Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vincent Ferrini, 1913-2007

Vincent Ferrini has died. His nephew, the filmmaker Henry Ferrini, sent me the following obit, which he wrote himself:

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

--Henry Ferrini

You can also read the Gloucester Times obit here:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Olson Title from Stanford U Press

Beyond Maximus
The Construction of Public Voice in Black Mountain Poetry
Anne Day Dewey

Beyond Maximus: The Construction of Public Voice in Black Mountain Poetry is the only study of Black Mountain poets—Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, and Ed Dorn—to explain their association from the 1950s to their break-up after the Vietnam War.

Dewey uses the poets’ correspondence and other archival materials to illuminate their mutual influence and the crucial significance of “field poetics” to their careers. While previous criticism has focused on the poetics of the force field as a model of nature, Dewey understands the force field as a model of social force that all five poets articulate and incorporate into poetry in ways that compete with artistic craft. Their different conceptions of social force explain their divergent careers. The development of “field poetics” also sheds light on these poets’ attempts to create an alliance between experimental poetics and public voice, a difficult agenda that speaks to Black Mountain poetry’s crucial contribution to the artistic and political struggles of New American poetry.

“Beyond Maximus is the most perceptive and informative analysis to date of the poets conventionally grouped under the label ‘Black Mountain.’ Virtually every page of the book opens up fresh and exciting ways of looking both at the works of these poets as individuals and at the relationships among the poets. We have here a book that makes a vitally important contribution to the critical study of twentieth-century American poetry.”
—Burton Hatlen, University of Maine

Learn more...

Cloth ISBN: 08047-5647-3 $60.00

New on the Documents Page

Peter Bearse discusses Henry Ferrini's Film in an essay on the documents page.

Call For Papers

Call for Papers: Charles Olson: Extra-Literary Influences on His Poetry and Poetics

American Literature Association, San Francisco, Hyatt Regency at Embarcadero Center, May 22-25, 2008

The Charles Olson Society invites proposals that focus on the extra-literary influences on Olson’s poetry and poetics: non-Euclidean geometry, serial music, dance, philosophy, or any of the “new sciences of man,” such as archeology, mythology, history, psychology, and geography.

250-word proposals should be sent to Jeffrey Gardiner at Jeffrey.Gardiner@Sun.Com and to Gary Grieve-Carlson at by December 15, 2007. Please include your name, institutional affiliation (if any), e-mail address, and AV needs (if any).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Olson at work: a review of Polis Is This by Henry Ferrini
by Michael Boughn

Undertaking to make a film about Charles Olson is a bit like deciding to take the Ford out for a Sunday drive—in Afghanistan. At first glance, it seems like a straight-forward idea. But before you know it, you’re facing a, shall we say, explosive situation. In the case of Olson, the minefield has to do with the expectations of the community of Olson’s readers. They are a loyal and sometimes even obsessive bunch. Perhaps more so than any other poet of his generation, Olson invoked extraordinarily passionate responses from his readers. Partly this was due to his immense magical presence. And partly it was due to the power and provocations of his writing. Both facts instill many of his readers with a kind of intense, focused concentration most poets can only dream of.

That’s the up side. The down side is that the knowledge that comes with that concentration of attention has been known to breed a sense of—say, ownership, or identification. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It would be a wonderful world if more people felt that way about more poets. But knowing obscure details about Olson’s geographies, or equally obscure details about his life or the proliferating significance of some gnomic utterances sometimes leads Olson’s readers to assume their Olson has an authority that trumps all others. It can lead to an obstreperous narcissism that fails to see other possibilities. For this reason alone, we owe Henry Ferrini an enormous vote of thanks for his courage in undertaking such a project at all, knowing as he no doubt must have, that many of the people who should have been supporting him would instead be condemning him for not making a film about “their” Olson.

This obviously raises the question of “which” Olson Ferrini gives us in Polis Is This. I would actually restate the question and ask, for whom has he made this film, because you can’t understand which Olson he gives us without understanding to whom that Olson is addressed. Not to put too fine an Arnoldian critical point on it, this is an absolutely crucial move as a basis for having anything useful to say about the work, as opposed to general griping that finally amounts to nothing more than the complaint “this Olson isn’t MY Olson.” As Alice famously pointed out when the baby in her arms turned into a pig, “If it had grown up, it would have made a dreadfully ugly child: but it makes a rather handsome pig, I think.”

