An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger)
1845 - 1850
Ireland. The aching. Stomach tight, skin taut, stretched across poking ribs.
Mo dhia,prataí ar maidin agus prataí ar nóin mar a duirt an file -My God, potatoes in the morning and potatoes in the evening,-as the poet said-
A hot clammy Summer. Potatoes! Lifegiver! dragged from the earth with fevered hands,
dirt scared nails, scratching ,digging the mulched black thing, cloying to the touch, from the earth. A fouled death stench, from what had been a potato.
A sábhála Dia orainn!- God save us!-Níl aon rud eile againn! -We have nothing else!
The Land bereft of it's nourishing harvest; potatoes. Even along the coast, the boats are no more, in the cities if you have the money for the inflated prices at the food markets,, and islands where there is fish, there is some salvation, if you have the strength and skill to catch them. If you have a currach to set sail to find them, or the ragged groups of women and girls,
chipping reluctant shellfish from the sea drenched rocks,
or ,eating raw seaweed to ease the knawing need, their guant frames poisoned,
leading to the agony of death without hope. Cad a Déanfaimid anois?- What will we do now?
The cravings, walking barefoot, to the Landlord's House, the smell of cooking from his kitchen. Turned away by his bailiffs with masks about their faces, to hide the stench of human despair.
Food. Scenting like hunting dogs, the imagined taste on the air, like ragged unseeing things,
they stagger across moor and heath. The mountain wind, cutting through to the bone,
the chill of streams crossed numbing their bloodied bare feet,
staring unseeing, with grass-juiced mouths, the final act of despair and madness,
dripping from slack jawed lips.
Dying in heaving gasps, amidst a mountained landscape,
falling to emerald beauty to the quiet of field and valley.
The last sight and sound they see, lying face up, in a ditch, or on the side of the road, watching with the indifference of the dying, the slow moving gunmetal clouds pasted across a cold sky, reflected in their eyes.
A raven hovering, feathering a winged beat
for the approach of endless night. A lonely cry on the air, notes their passing.
A lonely place to die, by the roadside, a light breeze, bending blade of grass and petalled flower, fingers clawing the earth in a final rigor of agony,
before blessed death takes them.
An Gorta Mór: 1845-1850
Click on the file to listen to Tony read the poem:
Tony Treanor is an Irishman living in Limerick on the Mid-West coast of Ireland. He has enjoyed writing and reading poetry all his life.
Laura Mulcahy, Irish Singer and Poet, presents her moving song/poem, Sunken Cemetery, 1849, about emigration caused by the Irish Famine.
Several musicians and poets join her in this tribute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ypRiYttVGE&feature=emb_logo
As I write
I imagine "What it is";, to say
Hungry and stay, that way
She could be, my friend
A table well laid-
"Are you a vegetarian", I remark
Hunger has no caste-
It eats, itself, and lasts
You and I, ever thought.
Click on the file below to listen to Abha read her poem:
Abha Das Sarma lives in Bangalore, India.
An engineer and management consultant by profession, writing is what makes her happy and fulfilled.
Its raining, and windy
no shelter from the cold
I’m ailing, though young still,
I am really feeling old
Christmas is coming,
I still can’t find a home
No money, no shelter
Wandering the streets alone
My shoe won’t stop leaking
my toes are turning green
My stomach is so empty
I wish that I was clean
Searching through the rubbish
For something nice to eat
A leftover chicken leg
A succulent, seasonal treat
Nourishing, but still hungry
What else is there to do?
I approach a stranger and say
“A merry Xmas to you.”
Here is the video of Fin reading the poem: https://youtu.be/V3IKFdKJm8E
Fin Hall is from New Pitsligo, in the North East of Scotland. He has been writing since the early 70’s. He hosts a Zoom Event called Like A Blot From The Blue. Fin's work mainly focuses on social issues as well as reflective personal stories.
No time for poetry
The big lineup
in front of the food tanker
holds a paper plate in her right hand
drags a child with the left
the loudest crowd ever
to get meals to their children
there I saw myself
fragmented into thousands of humans
and my soul in silence
looking for an answer
Photo credit goes to Dr. Archana Pokharel
Click on the file below to listen to Sharmila read her poem:
Sharmila Pokharel is a bilingual poet from the Himalayan country Nepal. She has published two collections of poetry in her native language. She immigrated to Canada in 2010.
