is not spilled.
Their commingling is in no way
impeded by this display
although great practice is demanded
on both their parts.

Happy New Year.

Emily said...

I am in Chicago and it is cold. But I got to have a glass of wine at the Walnut Room in what used to be Marshall Field's.

Nevertheless, I will be happy to be back in the weirdly warm south Florida next week.

E. M. Selinger said...

We'll miss you, Mark--just back ourselves from warmer climes (LA, CA), and from assorted family tsuris.

Re: deaths--it's my father's birthday, or would have been. A good and happy man. When we stopped at R's sister's grave on the way to LAX, I thought of what my father said about cemetery visits, which he always refused (even for his own parents). With a little editing, it would make for a wonderful tombstone inscription: "Wherever I am, it's not here."

I like the poems! Usually I gripe about what gets the tag "erotic" in the poetry 'verse, but this time, I'll nod in dreamy assent, like Anton Ego in the in-flight movie. Thanks for that.

Working on a longish post for SSW, which mentions you. Keep an eye out for it!

Henry Gould said...

Kenneth Warren's very thoughtful serial monograph - "The Emperor's New Clothes" - published in several recent issues of HOUSE ORGAN magazine - reflects at length on Ferrini's life & poetry (in its own right).