Ferrini’s baby is a complex occasion, but I think it’s fair to state a couple of obvious points right off the bat. It is not a film that was made for the specialists of the Charles Olson Society (which, let’s hope, doesn’t turn into the kind of beast Olson excoriated in the Melville Society). Nor is it a film made for the MLA, that other group of different specialists. Neither of these bunches really needs more information on Olson. For better or for worse, they have plenty, and if they want more, they know how to get it. The film is not even, I would argue, primarily for poets, although it’s full of wonderful images of them, including Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka, Ed Sanders, Robin Blaser, Robert Creeley, and a terrific reading of Olson by Gerrit Lansing. Given the film’s defining gestures, its structure, its imagery, and its tone, it seems primarily addressed to people who not only are unfamiliar with Charles Olson, who in fact probably never even heard of him, but are resistant to the very idea of reading poetry: young, curious, but ignorant, not just of poetry, but of history—unsatisfied with many of the circumstances they find themselves in, but largely unaware of how they came to be.

Into this condition, Ferrini’s film intercedes in a number of ways. It uses the occasion of presenting a view of the life of the poet as an opportunity to make a basic argument for—not just the importance of poetry, but its absolute, Emersonian centrality to the lives of ordinary people. It does this quite effectively by making many of the spokespersons in the film ordinary people from around Gloucester: a barber, a waitress, a fisherman, a truck driver. Some of the interviews may have been less spontaneous than the film makes out, but ultimately that seems irrelevant to the force of their presences. For me, the biggest knock-out was the waitress who quotes, not Olson, but Emily Dickinson, in order to talk about Olson’s lack of self-aggrandizement: “I am Nobody / Who are you” she recites from memory in her diner with exquisite delight and recognition. It is equally marvelous when the truck driver talks excitedly of inhabiting the landscapes of Olson’s poems with his friends when they were kids, noting that Olson even included them in the work. You don’t get much further away from the self-confirming coteries of inbred poetry than that. And it usefully locates Olson exactly where he wanted to be.

Ferrini doesn’t stop with making an argument for the importance and relevance of poetry, however. This is an activist film. It is deeply concerned with the intersection of Olson’s poetry and politics. But it doesn’t simply present Olson’s politics as an academic abstraction. Rather it intervenes directly into the issues that so concerned Olson, especially as they circulate around the loss of place to a criminally careless and stupid adoration of development at any cost. This is the sense of polis that anchors the film. It is not primarily a technical exposition of the complexities and contradictions of Olson’s thinking on place. Rather it is an invocation of an actual sense of loss aimed at making that connection in the minds of its viewers.

Ferrini approaches this issue through very powerful imagery of the actual physical destruction of Gloucester juxtaposed with passages from Olson’s poetry and a commentary on his local political engagement. The effect is to present Olson as a deeply human, approachable character, appealing in his commonness, his commitment, his concern, and his language. Many of us who live and work with poetry, or who have long been committed to Olson’s work, may forget how terribly esoteric it all can seem to the uninitiated. Many of us may no longer care. But this film does, and that is its strength.

Ferrini’s portrait of Olson moves persuasively between theses various dimensions, linking together the magic of poetry, the ornery immediacy of Olson’s politics, and the world which is the daily experience of ordinary people. Someone who has never even heard of the Pleistocene will find themselves introduced by this film to an astonishing moment in which it shines through the present, locating them not just in history but in a moment in history when suddenly their own anxiety and uneasiness about the way things are going takes on a depth and resonance previously unsuspected to them. The final scene of the young people in Ammiel Alcalay’s poetry class animatedly discussing their discovery of Olson and his significance to them is in that sense a particularly fitting and moving close to the film. Ferrini has carefully crafted a tool for reaching precisely the uninitiated, arguably those who, if not in need of poetry in general and Olson’s poetry in particular, might at least have some scales drop from their eyes by their exposure to it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Ben Friedlander's Photos

From the Olson Panel at the ALA in Boston:

Fall Screenings of 'Polis is This' in Boston

Polis is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place


Thursday, Sept. 20 6:30 pm
Sept 22 2:00pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
465 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115

New website for the film: www.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Cick the "OlsonNow Documents Page" link to the right to see a new piece by Andre Spears.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

OlsonNow 3 Saturday!

OlsonNow 3: Charles Olson @ Buffalo_
April 14, 2007, 1 p.m._
Hallwalls Cinema at the Church_
341 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY_
$6, $4 members of Hallwalls or Just Buffalo/Students with I.D.


1 p.m. Presentations and discussion of Olson
4 p.m. Screening of Polis Is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place and Q & A with Henry Ferrini.
6-8 Break for food, etc.
8 p.m. Poetry readings by Anne Waldman, Ammiel Alcalay, Benjamin Friedlander, Jonathan Skinner, Michael Basinski, Bill Sylvester, David Landrey.

