One of the fun things about living in New Orleans is being mistaken for fellow poet, Gina Ferrara. Gina and I are the same height and have dark hair and dark eyes. In a pinch, you could say we are both Latina, since she is Latin by way of her Italian heritage and I am Latina by way of my Mexican ancestry. Slippery semantics aside, our poetry has much in common and we were both influenced by our maternal grandmothers, the storytellers in our families.
Gina Ferrara has always written. In high school, she was a closet poet. Even earlier, when she was nine years old, her grandmother urged her to write letters to her uncle Andrew during Vietnam war and told a young Gina 'to paint a picture of home.' A poet was born from a grandmother telling a nine year old to include the specific aspects of everyday life in the letters to her uncle.
In her new book, Amber Porch Light (Wordtech Press, 2013), Gina writes a poem about her uncle Andrew, "My Private Uncle." Through the simple act of her uncle devouring a large stack of pancakes, Ferrara expresses the disconnect of a child failing to understand what her uncle had gone through:
"With a poised fork, my private uncle said
his maple syrup reminded him of water,
gathering, soaking rows in a rice paddy. Of all things.
My sister and I laughed, thinking we had heard a silly joke."
The New Orleans native quietly admits the letters to her uncle were saved and then lost after hurricane Katrina.
The Vietnam war figures prominently in the backdrop to Amber Porch Light, Ferrara's third poetry collection. During this time, Ferrara's parents were also divorcing. Division, bombs (the B-53 ) color, taste, death, and beauty make up the potpourri of a book grounded in Ferrara's native New Orleans. Ferrara traces her love for words back to her grandmother.
"Her everyday language was full of these wonderful metaphors. She compared my aunt who wore a lot of make up to a tropical bird. Her expressive language rubbed off on me."
Gina's grandmother often asked if she was paid for her poetry. When she won a poetry contest and 500 dollars, her grandmother had one word for her, 'finally'. Although Gina had always written poems and letters, she didn't see herself as a poet, but thought she would be a nurse or psychiatrist.
Ferrara's poetry draws on her life's experiences. She is a firm believer in the maxim, write what you know and suggests that new poets should read widely and listen to other people read their work. "Write about what's authentic and indigenous," Ferrara said, "there has to be integrity to what you do."
One of the things she loves most about being a poet is meeting other poets. When she first started, she didn't like reading her work aloud. "I couldn't stand the sound of my voice," she said. "I had to get comfortable with it. Now, I love it."
|Gina Ferrara and Melinda Palacio|