As a young man, Edward Ferri, Jr. began writing little poems and artistic verses in a small notebook tucked inside his leather jacket. Sometimes he gifted his Aunt Emily a glimpse of his scribbles but mostly kept them to himself. In a recent interview with the Hownikan, Ferri said he became an engineer after college — a “very technical, hands-on, nuts and bolts kind of guy” — and felt his two passions “were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. An engineer writing poetry … sounds a little strange.”
Ferri compares poetry to baseball, implying everyone plays the game at some point in his or her life, and some simply take it further. When he decided to take poetry more seriously, Ferri knew little about rhyme and verse, owned no collections and bought Poetry for Dummies as a starting point. On a whim in 2008, he desired to expand on his talents and signed up for an online poetry class at 60 years old.
“I didn’t even tell anybody I was doing this. I would do the course work late in the evening,” Ferri said. “These courses are pretty straightforward, and … you don’t have to embarrass yourself in a classroom or anything like that. They do have a bulletin board (online) that you would post your work and other students could comment, and you could do text conversations with them and the instructor via the bulletin board.”
He polished his skills over the last decade while attending monthly meetings of the Gilroy Garlicky Group of Poets at a local library in Gilroy, California. They provided him the initiative to finish a poem on a deadline. Earlier this year, Ferri released his first collection, Glassy Air: Poems Kindled in the Long Shadow of a Lone Motorcycle.
His time motorcycling alone in his mid to late 20s inspired many of the poems in his book. Ferri began looking back at his notebooks, journals and thousands of photographs he took while completing the poetry class decades later.
“A big part of my traveling was to visit historical monuments, national parks and museums like the Smithsonian — those kinds of places,” he said. “I used to be a backpacker. So, camping off a motorcycle was very natural. I had my sleeping bag, all the gear, all that stuff; and I’ve ridden motorcycles all my life beginning with a Cushman motor scooter when I was in the sixth grade.”
He once spent months crisscrossing the United States after the company he worked for relocated. Ferri accepted his severance pay and left central California to visit friends and relatives scattered across the country, including his Aunt Emily (Melott) Smith in upstate New York. The two Melott family descendants cared for each other, and she recognized his artistic potential.
“I would leave her a thank you note or do a toast for New Year’s or something like that. You know, kind of rhymy, little sentimental things, and that was kind of the extent of writing poetry for me,” he said. “But she kind of enjoyed these little fun poems, so I would send her some stuff — odds and ends, now and then — and it kind of encouraged me to maybe learn some more about poetry.”
On his way to New York in 1977, Ferri rode through Yosemite, Everglades and Shenandoah National Parks, visited family in Oklahoma, and reconnected with friends in Florida. While in Oklahoma, he stayed with his Aunt Viola and Aunt Cardila in Commerce. The Bergeron and Melott side of his family owned a 160-acre plot near Wanette where his mom, aunts and uncle grew up during the Depression. He found the old homestead and visited the Wanette Cemetery where many of his ancestors are buried.
Ferri also visited CPN headquarters to trace his heritage through the rolls, which later provided motivation for his poetry. He remembers and thanks Beverly Hughes who helped him find his ancestors in the large, hand-written ledgers.
The miles added up crossing the country, and once Ferri reached his Aunt Emily’s home in Binghamton, New York, his bike required maintenance. While waiting on a transmission part, his fondness for the East Coast grew. He found an engineering job and moved to New York to continue exploring the larger area more conveniently as a resident.
“Another one of those great decisions that just kind of fell in my lap, only because the motorcycle needed a part,” Ferri said. “You talk about serendipitous, but sometimes you have to grab the moment. You have to realize, like, this is kind of an opportunity here. This is something good.”
He also feels that way about the poetry class he found on ed2go.com. He signed up on a whim with his Aunt Emily in mind after the online catalog listed no new engineering courses. Ferri made a point of expanding his skillset annually, and he learned more than he anticipated.
Daily life inspires Ferri. He hops on the computer to pound out a line or verse as he thinks of it, or he jots it down in a notebook or sticky note. Free verse style comes to him easiest. He likes reading other structures but prefers not to follow the many rules of methods such as sonnets, villanelles and sestinas. Each of Ferri’s poems differs in subject matter, length and denseness.
A diverted road
A path not planned
A found lost knock
On an old front door
Keep the sky open
The unforeseen turn
See the elusive glint
A golden nugget gleaming
A treasure for evermore
His professor became one of his mentors, and Ferri continued to correspond with her about his work and publication opportunities after the class. Some of the assignments encouraged the students to share their poems, not only with classmates but also on a larger scale. Ferri mastered the journal submission process. As a result, several have featured him, including Muddy River Poetry Review, The Main Street Rag, Shot Glass Journal, Still Crazy and Eskimo Pie.
After writing for almost a decade, Ferri self-released a collection of his substantive material relating to his motorcycling odysseys that covered 47 states. Ferri still possessed racks full of photo slides that reflect the content. He initially wanted to publish a chapbook, generally fewer than 40 pages, but it quickly grew.
“I’m putting this chapbook together … Then I decided to add the photographs, doing that kind of blew the simple chapbook idea out of the water, so it became a hybrid chapbook,” Ferri said. “So, it’s kind of unique in that it has all these photographs. Poetry lovers sometimes maybe don’t like this kind of a book because it’s not just the poetry, but it kind of ends up being a travelogue with the addition of the photographs to compliment the poems.”
His notes documenting mileage, location and small details allowed him to trace his route and pinpoint snapshot locations. The book includes several pieces about the time spent in Oklahoma researching his Potawatomi family as well as photographs of Wanette. Ferri used those notes to confirm where and when he took the pictures and create the book’s photo index.
Ferri stopped motorcycling in the 1990s, but the project helped him relive his memories. Putting together the compilation felt like nearly perfect road conditions paired with a clean windshield and a full tank of gas. Ferri named the book Glassy Air after that feeling.
“When you’re riding your bike on an open road without any other vehicles, and there’s no wind turbulence at all — that’s glassy air,” he said. “It’s like water skiing on glassy water.”
Glassy Air is available in both paperback and e-book form on Amazon at cpn.news/GlassyAir. Currently, Ferri is working on another collection featuring recent compositions and anticipates releasing it sometime in 2019.