David Ferry, Columbia High School Class of 1942, has won the National Book Award for Bewilderment, a book of poetry. Ferry was born in Orange, raised on Yale Street in Maplewood, and writes about the South Orange - Maplewood community in his work.
Ferry, a poet and translator, is Sophie Chantal Hart Professor of English, Emeritus, at Wellesley College. Born in 1924, he graduated from Amherst College and Harvard University, and served as a Sergeant in the United States Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946. What's less well known about Ferry is that his CHS years included a spell with the Parnassian Society, the Glee Club and the Senior Play. His yearbook entry (see photo) refers to him as "Dave."
Ferry's award-winning books of poetry and translation include Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations, which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Bingham Poetry Prize from Boston Book Review, the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for The New Yorker Book Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award.
"CHS has a terrific legacy of poets -- CK Williams, Madeleine Tiger are two that come immediately to mind," says Mary Brancaccio, who led numerous writing programs at the high school and teaches at Drew University.
Superintendent Brian Osborne lauds the alum, as well. "Congratulations to CHS alum David Ferry on winning the National Book Award," says Osborne. "Mr. Ferry joins the amazingly talented ranks of decorated and accomplished CHS alum who inspire SOMSD students and staff alike."
Ferry not only writes, but has taught for decades. Anne Fernald, South Orange resident and Fordham University professor, recalls classes with the poet. "David Ferry was an amazing and inspiring professor," she say.
"I took him for Milton and for a class called "'The Poetry of 1914' in which we studied British and American poetry written on the eve of World War One (including Prufrock, Thomas Hardy's "Satire of Circumstance" and Robert Frost). He is such a good reader that he can make you understand his poetry better simply by listening to him."
A memorable teacher, says Fernald inspires beyond the classroom walls. "Ferry is incredibly kind: I know that he and his wife (now deceased) gave one night a week to work in the soup kitchen in Cambridge. To us, he gave his phone number. I remember him telling us that if we ever got stuck writing a paper and got really worried, we should just call him on the phone--that sometimes a quick phone call would solve what seemed like a big problem. I took advantage of that once and he was so happy to hear from me and so helpful."
Columbia High School students, among them countless writers, editors and others who make their living with words, have another alumnus to consider. They can do by reading an excerpt from "Narcissus," set, perhaps, in the South Mountain Reservation, overlooking home.
There’s the one about the man who went into
A telephone booth on the street and called himself up,
And nobody answered, because he wasn’t home,
So how could he possibly have answered the phone?
The night went on and on and on and on.
The telephone rang and rang and nobody answered.
And there’s the one about the man who went
Into the telephone booth and called himself up,
And right away he answered, and so they had
A good long heart-to-heart far into the night.
The sides of the phone booth glittered and shone in the light
Of the streetlight light as the night went echoing on.
Out in the wild hills of suburban New Jersey,
Up there above South Orange and Maplewood,
The surface of a lonely pond iced over,
Under the avid breath of the winter wind,
And the snow drifted across it and settled down,
So at last you couldn’t tell that there was a pond.