Her third book was a bilingual poetry collection My Country in a Foreign Land, co-translated by Alice Major. She is a co-author of Somnio: The Way We See It, a poetry and art book published in 2015.
“Deaths and marriages make great changes.”
That’s what they used to say,
In a general way,
Not specific to the Famine.
There were too many deaths then.
They were too close.
Dying was a failure.
That wasn’t spoken of.
It was lived out of.
It cut a deeper line
Of before and after
Than Independence, the change
From rulers to leaders.
It removed or erased so many
It changed Ireland.
It changed land ownership
From up and down to the middle.
The strong farmers rose.
Their cattle conquered crops.
Marriages were made to unite fields.
In a domestic commerce
Resources were invested for
The future in a son and
A son a priest for good measure
Was a measure of success.
Women served purposes.
Their speaking was sanctioned
In self-betraying confessions
To oppressive clergy.
Their lives went to the farms
Their love to the productive sons.
Their marriages were fodder
The absolution of lost knowledge
Comes slowly on the land.
Roots grow from our feet.
My grand father struck a man
Who, in drink, accused my forebears
Of the theft of fields from his forebears,
After the Hunger.
In the Cromwellian phrase of West Limerick-
My grandfather “falled” him.
Who will know now in that place
The story or the truth?
These many years later
We appear to be recovering
From that disease of the blood-
The fear of want.
The roots growing from our feet
We can love and leave the land.
There are changes.
Click on the file below to listen to Rena read her poem:
Rena Fleming grew up on a farm in Co.Limerick and now enjoys the landscape and the shores of Galway Bay.
Dinner for One
I remember the angst of scavenging for nourishment;
the excitement when sustenance
was found in a tin of spam
selected from the self-service menu
in a kitchen cupboard slammed with a bang,
breaking up an otherwise stony silence
while preparing dinner for one
No distraction from acrid smell of poverty,
an airborne virus infecting my nostrils
attempting to satisfy growling malnutrition need
because very child needs a daily feed,
no point in letting the situation bread contempt
as who gives a shit about trying to represent
the groundhog day of the twisted event
that although lonely was still a highlight when imminent;
my desolate dinner for one.
My parched lips washed it down
with unfiltered tap water
consumed while perched on a rickety chair,
wobbling as if laughing at my misfortune sitting there.
A chipped orphan plate scorning hungry eyes
always lowered, scarred from my mother’s glares filled with despise,
familiarity in that crockery that saw behind the scenes mockery
towards child welfare that forgot to be there
to witness my dinner for one.
The pièce de résistance dished up on scratched pine surface
barren of pretty tablecloth,
not ever needed since I’d never dare spill a drop.
Even if I did I’d use my tongue as a mop
to make the most of my dinner for one.
Indigestion took hostage of my stomach
when I too quickly crammed tasteless morsels into my young mouth
that hung open, forgetting to close with the chew,
table manners were never something taught by you,
fingers my utensils, there was no silver spoon
to shovel in my meal because mother would be home soon.
Needed time to wash up, no excuse for her to raise hand
to beat me black and blue for being so bad.
It was cold in the bosom of the kitchen without the oven on.
Why waste energy serving up dinner for one?
Kelly Van Nelson from Sydney, Australia is the #1 bestselling author of Graffiti Lane and Punch and Judy. Her poetry has featured in numerous international publications and she regularly discusses social issues in the media. Her books are frequently gifted to celebrities, including Hollywood Oscar winners. She is the recipient of a KSP First Edition Fellowship, winner of the AusMumpreneur ‘Big Idea Changing the World’ Award for her literary impact as an antibullying advocate, and Roar Success winner for Best Book and Most Powerful Influencer. In the spare time she doesn’t have, she hangs out on the open mic performing poetry. She is based in Sydney, Australia and is represented by The Newman Agency - www.kellyvannelson.com.
