With Vincent Ferrini in Boston: a Conversation, by P.J. Laska

by P.J. Laska

[ SCENE ONE: A mom and pop Chinese restaurant next to the Combat Zone. Mom and Pop are at the next table folding won-tons. Mom has a bad eye. She brings hot tea in a glass that scalds your fingers.]

PJL–This looks like a place I dreamed once. I went for a walk, the sidewalks heaved up. I looked inside. The sign said Narragansett Lager Beer.
VF—Dreams are where it starts. Yeats said that’s where you find the folk ghost.
PJL–I can’t read Yeats. Why are all the great Modernist poets reactionaries?
VF—It’s the language that gets them. They FORGET poetry comes before the poem. The poem is an ARTIFACT, for crissake.
PJL–Listen to this: “What remains with me is the individualist and careerist atmosphere of the old literary world.” Mayakovsky wrote that sixty years ago.
VF—Yeah, bloodless, the literary mode. But there’s no separation. EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED! The isolatos don’t see it, the commissars don’t see it. This conference they want me to go to, I don’t know–the ego demands smoke up the atmosphere.
PJL–Theory, you mean?
VF—Yeah, theory. You have to let go of it at some point and do it. The more you get into your own art, in your own place–that’s where it’s at! You walk where you live, accurately, and it makes things happen. Listen, the strength is in the particular. The general perspective is useless.
PJL–Except for what isn’t there–the unrealities. Anyway, the poem has to more from the particular, doesn’t it, to some common element.
VF—I think we’re missing each other.
PJL–Maybe we’re on different trains, going in the same direction. Localism isn’t the only workable poetics.
VF—Look, we’re split selves, the head from the heart, and the community flounders, the worst are in control. Where are the poets? Isolated, in most cases, disconnected. And the Church–it’s the same with them. Worse. Their insensitivity to the spontaneous just amazes me. The Daily Worker rejected me back them because I was “too local.” Ferlinghetti rejected Know Fish because it was “too local.” But where does revolution take place? First in daily struggle. Now this conference, I don’t look forward to it because I’ll have to confront the same deadly mentality I did in the Thirties and Forties. Power…Divide and Conquer…. But, I’ll go…there will be a few people.

[SCENE TWO: A Walking Tour. I don’t know Boston. Ferrini is giving me a tour]

PJL–I spent part of a summer in here when I was in grad school. The women wore bell bottom jeans with LOVE patches sewn on them. I still remember the inscription in stone at the museum: Es Ist der Geist / Der Sich den Korper Baut.
VF—The poem united with the act.
VF—The poet heals with an image of the whole man.
PJL–Sounds shamanistic.
VF–Olson said that. His concern was World Medicine, not literature.
PJL–So, what does it mean, that there’s more to being a poet than writing poems?
VF—Now you’re catchin’ on. A poet’s nothing apart from people, apart from place.
PJL–You were close to Olson?
VF—The head and the heart. Shem and Shaun of the same mother. Olson was half Irish. All my wives have been Irish. He was a powerful person, on the scale of Yeats.
PJL–He wanted the whole whale–so why didn’t he write novels?
VF–The whole is in the part, in the local.
PJL–But Olson’s poetics is quirky. He thought you could make the leap by adding more content. Let the camera roll and get something essential. It might work, but if you end up with coherent form, it’s a happy accident.
VF—He succeeded sometimes. Like in “As the Dead Prey Upon Us,” where his dead mother’s mixed in with his falling under his car and a fight with his neighbor.
PJL–The past comes back–that’s real. But so much is idiopathic detail, not difference that makes a difference.
VF–”Moonset Glouchester.” There’s another.
PJL–What holds it together?
VF—Place–and his mother.
PJL--Can place hold it together? I don’t see it. He goes to the other extreme– random selection. The only thing holding it together is the ego that pushes it.
VF—The fuckin’ ego got in his way.
PJL–You mean he makes it an absolute?
VF—That was his pit! Any absolute has to have at least two people. That’s why it works when his mother is there.
PJL–Love, hate, friendship?
VF–He had a great capacity for love and hate.

[On a street near the Library we pass some old row houses dating back to 1830. There are vegetable gardens in vacant lots]

VF—The fact is the Earth. Don’t write with an eye on the Library. There’re concerned with getting in the libraries, and there’re won’t be any fuckin’ libraries.
[We continue on to the concrete plaza in front of the Library]
VF—Here, see this fuckin’ plaque. Kalil Gibran! His nephew the architect put it here. Do you believe that! He made some fuckin’ donation to the City. John Wheelwright was killed by a car just a few blocks from here. Where’s his plaque?


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One Response to With Vincent Ferrini in Boston: a Conversation, by P.J. Laska

  1. Dan Wilcox says:

    I got a copy of this interview at the Ferrini gala Saturday in Gloucester & was surprised to see the reference & quote from Mayakovsky, as I had written in my journal the day before as I was on my way to Gloucester, “Ferrini the Mayakovsky of Gloucester/Mayakovsky the Ferrini of Russian streets.”

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