What follows are responses by renowned anti-hunger leader, Ambassador Tony Hall, to questions about hunger and poetry. See his bio below. More such interviews with key hunger experts and poets can be found on the Library page under “Interviews.” Question: Mr. Ambassador, is hunger solvable? If so, what is needed to solve it? Response: Can we solve hunger? The simple but unsatisfying answer is “yes, but…” We produce enough food on this planet to feed everyone, and I do believe that with sufficient public and political will we can end hunger, but the issue is way more complicated than that. For us to declare that we are making the end of hunger a priority means that we are prioritizing many other issues as well: It would mean that we are prioritizing climate change and the undeniable impacts it is having on agriculture, global migration patterns, and economies. It would mean that we are prioritizing racial equity, especially given the disproportionate impact food insecurity has on minority communities in this nation and others. It would mean that we are prioritizing global and community economic development that ensures not only a competitive global market, but also one that is accessible to every individual. It would mean looking beyond short-term national interest for the greater global common good, including pursuit of global peace and stability. Above all, and encompassing all of what I have stated above, it means prioritizing social justice. This includes not only what we demand of our political leaders, but also how we act in our own communities to our own neighbors. Fundamentally, if we as individuals do not know about the problem of hunger – and by extension the fundamental injustice occurring next door, there is no way we can end hunger globally. Question: How can poetry help? What can poets do to advance The Alliance to End Hunger's cause? Response: As anti-hunger advocates, we can spout off statistics and policies and strategies to get in the offices of policymakers. But honestly, in the Alliance to End Hunger’s mission to build public and political will to end hunger everywhere, it is often the “public” side that we struggle with more. Fundamentally, we need to be better at building empathy and understanding for disadvantaged peoples from an early age. Poetry – and art more broadly – has a critical role to play. In my own career, it is the stories told by individuals who have lived experience of hunger and poverty that have opened my eyes and heart to the passion for this topic that I feel today. Poetry can play a powerful role in driving home these stories, and can help to influence both the mind and heart of the reader/listener. Related to this, I would say that my advice to poets looking to make a difference in the hunger conversation is to ensure that their art is accessible. Poems do not need to be “intellectually stimulating” to be powerful. In fact, I think that the most useful poems for our anti-hunger community are the ones that speak to the average person as a potential future advocate, and not necessarily a “poetry connoisseur.” Best of luck to Poetry X Hunger as you promote your mission.
Three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Ambassador Tony P. Hall is a leading advocate for hunger relief programs and improving human rights in the world. Ambassador Hall serves as Executive Director Emeritus of the Alliance to End Hunger. As such, Ambassador Hall acts as an emissary at meetings with leading policymakers and international officials, builds relationships with Alliance members, and speaks on issues of food security at conferences around the country. Ambassador Hall served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Italy, from 2002 to 2005. Prior to his diplomatic service, Ambassador Hall represented the Third District of Ohio (Dayton) in the U.S. Congress for twenty-four years. During his tenure, he authored legislation that supported food aid, child survival, basic education, primary health care, micro-enterprise, and development assistance in the world’s poorest countries. A founding member of the Select Committee on Hunger, Hall served as its chairman from 1989 to 1993. In response to the abolishment of the Hunger Committee in April 1993, he fasted for 22 days to draw attention to the needs of hungry people in the United States and around the world. Ambassador Hall founded and chaired the Congressional Hunger Center, a non-governmental organization committed to ending hunger through training and educational programs for emerging leaders. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Ambassador Hall and his wife Janet live in Arlington, Virginia, where they raised two children.
