Vincent Ferrini,cosmic everyman poet

ferrininosmoke

Vincent Ferrini and the poet Charles Olson engaged in a love-hate tango for years. Vincent’s poetry was strong but nuanced, able to evoke both the physical and divine worlds with ease.

In 1981, I met Vincent at the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s Church on West 46th Street. With his co-poet for the evening, Ed Kaplan, I waited on the sidewalk. Ed’s hair flared away, singed, crinkled like blown-out electrical wires. A breeze sprang up, blowing from the east off the ocean, as if from the rocky coasts and gray-green waves of Gloucester, Massachusetts, with its salt-strong sea-scent.

The Village Voice notice had read: “Vincent Ferrini, the Gloucester poet who weaves in and out of Charles Olson’s Maximus poems, arrives to give his first ever New York City reading. Author of Know Fish and 27 other volumes of poetry, Ferrini writes a strong and direct and lovely line.” 

The Voice said Ed Kaplan’s books, Pancratium and Zero Station, moved in an “Olsonesque verbal labyrinth assessing the nature of existence.”

Ed said, “He’ll be here any minute.”

We stamped our feet on the sidewalk in the still chill (with a note of first warmth) of late March.

Vincent Ferrini came quickly down the street in a walk-sprint like a sprite, full of enthusiasm. I had a vision of a bonfire on the beach, a beacon, a light that gathered people in. I laughed as he spoke: we were word-surfers.

On the flyer, Vincent Ferrini’s words:

do you think this moment
after reading this
you will be the same again

Ed smiled as Vincent gave me a copy of Know FishCornelius Eady and Shelley Messing came from WBAI and taped the reading, but later Cornelius told me the tape did not turn out well. These moments cannot be recreated, maybe they cannot be adequately recorded. 

A short time afterward, I gave Bob Holman of the Poetry Project at St. Marks the copy of Vincent Ferrini’s Know Fish. For several years Vincent and I stayed in touch. About three years later, he wrote to me: “Sleep with one eye open all of 1984.”

Vincent Ferrini on Wikipedia

Vincent Ferrini’s Obituary 2007 (includes critique of his poetry)

This is a link to two letters to me from Vincent Ferrini. 

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Creating Community

photo of person holding sparkler

Photo by Malte Lu on Pexels.com

I live in a community where I have not experienced a strong sense of community. Having come here in later life, after living in other states, Southwest Virginia has not been all that welcoming or hospitable to me. I find the Confederate flag at the United States’ Independence Day parade to be a reminder of the worst division this nation has ever known, one that almost killed us off as nation, and not a symbol of any proud heritage, for instance.

In the face of these divisions, my friend Maggie who was born here, although her mother is from New England, and identifies herself with this town, invited people she knew to come hear her read at a local café on the evening of July 4th. I was the only one who showed up. When I arrived, at the open mic night, a band was playing, too loud for me to stay inside the café. Others came in and quickly left as well. The place was almost empty. I though that someone should tell the band to modulate their amplification to fit the space, because they had great energy, but the sound was overwhelming what they were playing. Maggie and I talked outside and I said I would walk up and down the street until she came on. At the same time, on the street, people were gathering for the city’s fireworks. 

About a half hour later, the band of young men, who appeared to be in their twenties, stopped playing. I went back inside, to find I was to be her audience, along with potentially three new customers getting drinks at the bar. Maggie asked the band to stay to listen to her. They went backstage. Now, Maggie is a large, young woman who it turns out has a “schoolteacher’s voice” I didn’t know about. She said she’d wait. One of the band members came back out and she asked if the others were coming. He said no, he didn’t think so. I felt for her at this point, but thought, hey, just go ahead.

As she began to read, the other band members came out and sat at the table right in front of her. They were talking, quietly, among themselves, but as she continued speaking, they began to listen. She read and spoke from memory and improvisation about a locust tree in her backyard that was full of vines, and the vines were killing it. She cut the vines to give it a chance to live. At some point she sensed she heard the tree thank her. She saw the leaves of the vines yellowing, in time. Then she talked about July 4th and freedom, and how we as Americans are free, and when we see someone else in shackles, we have to emancipate them; it’s our civic responsibility to cut their shackles. 

The band members applauded when she was done and one young man came over to her and talked to her a while. A young woman who had been sitting with the band eagerly reached out to her. They spoke as well, and then she and I walked toward the door. I said, “You knocked their socks off.” I was proud of her, and what literature, poetry, and thinking, can do, and most of all, having the freedom – and the courage – to express what you are feeling and thinking.

I drove home as the city’s fireworks lit up the sky. So maybe community is when we have the courage to create it, no matter the odds against us.