(i.m. Famine Walk 31/3/1849)
Stop a moment by the idle wall, look
right to the red rusting boathouse, tall trees
whispering, sheep bleating. Look left, follow
the waves, their bluegreen sheen domed by the sky,
bend and dip with the coast road. Long fingered
land lingers, to reappear as humpbacked
hills dotting Clew Bay. Clouds scud across Croagh
Patrick, colour changing as you watch. Four
hundred walked to Delphi Lodge in search
of food. They lie among potato drills,
roofless abbey walls, standing stones, yellow furze.
The rise of land dominates, insists that
you walk on it, admire it and know your
place in the scheme of things.
You can listen to Ger Duffy reading her poem by clicking on the file below
Ger Duffy lives in Co. Waterford, Ireland. Her poetry and fiction has been published by Slow Dancer Press, The Women’s Press, The Viking Press and Sheba Press. She holds a PG DIP in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths College, an MA in Screenwriting from University of Westminster, London.
National Famine monument at Murrisk/Lecanvey, Co. Mayo, Ireland. The sculpture pays homage to the victims of the Irish Famine (An Gorta Mór) and especially to Irish people who emigrated to the United Sates to escape death, with no guarantee of arriving alive.
Bengal Famine, 1943
Spewing fine Cuban nicotine, some two-thirds stupefied with Pol Roger,
He fulminated over Gandhi (“that nauseating, malignant and seditious,
Half-naked, fanatical fakir”), as he always did those nights. “The Indians
Are beastly people”, growled the Greatest Briton in that fake put-on voice,
With bellicose pomposity, which dreadfully impressed his sycophants, “Practising
Their foul religion. Sending them food would just encourage them to breed.”
He pouted at the paper, grunted and upon it scrawled, with brandy-trembling hand,
‘Inaction this day’. Marlborough’s descendent snorted and then returned
To his cigar. Three million starved to death. No epitaphs upon Bengali graves.
He and his acolytes composed the histories. His legacy remains secure
Mike Douse has a lifetime's immersion in education: his first assignment in Bangladesh was in 1966 and his latest there - looking at technical education for the International Labour Organisation - is ongoing. A collection of his articles, essays and conference contributions, entitled An Enjoyment of Education, was published in 2014 and he has published two anthologies of poems: Old Ground and Gone to Ground. Mike lives in mid-Wales with his dear wife Patricia.
Like the sound before a thunderstorm
An inner ache, like that of a woman in travail follows after
I toss and turn and hope
Tonight will be better
My mind wandering every second of every minute of every day
When it shall be full to the brim and running over
Then will I appreciate scarcity in times of abundance
Or treasure abundance in a spell of scarcity
Still it remains a dream
Worth waiting for
As I beg for the crumbs off the masters table
Daily we scramble with the township canine,
The stronger always win in battle
I would be wise
And decide to forget how life on the other side was like.
You define me not
Yes we lay side by side, shadow to shadow
Still you define me not
There is still an ounce of sanity in me
Yet a little milk, a little meat
A little scent of fresh pie
Baked to perfection
Would go a long way
Taste buds running wild as the rich flavours form a union
But fate has favoured the poor with lack
As the rich are endowed with more riches
The true taste of my own saliva has become so sweet
While few months' debris from chewed green leaves, are safely tucked away between my teeth.
I wish to see your face
And stare deep within those lifeless eyes
What guts you have
Your desires to wipe all humanity;
as you stand akimbo with your twin kindred corruption and disease
Adamant to infest all in its path
Til none whimpers, sighs or groans
Still we found you here
And remain here you shall
Oh when shall your scorpion's sting lose its edge
Hunger my foe
Never my mate
Never again welcome but fade away into thin air
Into the dust 6 feet under
beneath the shadows where none can see your hand.
Go and return not
We don't want you here
You can listen to Patience reading her poem by clicking on the file below:
Known as Patience Essence to her poetry fans, Lingiwe Patience Gumbo lives in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe and writes motivational literature and is also a recording artist and songwriter who is inspired by her faith, love and life situations. A voice of the voiceless, Patience is in the process of publishing her first poems anthology titled Words of Life.
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