Interview with Michael Glaser
Q. Is poetry up to the task of helping to end hunger? A. I find that I want to turn that question to ask: Are we up to the task of helping to end hunger? Are we willing to leave our various comfort zones and own our discomfort at recognizing our complicity in poverty’s grip on so many? Are we up to that? -- and the increasing urgency of acknowledging the interpersonal, human responsibility of our privilege? As I see it, here’s where poetry can serve: Poetry invites truth telling, and for me, poetry sings most profoundly when it points us toward compassion. Narrative poetry can powerfully share the stories of those who live hungry, who suffer from the plague of poverty. Unlike essays and explanations, poetry offers a direct route to our hearts: It is not argumentative. It does not speak to the mind so much as the spirit. Poetry does not aim to convince, but rather to transform. And it often does so, as Emily Dickinson notes, by telling the truth, but telling it slant – i.e. not by lecturing, but rather by offering us new eyes and ears through which we might gain new understandings. Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “Gold” (Sonnets to Orpheus II.19) might serve as an example of what I am wanting to say more clearly than these prose thoughts can do. Rilke’s poem is an example of what poetry can do, and as such and as such how poetry can address the task of helping lessen poverty’s sting and the gnawing pains of hunger that way too many of our brethren suffer. Here’s a link to the poem as translated by Robert Temple – http://www.sonnetstoorpheus.com/book2_19.html
Q. Is there anything else the Poetry X Hunger website could do to be more effective? A. Here are some suggestions -- 1) I would include poems by non-Maryland poets. Writing about hunger, especially from a place of privilege, is very hard indeed. And, there are many who have written with much more first-hand knowledge than what is on the web site. And, many outside Maryland who have written with a depth of compassion and hunger for justice that deserve to be seen and shared I think the website would be stronger if it included some of those -- indeed if it offered the opportunity for visitors to post some of the poems about hunger and/or poverty that have impacted them powerfully. I also wish there was more of a "so what?" component – i.e., “Here is how reading or writing the poem changed me. Here's what I have done because I became so engaged with the poem." And lastly, I think the website would be stronger if it offered some specific names and addresses of groups in the Washington, DC area that address hunger by helping train, house and/or feed the poor -- and encouraged visitors to reach deep and share a little of their good fortune with those who are less fortunate -- and are hungry because of it! I know you have a list of "resources." I am suggesting you make a clear list of organizations Poetry X Hunger endorses and urges others to contribute to them.
Michael S. Glaser is a former Poet Laureate of Maryland (2004-2009). He has edited three anthologies of poetry, co-edited the Complete Poems of Lucille Clifton for BOA Editions, and published several award-winning volumes of his own work, most recently, Threshold of Light with Bright Hill Publishing (2019). More at www.michaelsglaser.com
Interview with poet Rick Lupert
Q. As a poet of witness and engagement, do you think poetry can help in the fight against hunger? How? A. Absolutely! I think when the artists show up to the fight, we can all be prepared to be shown a unique perspective on the human struggle. When we do it right, we get to tell the story of the individual which helps to bring home the real impact of the lack of food, more so than just the platitude of saying the word hunger.
Q. Is there something that Poetry X Hunger specifically should do to bring poetry to bear? A. I think so. Writing poems won’t directly end hunger…They may, for some, raise awareness of the issue and cause the receivers of the poems to take action. But can Poetry X Hunger do more to actually inspire action. It is through volunteerism and the donation of money and actual food, that real impact can be made for hungry people. Can money somehow be raised with these poems that can in turn be donated to a major organization (or organizations) that work to end hunger globally and locally? Should Poetry X Hunger add a donation button? Should people be encouraged to donate after each presented poem? Can an anthology of poems be created, then sold, the proceeds of which go to ending hunger? Can poetry events happen globally, in the spirit of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change project to encourage global in- person action and donation? I think Poetry X Hunger can definitely make a difference through some of these ideas to help end hunger in our time.
Q. Anything else you'd like to say? Thank you for allowing one of the goals of art to be on a helpful outward focus, as opposed to an exclusive focus on personal achievement.
Rick Lupert is a 2-time Pushcart and one time Best of the Net nominee. He is the recipient of the 2017 Ted Slade Award, and the 2014 Beyond Baroque Distinguished service award for service to poetry in Southern California. He created the Poetry Super Highway (http://poetrysuperhighway.com ) and hosted the weekly Cobalt Cafe reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 23 collections of poetry (most recently “Hunka Hunka Howdee!"). He writes the Jewish Poetry Column “From the Lupertverse” for JewishJournal.com and created the daily web comic Cat and Banana with Brendan Constantine.