March Blizzard Poetry

megabenefit2On March 7, 1983, the day of the “Rock’n’Poetry” Benefit for the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s Church (423 West 46th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, New York City), a major snowstorm hit the city. By late afternoon the streets were empty.

Allen Ginsberg arrived, shaking off a mantle of snow, about fifteen minutes before the reading. He was friendly, but a little shy. I showed him and a friend into the library where lamplight glowed on the blue, green, mauve and earth-colored leaded windows.

Spalding Gray arrived, and shook my hand. (He’d promised he’d come one day.)

Amiri Baraka called to say he was on his way in from Newark and battling the snow.

“I understand if you can’t make it.”

“The roads are still open, and it will be just as bad trying to go back to Newark. And I wanted to get into the city anyway.”

The audience filled the downstairs theatre and I began to worry about over-capacity. More than a hundred people had braved the storm.

Easing open the door, I saw a mound of snow creeping down the street. The mound pulled over to the sidewalk and Baraka piled out with his family.

I held the church door open. “I can’t believe what you’ve gone through to get here.”

“I was determined to be here,” he said. “There aren’t many places like this.”

I left him with Ginsberg and the other poets and their friends in the small library room next to the front office. Poets sat on the sofa, Ginsberg in a low armchair, and others on the well-worn, wine-red rug.

The reading was segue-ing from poet to poet. Spalding Gray said all he needed was a table and a chair. He sat at the table center stage with one spotlight, reading from his notebooks. His words flowed out intuitively, and the way he coupled the words, tangled, bickered, or united in conjugal bliss, exposed his inner turmoil and joy, his triumphs and losses.

Sheri spoke to me and I was jolted back to my responsibilities.

Applause followed me down the front hall. I counted the box office.

It was time to give Baraka and Ginsberg the heads up. I poked my head in.

Ginsberg looked up, making eye contact. “Are you doing well? Did you make money?”

“We did. We’ll be able to go on another year with the money we made tonight.”

He smiled. “That’s great.”

I stared a moment, not realizing before his commitment to poets and poetry groups.

Baraka went into the theater next, giving a reading filled with stamping meter and hard-edged images tempered by, well more than humor, empathy, or sense of injustice and hope, by love I would say.

When Ginsberg spoke people clapped, stamped their feet, howled, and sang, his voice rising like a cantor. The walls reverberated, the theater was heated by the crowd, a night of wonder.

Outside the snow had stopped. The poets left with the crowd, a beautiful sound in the silent snow-cloaked city.

Existential Leaper by Richard Spiegel

This poem is relevant today, words for the telling of what is happening to us in the USA. Boxes, dogma, closing in and closing off. Some poems reach deep into our European-Middle Eastern past: religious, social, and linguistic.

“Musings” begins with:

Are we contained in cardboard boxes?
Prison cells? Bureaucracies that shut
us off and turn the locks are staking
psyche’s territory; but we collude
too easily, taking what we find
at hand then brooding over changes.

These bureaus contain moments
of yesterday’s crash. Unclocked
comments race with fantasies
and lies along the synapse
of knowing, while pretenders
to power stay doggedly perched.

You can read the whole poem here: Existential Leaper

Enid Dame, Poet: Woman’s First Breath

enid1 from internet

Enid Dame (1943-2003) was an upbeat Post-Beat feminist poet. Her satire lacked the cynicism that defeats its purpose, and her good-humored,  tongue-in-cheek sensibility made her work unique. Her poetry often brought Biblical characters, especially women, to life.    

Her poem, Lilith, showcases her humor and spirit. When she read it with her Brooklyn accent the effect was effervescent. One reviewer said of her book, On the Road to Damascus, Maryland, that it was “a book of illuminations, conversions, and the hauntingly contemporary voices of Biblical heroines.”

For 25 years, with her husband, the poet Donald Lev, Enid published Home Planet News, the voice of taxi driver and worker poets, road poets and café poets, and multi-everything poets. The duo ran the late night readings in the 1970s at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village with just the right mix of order and disorder. A long polished bar and chairs and tables glittered beneath the plate glass sky roof and windows on the street gave the place a dark glamorous look. It was legendary as a watering hole in the 1950s and 1960s for Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac and other Beat poets, along with Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and other modern artists.

Enid taught composition at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and creative writing at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  She was a scholar of Jewish women’s poetry and midrashic writing, lecturing at the Institute for Contemporary Midrash, for the Religious Diversity Seminars of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. She co-edited the anthology Which Lilith?: Feminist Writers Re-Create the World’s First Woman (1998). Enid had seven volumes of poetry published, including Riding the D Train, Lilith, Lilith’s New Career, and Anything You Don’t See.

