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One Man’s Fight Against Hunger: What Led Hiram Larew to Build Poetry X Hunger

By Fizza Abbas


Hiram Larew, a poet and an advocate against hunger, catalyzed a unique initiative, Poetry X Hunger, in 2017, merging his love for poetry with the fight against hunger. With the motto "Fight Hunger One Poem at a Time," Larew collaborated with global organizations, hosted poetry competitions, and overcame challenges, amplifying the role of poetry in raising awareness about hunger. His goal is clear: to stop hunger by using poetry as a powerful tool to bridge the gap between abundance and deprivation.


"Being a poet myself, I thought, maybe I could help. Maybe I could rally poets to the anti-hunger cause. This is how Poetry X Hunger was born, with a motto that says, Fight Hunger One Poem at a Time.”

Hiram Larew, a passionate advocate against hunger and a poet himself, embarked on a mission to blend his love for poetry with the fight against hunger.


Having enjoyed a privileged upbringing in the US, shielded from hunger and hardship, Larew earned a Ph.D. in entomology from Oregon State University and dedicated his career to the cause at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).


His journey took a pivotal turn when he discovered a scarcity of hunger-themed poems online, inspiring him to establish Poetry X Hunger in 2017 with the motto "Fight Hunger One Poem at a Time."


What is Poetry X Hunger?

Poetry X Hunger is an initiative that combines his two areas of interest: poetry and hunger prevention. He launched this initiative in 2017 to rouse poets to the anti-hunger cause. 

I understood that while science and data about hunger are critically important to understanding it, poetry has a role to play as well.  Poetry speaks to people's hearts in ways that hunger statistics can't.  So, I collaborated with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), the Maryland State Arts Council (USA) and the Capital Area Food Bank (Washington, DC, USA) to draw the attention of poets towards the cause of world hunger. With the help of these organizations, I hosted World Food Day poetry competitions and was overwhelmed with the response! 

Before the initiative, there were very few poems about hunger.  That has now changed! Poetry X Hunger has many powerfully haunting poems – both in audio and text formats – most of which have been used by teachers, hunger leaders, community activists, authors, and religious leaders to explore the many faces of hunger. 


Photo: Hiram Larew. Poetry X Hunger's logo created by Diane Wilbon Parks

Poetry X Hunger Challenges

As is common with every initiative, he also faced some challenges with Poetry X Hunger, particularly during the pandemic, as it took him some time to sustain a creative buzz that helped the anti-hunger cause locally, regionally, nationally, and around the world during COVID and in the post-COVID era.


But as the French playwright, Molière said: "The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it", so he also prevailed over it. The payoff was worth it!


Initiatives launched by Poetry X Hunger

With the help of many gracious individuals and groups who share the vision of a prosperous and collaborative global society, he launched many initiatives through Poetry X Hunger.  


In 2022, he collaborated with The Poartry Project and T. A. Niles to auction art that was created in response to hunger poems published on Poetry X Hunger’s website. They raised more than $5,000 for Feed the Children during the auction and fundraising campaign.  Then, they held an online poetry reading fundraiser for Roots for Life (Washington, DC, USA) and raised more than $1,000.  


Earlier, he held a Power Through Poetry: Voices to End Hunger poetry readings for The New York City's (USA) New School's online Food Security program. 



Tapping the creative spirits of college students, he also cooperated with faculty at Oregon State University (USA) to engage Honors College students about the role that poetry can play in fighting hunger.  


He has also partnered with the Anne Arundel County Food Bank (Maryland, USA) on appointing the first-ever Food Bank Poet Laureate who is creating new poetry that the Food Bank uses to open and close its meetings and fundraisers.  


Goals of Poetry X Hunger

His goal is simple and more than daunting:  Stop hunger.  Unfortunately, COVID reversed progress in reducing hunger.  More and more people from Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia and Latin America are hungry.  And, hunger haunts neighborhoods, campuses, sidewalks and rural communities everywhere in America.  When so many enjoy abundance while many others lack the basics, he wants poetry to help all of us to face up to and then break down that difference. 


Here's a poem by Kathamann that is just one example of the powerful poems on the Poetry X Hunger website:


Food is a Four-Letter Word


My stomach growls


and roars out loud.


I’m dizzy.


I ate something


sometime 3 days


ago.  My thoughts


are beyond sense.


I fumble in my backpack


and discover saltines.


Stale.


But the salt tastes good.


My dry throat is sore


and it hurts to swallow.


My prayers are silent


and delicate.  Praying


for a rain of pop tarts.


In summary, Hiram Larew's Poetry X Hunger is a powerful example of how poetry can make a real impact on global issues. Larew's transition from a successful entomology career to a dedicated advocate against hunger showcases the influence of combining passion with purpose.

 

About the author:

Fizza Abbas is a writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She is fond of poetry and music. Her work has appeared in more than 90 journals, both online and in print. Her work has also been nominated for Best of The Net and shortlisted for Oxford Brookes InternationalPoetryCompetition 2021. She has also authored two books, Ool Jalool (Fahmidan Publishing) and Bakho (Ethel Press). Aside from writing, she runs a YouTube channel where she interviews poets and zine editors. She tweets @fizzawrites.


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