Poet to donate his $100,000 national award

Ferry, retired from Wellesley College, is still teaching. Ferry, retired from Wellesley College, is still teaching.
By Sara Brown
Globe Correspondent / May 27, 2011

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David Ferry said he was thunderstruck when he received one of poetry’s most prestigious awards. But he is pretty clear about his plans for the $100,000 that came with the honor: “I’m giving it all away,’’ he said.

Earlier this month, the acclaimed poet and translator accepted the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which recognizes extraordinary lifetime accomplishment for a living US poet, at a ceremony in Chicago. Ferry, 87, is a visiting scholar at Suffolk University who also teaches in Boston University’s graduate creative-writing program.

The money, Ferry said in an interview, will go to various social-service organizations he has supported in the past, though those contributions were “much smaller sums.’’

“It’s like a great windfall,’’ said Ferry, who lives in Brookline. “A windfall should be used, if possible, not as if it were your income.’’

He has published well-received translations of Horace and Virgil. Ferry said he works paragraph by paragraph, comfortably translating one paragraph and then “starting my whole life over again’’ with the next.

Robert Pinsky, a BU professor who leads poetry workshops in the school’s graduate-writing program, praised the distinct rhythms of Ferry’s poetry. Like a musician, he said, one can hear Ferry’s work “and you know it’s David.’’

Pinsky, US poet laureate from 1997-2000, called Ferry an inspiration.

“He’s a testament to how — not only for an artist, but for anyone — you can keep on doing wonderful things well into life,’’ Pinsky said.

Ferry, a retired Wellesley College professor, said he still enjoys working with students. “I like what I read, and the people who write what I read,’’ he said.

George Kalogeris, a Suffolk English professor who has taught honors seminars with Ferry, said he was not surprised to learn that Ferry plans to donate the money to charity. Ferry, he said, has volunteered for about 30 years at a Boston soup kitchen.