FERRINI, VINCENT (1913– ). Vincent Ferrini was born into a bluecollar, immigrant family struggling to earn a living in the shoe factories of
Lynn, Massachusetts. His first volume of poems, No Smoke (1941), records
the depression-era deprivations of his early years. A reluctant graduate of
high school, Ferrini read voraciously from the public library collection until
World War II brought him work in a General Electric plant. Drawn by the
beauty of its harbor and by the Italian fishing community, he moved to
Gloucester* in 1948 as his fifth book of poems on working-class life, Plow
in the Ruins, was being published. Since then, his writings have focused on
the changing destiny of America’s first fishing port. His first collection of
verse on Gloucester, Sea Sprung (1949), evokes scenes of the port, its vessels, and its fishing community.
In 1950 he began a lifelong friendship with Charles Olson,* who wrote
the first Maximus poem as a letter to Ferrini. In the same year, declaring
his hands extensions of his poems, he began a career as a picture-frame
maker, pioneering the use of driftwood as a framing material for the seascapes and harbor scenes of local artists. Among the thirty volumes of poetry
he has published, the seven volumes of Know Fish (1979–1991) chronicle
most effectively his portrait of the decline of the fishing industry in his
adopted home. With Whitmanesque verve and a consistently proletarian
voice, Ferrini chides government bureaucracies for their inept management
policies in such poems as “Fresh Fish Industry Thrown a Bone” (1976) and
“The Savior” (1979) and local business interests for their shortsighted
greed (“Gloucester: Why It Is As It Is,” “Squid” [both 1979], “Gloucester
Aroused” [1986]). In other poems, he celebrates the glories of its seagoing
past (“The Flood Time of Fishing” [1979]), the resilient strength of its
Italian fisherpeople (“Da Family Dragga” [1979], “At Sea” [1984]), and
the achievements of its more visionary citizenry (“Brahma” [1984], on
Philip Weld, “Gus Foote: At the Fo’c’sle of City Hall” [1991], “The Luminist of Gloucester” [1991], on Fitz Hugh Lane).
In Sea Root (1959), the son of a sea captain returns from twenty years at
sea to release his family from the guilt and anguish of incestuous bonds.
Undersea Bread (1989) contains two relevant verse plays: Nightsea Journey,
in which a fisherman whose boat sinks in a blizzard leaves behind a son
struggling with a heroin addiction in a sinking fishing economy; and The
Fisherwomen, in which the wives and daughters of drowned fishermen discover inner resources of strength without their men. Ferrini’s second verse
play, Telling of the North Star (1954), uses the tradition of the returning
ghost ship as a commentary on the ethical compromises forced upon fishermen faced with a depleted stock. The play is the text for a one-act chamber
opera composed by John Corina and performed at the University of Georgia
in 1981.
Ferrini, who considers himself a “deepsea Fisher of Words and Souls,”
continues to write from his conviction of the unity of life and art out of his home in East Gloucester.