By Gail McCarthy
---- — Next week would have marked Gloucester poet laureate Vincent Ferrini’s 100th birthday, and though he’s been gone for six years now, the waterfront at Harbor Loop will come alive Saturday evening with a celebration in his honor.
Ferrini, who died Christmas Eve 2007 at age 94, was known by many as the last surviving proletarian poet; and he is still remembered for his passion for life. Saturday night’s celebration of the centennial of his birth, dubbed “A Poet’s Cabaret,” comes the day after the summer solstice at Maritime Gloucester.
Ferrini’s legacy goes beyond poetry. He was a man of letters in their every conceivable form, from prose to drama to the thousands of letters he wrote to friends, acquaintances and even strangers over his lifetime.
Although he lived a humble and simple life in a 600-square-foot dwelling in East Gloucester — now the home of the Gloucester Writer’s Center, which is celebrating its third anniversary as well — his imprint on Cape Ann was huge.
A slight man of 130 pounds standing at 5-foot-8, he had a global influence on both the casual reader as well as educators.
Alan Golding, an English professor, is known for saying that “Vincent was the conscience of Gloucester and the eye of the nation.”
The son of a shoe factory worker in Lynn, he was born Vinanzio Ugo Ferrini on June 24, 1913, to John and Rena Ferrini, immigrants from Abruzzi, Italy. Like so many Americans, they, too, sought a better life for their children, but instead faced the hardships of the Great Depression and its aftermath.
Saturday’s cabaret in homage to Ferrini includes poems, dance, multimedia entertainment and music. The performance extravaganza includes appearances by Willie Loco Alexander, Sarah Slifer, Kate Tarlow Morgan, Heidi Pulkkinen, Carl Thomsen and Gordon Baird.
Lila Olson, who is Charles Olson’s grandchild, and Isaac Ferrini, who is Vincent’s grand nephew, also will perform. Lila will sing/rap a poem that Vincent wrote called “Goomba Zoomba,” and she will be accompanied on drums by Isaac Ferrini. Following the cabaret, there will be dancing on the dock by the light of the harbor moon.
The cabaret starts at 8 p.m., produced and directed by M. Lynda Robinson and Michael McNamara. The organizers know that Ferrini was drawn to anything theatrical. Ferrini himself is remembered for his warm-hearted and animated nature.
Ferrini’s 100th birthday celebration will be preceded by a free event at the Cape Ann Museum presented in collaboration with the Gloucester Writers Center.
The free panel event is titled “Holy Local: Vincent Ferrini’s Literary Legacy,” and features a distinguished panel of writers, teachers and researchers who will introduce new and ongoing scholarship on Ferrini’s literary accomplishments.
The panel is comprised of Ammiel Alcalay, Peter Anastas, James Cook, Peter Kidd, Elizabeth McKim, Kate Tarlow Morgan, David Rich, Ken Warren and Fred Whitehead. Dorothy Shubow Nelson will moderate. The panel starts at 1 p.m. There will be time for conversation between panelists and audience members. Panelists will speak from experience and knowledge of Ferrini’s specific books and archival materials and refer to his poems.
“This will be an inaugural event to have people look at Vincent’s work, examine his writing over different periods and understand more about his impact on teachers and professors,” said Nelson. “We are hoping that there will be a renewed interest in his work.”
Annie Thomas, an organizer, added that the sum total of these panelists talking about Ferrini’s work is extraordinary.
The gala event also represents a book launch of a new collection of poems. The book is titled “Incredible Dancer: Poems from Vincent Ferrini to his friends on Cape Ann,” edited by Greg Gibson with an introduction by Peter Anastas and foreword by Ed Sanders.
An army of volunteers has been working for months to organize this centenary event. Many of them were close friends of the late poet and admired him for what he represented and his prolific writings.
“He always had the whole country on his mind and he just wanted to know everything the government was doing. And he always had Gloucester on his mind and he was deeply rooted in the community,” said Nelson, who first met Ferrini in 1972.
She was one of the many people who met Ferrini after being told by a friend to just knock on his door, after which he welcomed her in and began the first of hundreds of discussions about the world, issues both large and small.
“He always had hope. He really believed that things could improve,” said Nelson, who received more than a 100 letters from the poet, letters to which the poet expected a reply. “He was such a positive person. I don’t believe he could have written every day like that if the engine wasn’t moving toward something good.”
The Poets Cabaret event is nearly sold out, and advance reservations are needed for the dinner portion. There will be a few extra spaces for the Poet’s Cabaret portion that starts at 8 p.m. Those without reservations are asked to call Annie Thomas at 978-283-7738.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.