The third installment of OlsonNow: Charles Olson @ Buffalo will take place on April 14 at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center Cinema in Buffalo, New York. At this event, we hope to highlight Olson's brief but important tenure at the University at Buffalo. Confirmed guests include Anne Waldman, Ammiel Alcalay, Michael Basinski, Robert Bertholf, William Sylvester, Michael Kelleher, David Landrey, Jonathan Skinner, Benjamin Friedlander and others. Michael Basinski, Curator of the Poetry Collection at SUNY Buffalo will talk about the Poetry Collection's recent acquisition of the papers of Jack Clarke. The event will also include a screening of Henry Ferrini's Polis is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place. The filmmaker will be on hand to introduce the film and to answer questions afterward. All are welcome to participate in the discussion that will take place throughout the afternoon. If you would like to make a brief, informal presentation at the event, please click the contact link to the right.

Sponsored by Just Buffalo, Hallwalls, UB Poetry Collection, Talking Leaves Books, and UB Humanities Institute, with a major grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Friday, February 23, 2007


New on the Documents Page at OlsonNow:

Paul Nelson/The Sound of the Field and Organic Poetry and Dualism and Olson's Antidote

Kelly Matthews/Letter toi Maximus From Cassandra

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Dear Olson Society members and film supporters,

I wanted to give everyone a new year's update. I'm spending the next couple of weeks in an audio studio tweeking and prepping for a February sound mix. This is the last major technical piece of work to be done. I am hopeful some donations will come through between now and then to fund the mix otherwise.... I'll go fish. I'm committed to a March wrap. This train is not making any more stops. I hope the following screenings will help toward pay off the dept.

My target is March 3rd at Beyond Baroque in LA. If you know people in the LA area please let them know. They can check for updated info. The big push is slated for April. The first screening is set up for April 10th at Bridgewater State, next off to Buffalo on April 14th. I'm working on screenings in Worcester(Clark or WPI), Salem State, Wesleyan, Uconn and Harvard (Gerrit's been in touch with Don Share at the Poetry Room and I will be following up). If anyone has other ideas about where the film can be shown drop me a line.

Poetry Month could be busy so I'm thinking the Gloucester opening at the Historical should be in May. We should consider having a short live component. I sent Bo Smith, film curator at the Museum of Fine Arts film program a rough cut and he's gung ho about having a screening either in May or June. Bo had read Olson but had never seen him. I want to talk with Bill Corbett about helping with the live component there. When I get the film burned to DVD I'll send it to Malkovich, If he's in town maybe he'll want to read at the MFA or in Gloucester.

Kenny Riaf and I have been fine tuning the piece over the last couple of months and feel the changes made have made for a better film. We hope it connects to a new audience who have never heard of Charles Olson.





The Poetry of Charles Olson Performed as physical theater by Richard Haisma

Saturday, March 10 at 5 & 9 PM &
Sunday, March 11 at 2 & 5 PM

In Village Gate
302 N. Goodman Street
Rochester, NY 14607
North Building, Unit 201, 2nd Floor
(Enter from outdoor courtyard, to the left of Houghton Bookstore or enter from the Parking Lot on the north side).
Wheel chair accessible.

Tickets: $7, Students & Seniors: $5.
No admission for youth under 16.

Charles Olson (1910-1970) was a seminal and commanding force in contemporary poetry. He coined the term ‘post-modern’ and influenced a generation of major poets and writers, including Amiri Baraka, Paul Blackburn, Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, and Robert Duncan. The range of his interests, from paleontology to physics to art history to psychology gave him an epic, lyric and freshly dramatic voice.

Ed Dorn called Olson “… a creative gambler, a great intellectual punter constantly at the gaming tables of thought and literature.” William Carlos Williams said of Olson: “A major poet with a sweep of understanding of the world, a feeling for other men that staggers me.”

With this performance, actor-dancer Richard Haisma reveals the kinetic and dramatic depth of Olson’s vision. From The Maximus Poems and the Collected Poetry a selection of the most moving, visceral and clairvoyant poems are performed with vocal virtuosity and theatrical vigor. While most writers are familiar with Olson’s legacy, the physical viability of his voice now has a champion for reaching a larger audience in a publicly radiant and moving manner.

For more information: 585-527-9033


A few years ago I typed up a bibliography for a reading group with Bob Creeley on Olson and Melville. Ralph Maud printed it in The Minutes a few years later. I'm interested in updating it now, so please drop me a line if you're aware of any primary or secondary sources that should appear below.


