By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Café is honored to welcome Hiram Larew to the Flapper Press Team!
His work with Poetry X Hunger is inspiring and potent. Tackling hunger head-on through the arts (more specifically, poetry), the project seeks to bring awareness to this important anti-hunger cause and reaches out for submissions and support to grow the initiative.
We reached out to Hiram Larew to ask him about his life, poetry, and his powerful mission.
POETRY X HUNGER
Annie Newcomer: Hiram, we are honored that you will begin a new series on hunger for Flapper Press. Can you give us a preview on what to expect in your upcoming articles?
Hiram Larew: Yes, indeed. Over the coming months, I’ll be introducing Flapper Press readers to Poetry X Hunger. With hunger on the rise everywhere, we really need new ways to fight it. Much to everyone’s surprise, poetry—yes, poetry—is proving to be an exciting and very potent tool in the anti-hunger toolkit. In the series, I’ll showcase poetry’s power to change minds, raise awareness, and even open up wallets and purses. But, this won’t be a passive series: I’ll be asking readers to contribute their good ideas, their poetry, and their support for the cause. So, stay tuned!
AN: Please share, in your own words, what this quote [attributed to] Pope Francis means: "You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works.”
HL: In these few poetic words, Pope Francis has captured the importance of giving our everything to the anti-hunger cause. Indeed, regardless of their specific faith, many folks around the world turn to the Divine to intercede on behalf of those in need—in this case, the hungry. The Pope reminds us that we must couple that faith in a Higher Power’s intervention with our own hands-on actions. In fact, for our thoughts and prayers to make any kind of difference, he says that we each must become personally responsible for helping the less fortunate, including the hungry.
AN: How do you measure success within the organization that you shepherd?
HL: I’ve become more ambitious in the last few years. At the outset of Poetry X Hunger, I considered success to be a reply to my email, a nod of agreement in a meeting, or a poetry submission. Yes, early on, simply getting on people’s screens was the goal. Now with a wider awareness that poetry can really help fight hunger—and because hunger is on the rise—I’m asking Poetry X Hunger to do more; I’m asking it to speak up at legislative meetings, in policy discussions, and during decision-making sessions at local, regional, national, and international levels so that in addition to considering hunger data and trends, leaders hear some heartfelt poems that make the problem real and human. And just as much, I’m asking that Poetry X Hunger engage the broader public—to open eyes, minds, and souls to the anti-hunger cause. For example, why not have billboards showcasing lines from a hunger-focused poem? Said slightly differently, while I don’t expect poetry to end hunger, I do expect it to fight hunger whenever, however, and in whatever way it can.
AN: Let’s talk a little bit about how your organization works with respect to poetry. Do you seek submissions on hunger? Please share everything a poet or a person who has a heart to share would need to do to send in poems.
HL: Yes, we are always looking for poems about empty stomachs for possible publication on the Poetry X Hunger website. The fairly simple submission process is explained fully at Submission Guidelines - Poetry X Hunger. Here are just a few things to keep in mind:
First, while lots of wonderful poems are being written about hunger of the heart, soul, or spirit, we’re looking for poems by any and all about hunger of the stomach. Second, you don’t have to have been hungry to write about it. You can, for example, use poetry to ask questions like, "Why are you hungry when I’m not? What causes hunger, and what should I do to help end it?" And third, publishing a poem on the Poetry X Hunger website is a “good thing” but isn’t enough. Those poems need to be put to work. And so, we actively promote the free use of the poems by anyone, and we make sure that the poet is always given credit for her/his work. Poems have already been picked up by anti-hunger groups, food banks, houses of worship, classroom teachers and professors, agricultural extension experts, the United Nations, and many others.
AN: Why is it important for poetry to have a place at the "Hunger Discussion table"?