But what I remember most about her was her smile, her generosity, her passionate, amiable courage, as well as her intelligent, insightful poetry. 

Enid Dame on Wikipedia

More about Enid Dame on Rain Taxi

Enid Dame Reads Lilith (1989)

Interview with Enid Dame and Donald Lev

Home Planet News Marathon Reading Flyer

Cornelius Eady, Poetry of Compassion and Truth

Cornelius Eady at St ClementsCornelius Eady is the author of eight books of poetry, including Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems (Putnam, April 2008). His second book, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, won the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1985. The Gathering of My Name  was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. Brutal Imagination was a 2001 finalist for the National Book Award.

His theater work includes the play, “Brutal Imagination,” based on the Susan Smith story of her children being kidnapped by an African-American man. He collaborated with Diedre Murray on the libretto for the opera, “Running Man,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999.

In 1996 he co-founded Cave Canem with Toi Derricotte, a summer workshop/retreat for African American poets. He has taught at the University of Missouri and SUNY Stonybrook, Southampton, New York.

I first met Cornelius at a reading of Home Planet News in 1980. In the audience, willowy Patricia Fillingham, a poet from suburban New Jersey, had found a home away from home on the New York poetry scene. With her Warthog Press, she published Breathe: An Anti-Smoking Anthology of poems, cartoons and songs, edited by Shel Horowitz, and Kartunes, a collection of poems by Cornelius Eady. I believe Kartunes was Cornelius’ first published book of poetry.

That fall, poets and actors performing poetry caravanned through the Poetry Festival. Cornelius Eady and Shelley Messing taped some of these events, as part of their work making audiotapes of poets for WBAI around the city. Always amiable, Cornelius was generous with his time and helped promote other poets.

Nocerino&EadyFlyer

Cornelius Eady and another poet, Kathryn Nocerino, appeared together at the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, NYC, several times between 1979 and 1983. One reading was on December 21, 1981. At one of these readings, in the large sanctuary and theater space upstairs in the church, I photographed Cornelius with his portable microphone. Tall and thin, he swayed like bamboo while he read. His poetry is compassionate with an edge that cuts into and through veils of ignorance. He fuses music with language about race, social issues, family, and love.

You can read more about him along with some of his poems at the Poetry Foundation.

 

Rochelle Ratner: A Living Narrative

TellingsThis is the first in a series of posts on Writers and Poets who were active in New York City in the late 1970s through the 1980s. One of these was Rochelle Ratner. She herself wondered whether her work was poetry or prose poetry, but whatever the category, it spoke to many people. Her long poem, “Tellings,” directed by Richard Spiegel, and performed by Barbara Fisher, was presented by the New York Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, on Monday, April 6, 1979.

Rochelle Ratner, born in 1949 in Atlantic City, NJ, authored seventeen books, including Practicing to Be A Woman: New and Selected Poems (Scarecrow Press, 1982),  Someday Songs (BkMk Press, 1992), and Balancing Acts (Marsh Hawk Press). A novelist as well as a poet, Coffee House Press published two novels: Bobby’s Girl (1986) and The Lion’s Share (1991). 

She edited an anthology, Bearing Life: Women’s Writings on Childlessness, published in January 2000 by The Feminist Press. Her poetry and criticism appeared widely in literary journals, including Library Journal, Nation, Poetry Review, and Shenandoah.

Over the decades she contributed to literature, serving as an editor for a number of periodicals, including more than twenty-five years as Executive Editor or Associate Editor of American Book Review. Rochelle Ratner died after battling cancer on March 31, 2008.

Review of Someday Songs

“Personal and religious encounters provide the raw material for Ratner’s 13th collection of poetry. And the poems, which evoke Jewish ritual and communal life, are remarkable for their simplicity, clarity and depth of feeling. They are not so much “about” religious experience as they are moments of it …. The poems are declared imitations, representations, and as such gain their power from their exactness of observation and from the poet’s use of language as a mimetic tool.” – Publishers Weekly

Tellings, Rochelle Ratner, an excerpt

The voice is familiar
Power transferred to the brain
And then the heart
Or is the heart first?

Two weeks ago
mother asked what she’d taught me.
Hands twisting in her lap.
Sure she’d given nothing.

These are all her stories,
chants before bed
to make the shadows vanish
or on rainy days
to remember sun by.

I knew her childhood
better than my own.
Easy to get lost there

so that, some twenty years later,
we come back, join hands,
turn the light down.

She searches for her mother,
I search for my mother.
Is she under the bed,
beneath the glass of a picture,
in hair which even now
hasn’t lost its color?

I’ll recognize her on sight.
She looks like both of us.
She comes in, sits by the door,
loosens the scarf from her neck,
turns to her good ear, inclines her head.

