Of Mr. Rogers and Venus Fly Traps—an Interview with Scott Ferry

Scott, welcome to The Muses’ Refugia. Thanks for joining with me to share with readers a taste of your life in poetry. First the basics: How’d you get into the poetry game?

Thank you for having me! I am honored. I have been writing poetry ever since high school (which seems like a really long time ago). I had some publishing success in the mid to late ’90s in the Southern California poetry scene in magazines like Blue Satellite, Spillway, the Laguna Poets Series, but mostly flew under the radar as the ability to get poems out into the world was much more difficult then. I actually have tons of decent material from the mid-’90s on, which I think I will compile into a full-length at some point. Reading them again triggers images and smells and memories of carefree times when there was a cohesive poetry group I would see at readings.

After I moved to Seattle in ’98, I started reading up here, but mostly worked on my craft alone, reading tons of contemporary and classic poetry (Whitman, Carver, Bukowski, Snyder, Harjo, Nye). Facebook really opened doors for me as I began connecting with the masters of the craft at an exponential rate. For me writing is not only a compulsion, but a therapy. I will never stop and I am glad someone enjoys reading them. I try not to let my ego get involved, but credit the muse, or my subconscious, with most of my successes. Many times, I just have to listen and the river just starts pouring.

From all the poems I see you post on Facebook, I’ve gathered you are an amazingly prolific poet. But you’re also a husband, father and full-time nurse. How in the world do you find time for poetry?

Whenever I have some quiet time I sneak it in. It doesn’t take me long to write and I don’t edit much, just enough to get to the place where the poem is settled. I find that meddling too much with the original draft takes the spirit out of the poem. Sometimes I write a poem in ten minutes, sometimes sixty, and then come back and read it the next day and fix the stuck parts.

Where does your poetic inspiration come from?

It could be an image, like a fence with gaping holes in it. It could be something my kids said, like when my son repeated “Mooon mooon” over and over while I was putting him to sleep. It could be a weird idea, like “what if our ID badges showed our feet instead of our faces?” It could be rain or fires or wind. It could be a deep nostalgia or an uncharted ache.

I’ve read several of your cadralor poems. That’s a relatively new poetic form. Can you explain the basics of the form and tell us why you’ve been captivated by it? And, please, would you give us a sample Ferry cadralor to show us its magic?

The cadralor, invented by Christopher Cadra and Lori Howe, is a poetic form of five numbered stanzas of roughly the same length which are disconnected by direct subject matter, but connected by resonance in the ether. The fifth stanza has to tie them together and reflect on love or longing. I just really enjoy the interplay of the stanzas which are both synchronistic and not. I have written quite a few, I even was an editor for a time at Gleam: The Journal of the Cadralor (not enough time). The one I like the best is here (first published in Verse-Virtual):

ichor / eschar

1. the day my grandmother dies, one plastic clock

turns backwards (like pulling in a few breaths before diving)

the phone rings five minutes later to tell us she has died

2. they hold the baby out of the incubator—

goldboned and opal—breaths still wet with ichor

they hold the tiny wings—breathe each time he breathes

3. crows don’t carry the bones from this world to the filter-lands

crows mourn the oily rash of feathers on my driveway

they accuse me from the wires—scratching ice out of my lungs

4. gilgamesh (with his boarliver overalls) comes to siduri

as she sips wine from a skull—she almost spits it out

tells him go home—i don’t care who you are

5. of course eve says yes to the serpent—the naked man

just talks in circles yes—to this veinpulp fruit

which tastes like waking

I’ve had the good fortune to read two of your collections, The Only Thing That Makes Sense Is to Grow, and Mr. Rogers Kills Fruit Flies. I think it’d be interesting to know how you compiled both books, the process. How did those manuscripts come together to become such cohesive collections?

The Only Thing That Makes Sense Is to Grow came out of a stirring of familial history with raising my daughter, seeing how I was parented and how I parent, how my parents were parented. The whole book revolves around gardening, seasons of lack and abundance, the living and the dead that rise up every spring, the grief and the laughter. Poems kept needing to be written about my father or my grandmother or my great-great grandfather, so I kept obliging. Then my wife became pregnant again so I had to end it with a beginning.

Mr. Rogers Kills Fruit Flies was actually written three years ago and I was just shopping for a publisher. Honestly, I entered the Write Bloody Chapbook Contest and didn’t get anywhere. When I received the winning chapbook Favorite Daughter by Nancy Huang, I was floored by her use of family history as texture and grist. I also enjoyed her persona poems and decided to write a few of my own. I then found inspiration on Wikipedia when looking up methods of divination…there are so many with wonderful names! So I took off writing poems about how to divine a future from old shoes and things accidently overheard. I had already written the ten children’s book poems years earlier and they seemed to fit in the surreal and spooky framework.

What are you currently working on? Is another book in the offing?

The most recent book is These Hands of Myrrh and it springs from the first few months of my son’s birth as well as working as a nurse in the pandemic. It examines the role of family in survival, along with its ghosts and joys. This is a much more traditional book of poetry than Fruit Flies, but it still (hopefully) takes the reader underground through a few dark bus stops.

I have a finished manuscript called fishmirror of experimental and surreal verse that is looking for a home. I also have a mostly finished manuscript called Tangerines and Sleepsongs about my toddler son. And my newest project is a group of shorter works and dream images with the working title Prayers and Shame Dreams.

Words of advice for beginning poets? What about those of us with experience?

Find out what turns on your current and go there. Be entranced by anything. Pay attention to when you get inspired and write yourself a quick email or text to remind yourself to start that poem when you have time. Go into the light or the dark all the way, immerse your hair and come out filthy with it. Scream as your write. Weep as you write.

Anything else you’d like to share? Some parting words for reader?

Stay humble and hopeful. Keep swimming farther out. Be honest, whatever you do.

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