The Magi Image
Reviewed by
Kenneth Warren

REVIEWSPeter J. Laska
Preamble To Divinity
Kenneth Warren
The Magi Image
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Sing the Magic Song of Kings
The Magi Image by Vincent Ferrini.

Igneus Press. 135 pages paperback
310 North Amherst Road
Bedford, New Hampshire 03110

"I came into this world to divide it."
John 9:39

Vincent Ferrini is a mystic wise guy. His synthesis of sacred and occult overtones in thirties depression slang remains unique from his proletarian days to the present. In his latest book, The Magi Image, the Magi have inspired him to chart the transmission of the unio mystica from Persia to Gloucester. The first thing to be understood about The Magi Image concerns the double play of letters in the title. The letter I insists doubly on linkage to the sacerdotal arts. In this way, Ferrini prepares the reader to put uncertain propositions from astrology, etymology, mythology and psychology in service to his poems.

The Magi Image brings Ferrini into relationship with a world divided on many levels. Under the star of the Epiphany, he takes inspiration from the "division" inscribed through the divine carrier of imagination. From the beginning, divine, animal and human divisions are carefully regarded in Gloucester's crèche. As in Magdellan Silences (1992), he uses the natural phenomena of Gloucester to further the enactment of myth in his daily living. In his opening poem, "ground poem," he takes account of exchange, chance and appetite for fish:

                     Ah, the seagulls
                     exchanging wings in flight
                     & the humans

                    a pair of gull tenors
                                      croaking praises
                    to the Mother of Chance
                   providing a whole striped bass
                                                                        on a mica plate
                    for  breakfast

Ferrini often writes about the double, the immortal self, and the life force. He senses himself as part of the drama of kings. Otto Rank in particular (see especially Beyond Psychology pages 63-101) seems important to understanding Ferrini's grip on both the primordial reality of the double and the sacred duty of kings to preserve the essential life force (84). In "Psalm of Semen," for example, a spermatics of the Magus is brought to bear on the divine infant. Here Ferrini catches for the fish a sense that is at once biological, erotic, moral, and cosmological:

                     Blessed be the Ocean in humans
                      blessed be the headtale the ovary feels for
                      blessed the one fish which has eaten 
                                      the Book of Genesis
                      & the love Pisces in Amor is demonstrating

The age of Pisces has been the prevailing aion under which Ferrini has expounded the Gloucester fishing epic he shares with Olson. The reader may be familiar with Ferrini from Olson's The Maximus Poems, but the man absolutely commands his own life in poetry, which combines with his twin to found a duofold myth for the city of Gloucester. As it happened, Ferrini's contest with Olson plays out aionically as twins, the rulers of mimesis, to provide an excellent illustration of "The Truth and Life of Myth." Desire for Gloucester, brought home to Ferrini by Olson in 1951, places mimesis, with all its connections to imitation, community, chronology, representation, and rivalry, at the base of a relationship that goes beyond any single text. Olson had found in Gloucester, in the geography of his childhood, a brother, a rival, a twin. Ferrini's mimetic thrust, which would allow him to achieve his particular bond with the community, occupied Gloucester; it provoked Olson to overpower the memory of childhood that could reduce him to sentimentality.

There is a fierce autobiographical impulse to Ferrini's writing that bends to mythological plotting. His bios ran counter to Olson's' effort to project beyond biography "an image of man." (See Charles Stein's The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum p 41 ..) So Olson inscribed him in The Maximus Poems as the necessary figure, the scapegoat without whom Maximus could not speak. Ferrini was badly scolded by the "the hot metal from boiling water" that spilled from The Maximus Poems. Once the complexities of Ferrini's bios and Olson's mythos are considered, the reader's task involves rescuing the double from a cycle of unrelenting morbidity and persecution. The moment the reader considers Ferrini's watery heart the new plot line can be comprehended.

               Forget everything that ever happened to you
               dive into the heart's holy water
               & let its love for you breathe
                                                 (from "The First Intimations")

Ferrini's love transforms the story of the double. Without love, without forgiveness, the story of Olson and Ferrini might have played out as a pair of hostile brothers. Instead Ferrini survives to write in "After Reading Creeley's Selected MAXIMUS:"

                for 25 years & more
                you are missed
                then your Peer stripped the pleroma
                & got the hearth breathing in a paper home

                & the reader's
                the poem of electrifying rhythms

                swept under the Ocean
                & on!

                that such a Mind found
                a generation for mounting Olympus!

                This is the Book of the Body
                who has room in any lover's head

There can be no doubt that in Gloucester Ferrini forms with Olson a Neoromantic beachhead against the New Puritanism of Eliot. There is something uniquely contrary to Eliot in Ferrini's love for his body.

                I don't dwell
                on who I am
                my self is a fiction
                so are my thoughts
                I love my body
                my body loves me
                leave Nature alone
                it is perfect
                just as it is
                Humanity is full of stories
                                                   ("Song of the Secret")

Ferrini does not agonize over the inadequacy of language or the inflation of the self. Though always ready to swallow whole, he will "pick up" what he can, as in "Captain Janet:" "The Barque with all the Words/the Bible left out/Only at a bookstore/can you pick up/a Saint/for supper & extras." The Magi Image, with its root mission in mangn "to sing the magic song" seems an occult contradiction to Eliot's early poem "Journey of the Magi." Unlike Eliot, he comes to The Magi Image bearing neither academic nor modernist credentials. Rather he comes with a sharp tongue raised heavenward, prepared in simple measures for the song of the sacred Infant.

               Before Birth
               & after Death
               the Source
               in the knowing eye
               of the Infant
               & in the one
                who sees
               the Source
                in the Infant
               the Infant
                                (from "Song of the Sacred")

The rhythms of Ferrini's art are spoken ones - emotional, impulsive, instinctual. Words are tones that call the sacerdotal arts into play. At eighty plus, he wants to know the ultimate truth about the place of the poem in the shadow of death. He is willing, with longevity, to mark the extended shadow of his own individuation in writing.

               the written Word is a style of Death
               the spoken is Life itself
               & between the two is the Mystery
                continually escaping
                                      ("Prologue and Epilogue")

Ferrini is a traditionalist with a deep trust in community and communication. He is a listener who demands listeners. He emphasizes the unity of life and art in "Wholly Holy Song:"

                 is between the though & the action
                 or a split is noise

                 desire is radical
                 or a limitation

                 the random is all ways
                 testing the human

                 word love tongues
                 & inflections

                 because the Song
                 is free

                 everything alive
                 & dead is with it

The radical organization of desire within the totality of song is his ultimate message in The Magi Image.

Kenneth Warren
Librarian and Critic

© January 1997

Kenneth Warren

Kenneth Warren is a librarian by profession. He edits House Organ, a letter of poetry and prose.

This review appeared in House Organ 17 and permission for reprint given by Kenneth Warren.

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