HL: For so long, hunger work—be it grounded in science, policy, legislative, or diplomatic concerns—has relied on statistics, trendlines, and data. These are all incredibly important in understanding the extent of hunger. They speak to our logic and our need to know. We’d be blind without such information. Slowly but surely, however, we’re realizing that to solve problems like hunger, we also need to capture attentions, energize discussions, and speak to emotions. That’s what poetry and the other arts do so well. Poems motivate us in ways that data simply can’t. Poetry activates hunger statistics by making the numbers human and heartfelt. So, yes, poetry needs to be at the table—with a microphone.
AN: Hiram, ask yourself three questions that you feel are relevant and do not want us to miss and then answer your own questions for our readers.
HL: I am happy to do this exercise.
Questions that Larew asked and answered:
There seems to be a growing number of opportunities for Poetry X Hunger to help with the anti-hunger cause. But, I'm interested in knowing, behind the opportunities, what the challenges with the initiative have been and how you've responded to them.
Yes, indeed, as word gets around about Poetry X Hunger's inventory of powerful poems, more and more chances are popping up for those poems to be used to fight hunger. Which is great. But a key challenge that has faced the initiative from day one has been convincing hunger fighters who may not be big fans of poetry to get onboard. So many times, when I've suggested to anti-hunger scientists, activists, food bank staff, elected officials, house of worship leaders, and the like that they might find poetry useful to their messaging and advocacy, I've gotten the "knitted brow" look. I can hear them thinking, Huh? Poetry and my food bank? Really?? or How could poetry possibly speak to my voters? Or worshippers? But, just as often, if those hesitant folks are willing to listen to a poet—young or mature—deliver her/his poem, I don't have to say anything more; the poets and their poetry do all the convincing that's needed. Just like that, what was hesitancy becomes enthusiasm, and the leaders will ask me for more poems. So, getting over that initial hesitancy continues to be a challenge, but one that is surmountable. In fact, lately I've been brazen enough to urge American agencies that fund anti-hunger science work and poetry organizations to support partnerships between poets and anti-hunger experts. Maybe one day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will! Or the Academy of American Poets will!
What's the future of Poetry X Hunger?
As long as I'm involved, I hope it will continue to lift up poetry as a key tool in the hunger-fighting toolkit. Before I founded the initiative, there weren't many poems about empty-stomach hunger. Now there are. And those poems are being used! But, back to the question, I deliberately created Poetry X Hunger as an informal initiative, not as a 501(c)(3) or non-profit. I wanted—and still want—to keep things flexible and simple. But, as Poetry X Hunger matures and moves ahead beyond my involvement, I can easily see that a new team overseeing it would want to formalize it into an legally recognized organization. And by the way, finding and forming such a team is a key step in "succession planning." Up to now, several friends have pitched in to help with various aspects of building Poetry X Hunger's presence and impact. But at some point, a team will need to be formed to handle things. I keep watching for folks who might help form such a team!
Does Poetry X Hunger nominate poets for prizes like the Pushcart Prize?
Funny that you should ask. A couple of Poetry X Hunger poets have asked that very question. For the time being, I've said no. Instead, I've focused on finding ways to use poems from the site in the anti-hunger cause rather than nominate them for a blue ribbon poetry award. In fact, it's been very gratifying to see some of the poems on the site picked up and showcased in a variety of ways: in global anti-hunger public service announcements, in musical chorales, by the United Nations, and at food banks. So, in short, rather than seeking awards for them, we want to activate Poetry X Hunger poems.
AN: Thank you for sharing your heart and passion for alleviating hunger, Hiram. To close, I ask that you share one of your own poems on hunger and then include a few from poets who have submitted to your program.
HL: Yes, of course, and thank you, Annie and Elizabeth Gracen of Flapper Press. I look forward to sharing more with your readers on this important subject in the months ahead.