Interview with Shara McCallum
Q. Those who have experienced hunger can write authentically about it. Can those poets who have not suffered hunger contribute to the struggle to end hunger as well? A. Absolutely. Poetry often derives from the lived experiences of the poet, but it also stems from the act of bearing witness to the lives of others and to the world around us. Poems are a meeting place of several impulses within the poet, including memory, imagination, empathy, social consciousness, and conscience.
Q. If poets worked with other artists (musicians, dancers, visual artists, et) to create collaborative work in the cause of ending hunger, what kinds of collaborations could you imagine taking place?. A. I could imagine many such collaborations taking place. Poems that speak to the issue could be set to music, for example. Or a poet might write a poem in response to photographic or other images depicting hunger. It strikes me that combining one or more of the arts would bring a larger audience, and perhaps evoke deeper responses, to the cause of ending hunger.
Q. Any other thoughts? A. Thank you for enlisting poems and poets in bringing awareness to this global crisis. With climate change, the need for attention to this humanitarian issue has perhaps never been more pressing.
From Jamaica, Shara McCallum is the author of five books, published in the US and UK. Her most recent collection, Madwoman, received the 2018 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry and the 2018 Sheila Margaret Motton Book Prize. McCallum lives in Pennsylvania and teaches at Penn State University.
Thoughts from poet Dr. Herbert Woodward Martin
Let us encourage poets to do what they do best.
QUESTIONS: Write poems about the various encounters we have with Hunger. What is one result from famine? What is the one emotion a mother reflects upon knowing she does not have enough strength to produce milk for her child? What are the elements of hunger? What are some of the details a lost individual employs to survive hunger in the wild? What does Hunger say to the human body? What does the Human Body say to Hunger? What is this conversation like? Who gets the last word?
When a Famine occurs, it is almost at the last minute. Governments should respond as soon as possible to eradicate as much of the problem as soon as possible. We have enough food to keep everyone from starving. The single person is unable to do for large groups of people. It is the Governments and organizations that can best aide such individuals effectively and quickly. There must be arms and branches which can aide the United Nations with the work that they accomplish. Hunger is a call to arms. Hunger is a disease and so, we must invent effective ways to combat it. What are the details suffered by those individuals who go on Hunger Strike? What could they tell us if they had poetic voices? What can wasted food tell us about Hunger?
No one angle or voice is the complete solution to Hunger. If it or they were, the problem would have been solved long ago Might there already be a large number of poems written on the subject of Hunger but that need to be collected in a single one or two volumes?
An embrace against this fight.
Herbert Woodard Martin taught English Literature and Creative Writing at Aquinas College and The University of Dayton for over thirty-five years, He held a Fulbright Fellowship to Janus Pannonius University now The University of Pecs in Pes, Hungary. He is the author of ten volumes of poems; The Shape of Regret is his tenth volume. He is closely associated with Paul Laurence Dunbar who he has edited and read around the world.
Message from the Ambassador Mary Yates
To the Poets of the World--the hardworking global bureaucrats need you as muses. Hear the call from Poetry X Hunger to tap the profundity of poetic stakeholders to fight world hunger. I have watched governments, international agencies and the private sector join hands for decades to battle world hunger from the famines in Somalia and South Sudan to helping the stunted, malnourished children living in banana huts in Burundi to points all over the globe. We need new stakeholders to help feed the mind and souls of the world’s starving. Your voices and verse will make a difference.
U.S. Ambassador (ret.) Mary Carlin Yates, former Special Assistant to President Obama for Africa; Deputy Commander for US African Command for Civilian/Military Affairs, former Ambassador to Republics of Burundi and Ghana and Charge d’Affaires, Sudan.