*

I will be doing a series of posts on Writers and Poets who were active in New York City in the late 1970s through the 1980s. Why, do you ask, is this of any importance? I’d answer that this era was a time of transformation, and that every era has its vitality, its moments of contribution and destruction, and its value to the universal flow of human endeavor.

For several years I assisted Richard Spiegel (poet and small press publisher) with the New York Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s on Manhattan’s midtown West Side. Many poets and writers came there as readers or to have their works performed by others.

COMPASSION a poem by Bette A. Stevens

Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author

compassion-poem-bas-2017Compassion is…

Compassion in life is a beautiful thing. But exactly what is compassion? I’ve always thought of compassion as love in action. After writing the poem COMPASSION, I searched Google to find a definition. The synonyms fit perfectly into my preconceived notion for the poem because they not only included love and mercy, each synonym requires action (stirring) on our part to metamorphose the ideaof compassion into the realty of compassion.

May compassion reign in our hearts and hands.

~ Bette A. Stevens

Google Search:

com·pas·sion
kəmˈpaSHən/

noun: compassion; plural noun: compassions

sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

“the victims should be treated with compassion”

synonyms: pity, sympathy, empathy, fellow feeling, care, concern, solicitude, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, mercy, leniency, tolerance, kindness, humanity, charity

View original post 79 more words

Remembering poet Virginia Ruth Scott

This excerpt is from  my memoir, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen (Part 1 is on Scribd.com). The time is summer of 1981, and the setting St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, 423 West 46th Street, Manhattan, NYC.

I was almost finished with Gore Vidal’s Two Sisters, and I told Virginia Scott about it when we were talking in the downstairs theater for a couple of hours. Virginia was interested in playwriting and getting away from editing and publishing, but her press had recently been given three grants from the NEA, so she had to work on those books.

Discussing our publishing adventures, she said, “You are a poet who has made a commitment to publishing, and it’s quite a commitment.” She went on to say, beside what you have to give up, people abuse you, use you, judge you.

In her year’s sabbatical, she wanted to learn about play production, from the manuscript to the final production. “St. Clement’s is just the place to do it.”

Our “negative space” [a reference to the book about film, Negative Space by Manny Farber] was filled with poetry. The physical space was filled with the pungent aroma of food. While we planned the October 25th benefit for the Poetry Festival, I went to the kitchen to investigate. I had $5 in the bank and spare change in my desk drawer. With a cup of tea in my hand and a muffin left over from Sunday lunch, I came back, telling Virginia, “I couldn’t get Robin Morgan at Ms today. No answer twice and then she’d just left.”

“If you can’t get Gloria Steinem or someone just as big,” said Virginia, “forget it. You’ve got to have the balls to stand up to Robin Morgan.”

“I do.” I wanted Denise Levertov and thought that she would be a good draw. But where is D.L. in August? All the big hitters left the city in August.

Who to ask?

“Ginsberg,” we sighed.

“He could’ve been a force,” she said, recalling the literary world twenty years ago. “I picked up the first issue of Partisan Review the other day and the names were impressive: Sartre, for instance, and even the lesser ones, like Stephen Spender.” She compared it to a recent issue and was appalled. “Aren’t there any great intellects in the 1980s?”

“That’s what Gore Vidal said in his book.” And my friend PJ: “There’s no intellectual leadership in the world today.”

We stopped to watch the crew work on the set for the next play.

“This is what fascinates me,” Virginia told me, “the behind the scenes work, set design, building a set.”

I thought, she sounds like me when I first came here.

I introduced her to Anita [Anita Khanzadian, Theater at St. Clement’s] and they seemed to connect. I hoped Virginia would hang out at St. C’s, as she said she would.

Traveling to Greenwich Village was a journey into another life. My negative space was filled with good vibrations. Elaine Fenton’s Manhattan Poetry Review publication party at the Speakeasy made me feel like a traveler who has discovered new lands and cannot go home again. Elaine was gracious, smart, funny; for her I made this trip. Friends swam out of the crowd. I smiled and dove in. Kathy Nocerino pointed to my new Hell’s Kitchen tee-shirt. “See, she’s telling us who she is.”

Virginia Scott was reading September 13th. In late August, in the downstairs space, Virginia and I sat at a long table, talking about women writers while she looked through scripts.

“You are the sexton?” Virginia laughed. “You could change your name. Mary Sexton.”

“Anne Sexton had a play done here,” I told her.

“Really?”

“Yes. Wait, I know. My middle name is Ann. Mary Ann Sexton.”

And I rolled my eyes and we both laughed.

Read more about Virginia Scott.