Kyle Schlesinger


Moby-Dick and Call Me Ishmael

"The Growth of Herman Melville: Prose Writer and Poetic Thinker"

"Lear and Moby-Dick" Twice A Year, 1 (Fall-Winter 1938) 165-189.

"Letter for Melville 1951" Published in late August 1951. Printed under the
direction of Larry Hatt at Black Mountain College in an edition of 50.

"The Mystery of What Happens, When it Happens" Storrs Archive.

"David Young, David Old" Western Review, XIV (Fall 1949) 63-66.

"The Materials and Weights of Herman Melville" New Republic, CXXVIII (8
September 1952) 20-21.

"The Materials and Weights of Herman Melville II" New Republic, CXXVIII (15
September 1952) 17-18, 21.

"Equal, That Is, the Real Itself" Chicago Review, XII, 2 (Summer 1958)

In Adullam's Lair Provincetown, Mass. : To the Lighthouse Press, 1975


Bertholf, Robert J. "Charles Olson and the Melville Society" Extracts: an
Occasional Newsletter 10 (1972): 3-4.

Bertholf, Robert J. "Melville and Olson: The Poetics of Form" Extracts 17
(1974) 5-6.

Bertholf, Robert J. "On Olson, His Melville" Io 22 (1976) 5-36.

Charters, Ann. Olson/Melville A Study in Affinity. California: Oyez, 1968.

Churchill, Tom. "From Melville to Olson to Metcalf: The Double Play" The
Review of Contemporary Fiction 1 (2) Summer (1981) 273-285.

Friedman, Andrea. "Driven By That Destiny Home: Herman Melville, Charles
Olson, Robert Creeley, and the Problem of Knowledge in a World of Flux"
Diss. State University of New York at Buffalo 1976.

Golding, Alan. "Pursuing Olson Pursuing Melville: The Beginnings of Call Me
Ishmael" Melville Society Extracts 86 September (1991) 1-6.

Howe, Susan "Where Should The Commander Be" Writing Magazine 19 November
(1987) 3-20.

Maud, Ralph (editor). "A Melville Issue" The Minutes of the Charles Olson
Society 5 (September, 1994): 1-32.

Pops, Martin L. Home Remedies Amherst, Massachusetts: University of
Massachusetts Press, 1984. Note: "Charles Olson: Obeying the Figures of
the Present Dance" p. 37-54 Note: This article was originally published in
Modern Poetry Studies, Buffalo, NY (1971).

Pops, Martin L. "Melville: To Him, Olson" Boundary 2: A Journal of
Postmodern Literature 2 (1973-4) 55-84.

Sealts, Merton M. "Olson, Melville, and the New Republic" Contemporary
Literature 22 (2) Spring (1981) 167-186.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


OlsonNow 3: Charles Olson @ Buffalo
April 14, 2007, 1 p.m.
Hallwalls Cinema at the Church
341 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY
$6, $4 members of Hallwalls or Just Buffalo/Students with I.D.

Charles Olson taught at the University at Buffalo from 1963-1965. His presence at the University continues to reverberate in Buffalo. His many contemporaries brought in for readings or for teaching gigs (Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Ed Dorn, John Wieners, Gregory Corso, Amiri Baraka, et al) helped create a unique atmosphere in which innovative poetry could flourish. Many of his students and colleagues from Buffalo went on to make important contributions to poetry and scholarship, including: Charles Boer, Harvey Brown, George Butterick, Jack Clarke, Albert Glover, Duncan McNaughton, Stephen Rodefer, Fred Wah and others. Perhaps even more important, his replacement, Robert Creeley, who arrived in 1966, kept that spirit alive for 40 years. His influence lead directly to the founding of Just Buffalo in 1975 as a venue to present poetry in the community rather than in the academy, and to the creation of the Poetics Program at the University in 1989.

The third installment of OlsonNow: Charles Olson @ Buffalo will take place on April 14 at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center Cinema in Buffalo, New York. At this event, we hope to highlight Olson’s brief but important tenure at the University at Buffalo. Confirmed guests include Anne Waldman, Ammiel Alcalay, Michael Basinski, Robert Bertholf, Michael Kelleher, David Landrey, Jonathan Skinner, and others. Michael Basinski, Curator of the Poetry Collection at SUNY Buffalo will talk about the Poetry Collection’s recent acquisition of the papers of Jack Clarke. The event will also include a screening of Henry Ferrini’s Polis is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place. The filmmaker will be on hand to introduce the film and to answer questions afterward. All are welcome to participate in the discussion that will take place throughout the afternoon. If you would like to make a brief, informal presentation at the event, please click the contact link to the right.

Sponsored by Just Buffalo, Hallwalls, UB Poetry Collection, UB Humanities Institute