Bread in Hand
But even after all of this
farmers keep farming
for every one of us
They bend the sun
and raise the earth
each day for us
They round each rough
and tamp down these fears
for each of us
Yes after all of this
They’re the bells of life for us
And even after all of this
the grocers pickers baggers stackers sorters drivers checkers
and sweepers too
are here for us
Like bowls of life
they give us each our every day
and so renew that sense of trust for us
And even after all of this
and just as much
are those who volunteer to serve the soup
The ones who help and give and care on our behalf
Their hands and hearts
shape our thanks --
No matter what else happens
they are life
And yes even after all of this
These days seem like fields to us
with shadows deep across the view
but with hope there too
a full green that grins as ever
just like those who stand and wave
bread in hand
through all of this
Poems from the Poetry X Hunger website:
ABOUT HUNGER A poem about hunger Is not one of awe, not one of wonder This thing that grows Below, Inside Reflects, Of need Denied A painful thing to see A wretched thing to be In hunger A darkness Sharp, clawing at ones’ being The lungs, the heart Messing with the reasoning of the mind The hope The emptiness that rises To the throat Choking on water Offering appeasement to the belly Releasing unrelenting anguish In a language called despair The weariness that is telling The aching, the swelling The deadly devastation That stalks in starvation The extreme Muffled muted screams It cries, it sobs It whimpers in its’ call The distance The fierce, intense, insistence Of the sustenance one needs Shows Hunger is an enemy to us all Like the falling of darkness gives rise to gloom and doom Its’ darker and darker and darker and darker and…
—Brenardo, aka Andre’ B. Taylor © 2018 Brenardo
Brenardo, aka Andre’ B. Taylor, is a native Washingtonian poet and songwriter. He has been writing for over five decades on all matters of life. His written words have been featured in countless newspapers, magazines, and poetry anthologies, and he is a veteran of stage, radio, television, and [the] United States Navy who believes in being of service to the word which graces him to help others.
CHARGE After the lion finishes grooming his singular body with rough licks, after the porcupine waddles away, after night devours the sun, the dark tail twitches, new scents worry the air, the lion stops resting under his rock, his large claws scraping the dust. Hunger moves with the pride. It leaps and drags, and chews until the bones dry inside. A lion may outrun a goat, or not. Hunger is outrunning the earth.
Christina Daub is a Push Cart–nominated poet & translator. She has taught poetry and creative writing at George Washington University and other schools in the DMV area. She lives in Maryland.
Ours ain't hunger pains after a bumper harvest Lately, twisted fate forced a wrong turn on us Tilling farmland suspended, a dark cloud had engulfed us Missiles that time never told were coming, fell like the monsoon rains Announced wasn't a tranquil break but fight or fright or flight Iron hoes had clobbered head to head in the fields Sirening a so abrupt shift of activity. May you not say we got bread shortage on the table from nil supply Rather say, wheat scarcity was our own stitching Shot down was our willing and able bread winner's promise To feed nations out of a comparative advantage and nothing else. Say ours was a taxing choice that traded ploughshares for swords One more time, kept up gun barrels oiled with toxic sharpness Amarment sharpness recklessly gunning down our wonderland wheat farmer Now we are left with even the smallest rivers claiming that they are seas! May you not say we got bread shortage on the table from nil supply Rather say, our wheat scarcity was our own shortfall Than breach masculine desires, we went showboating power -- existent or not Say that our inflated ego has kept fortunes waning With this warring, Food prices have sky rocketed like an erupting Mauna Loa volcano With this warring, Displaced are many many families from food access, worse the physically vulnerable.
A poet under VaChikepe and The Hundred Sailors, a poetry music and arts ensemble from Zimbabwe. Also a Chartered Governance Professional.
Hiram Larew founded the informal Poetry X Hunger initiative in 2017 as a way to bring two areas of interest – poetry and hunger prevention – together. Upon retiring from the U.S. Department of Agriculture where he helped guide international agriculture programs, he noticed that relatively little poetry about hunger was available. Believing in the power of poetry to touch hearts and minds, he launched Poetry X Hunger as a way to encourage poets to write about hunger.