A Look at David Ferry: A Featured Poet at Mass Poetry Festival, 2014

David FerryDavid Ferry, one of this year’s featured poet at the May 2-4 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, is both poet and translator, and in both areas his work is acclaimed as of major importance. As a poet he is praised for his vision, craft, modesty, fly-by urbanity, simplicity, and a dozen other attributes that occur readers when confronted by someone of Ferry’s unassuming brilliance. His translations of Gilgamesh, of Virgil and of Horace are considered standards in giving life to these honored classics.

In 2012, when Ferry won the National Book Award for Bewilderment, the reviews were admiring and ardent. In an essay in The New Yorker, Dan Chaisson said of the book “This is one of the great books of poetry of this young century.” W.S. Merwin described Ferry’s work as having an “assured quiet tone” that communicates “complexities of feeling with unfailing proportion and grace.”

PBS’s Jeffrey Brown interviewed Ferry for NewsHour after he won the National Book Award. The video clip gives you an opportunity to hear his poems as well as get a sense of the man himself.

A Q&A with David Ferry

In anticipation of this participation in this year’s festival, we asked Ferry some general questions about himself and the current poetry scene. Here are his answers:

Who or what had the most impact on you when you began to write poetry?
Study in the poems of Frost and Stevens when I was at Amherst, where I wrote about Stevens for an honors thesis; writing about Wordsworth’s poems for my PhD;  all the reading of poets, fascinated by the insides of their lines.  I didn’t start writing poems myself till graduate school.  In  high school, though, Whitman.

What convinced you that you had to be a poet?
I don’t know about “had to be.”  I just started to write poems, lines of poems, and loved the w0rk of doing it.  I still do. I’m having a pretty long career at doing it, so I guess I had to.

What do you think is the most exciting new development in poetry today?
I’m a little di1strustful of the word “development” because it could invite you to think that things have gotten better ‘today’ than they were ‘yesterday.’  I don’t think that’s necessarily true.  But it’s a pretty exciting time, a lot of good writing in it. That’s always been the case.  I do think, though, that the internet, the new journals and blogs, are an exciting  development, lots of good criticism (and lots of bad criticism too, but alive), many good poems, emerging and emerged, and many bad ones too, but alive.   Also, lots of transactions, in translation and discussions, of twentieth and twenty-first century poems in other languages. My eyesight is kind of shot so there are limits to my reading, but I read enough to be excited by the scene.  The new technologies are great for getting the word back and forth.

What emerging poets do you find interesting, and why?
I’m not going to get into this.  There are a number of poems I’ve read recently, by people I may not have read before, some of them “emerging,” some of them decidedly “emerged,” whatever that means.  But I’d be afraid of inadvertently not mentioning somebody whose poems have excited me, and I’d worry about that.  I do want to say, though, that I was to have read with Maxine Kumin at the festival this year, and I’m very sorry not to have had the opportunity to say, in her presence, how much I admire what she has done.  I first got know her work many many years ago, before her strong “emergence.”

Her work was characterized then, as it was forever after that, by the directness and self-knowledge of her lines.

What are you most looking forward to at the Mass Poetry Festival?
Reading with my friends and colleagues from Suffolk University, to be sure; seeing old friends; Salem itself.

More on Ferry’s biography

Ferry is Hart Professor of English, Emeritus, at Wellesley College;  since his retirement from Wellesley he has frequently been a Visiting Lecturer in the Boston University Graduate Creative Writing Program; he is currently a “Distinguished Visiting Scholar”at Suffolk University. In addition to the National Book Award Ferry has won the Ruth B Lilly Prize, from the Poetry Foundation, “for lifetime achievement,” 2011; The Golden Rose , “for lifetime achievement,” New England Poetry Club, 2007; D.Litt. (Hon.), Amherst College, 2006; Harold Morton Landon Translation Prize, Academy of American Poets; Academy Award for Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2001; The 2000 Lenore Marshall Prize, Academy of American Poets; the 2000 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize, The Library of Congress;  Fellow, American Academy of  Arts and Sciences, 1998.

His wife, who died in 2006, was Anne Ferry, the distinguished literary scholar and critic.