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‘Distracted by Spiders’ by Karen Jelenfy

Our ALL FOR ONE Artist-in-Residence is poet Hiram Larew who, in another life, is also an agricultural scientist of some renown. The Wild Word talked with him about his two passions, his enduring love of poetry, and the magic of words.


There wasn’t a clear moment in my kidhood when I became interested in poetry, but I do remember being really taken by some poems that we read in grade school.  One of my grandmothers also wrote poetry, and she lovingly shared some of her work with me.  It’s hard to say what impact those early times had, but I think they did help shape my interests, or at least point me towards the poetry road.

I’ve written off and on all of my adulthood.  But, my work in the science of global food security and hunger seems to be largely separate from my affair with poetry—two sides of my personality and brain.  I’m keenly interested in the science and art of food security—and I’m continuing to work on these issues in my retirement.  At the same time and on another track, I‘m pretty involved in enjoying poetry.  But, here’s the thing…I think these two have somehow joined hands behind my back, without my consciously knowing it.  They connive together in ways I can’t fathom.

I’ve never felt the two pursuits argued with each other or were conflicted.  But, I’m also not sure if they co-inhabit any part of me.  Maybe in my ears.  It may be that both require that I listen much more than I would otherwise tend to do. In fact, for me, poetry is so dependent on listening and observing.  And then, trying to come to terms with what’s been seen, or heard. And then, offering an interpretation back to a wished-for reader.  My work in food security also is grounded in listening to causes, to cultures and to science.

One of the things I’ve been interested in of late is what I call “word shadows” in poetry. I’m not sure that I’ll be clear on this…but I notice that when I read a word, especially one that’s been spotlit in a poem, I not only see that word, but also often read, hear or imagine other words in its shadows – words that, through similar sound or meaning, echo the printed word.  Shadows may be the result of shared rhythm, but they seem to happen more often when the sound of a word calls up another similar sounding word.  They are just one more reason why I’m so deeply in love with the magic of poetry.

There is an openness to the world in my work, maybe even a curious resignation about what can, should and will be.  I don’t think my poems provide many answers.  Resolution is fun when it happens, but for me, resolution is usually diluted with more questions. Maybe that is a common thread stretching between “my two worlds” – poetry and food security.

My work on hunger around the world—including hunger here in the U.S.—has also made me realize how little I know about the incredibly diverse world of poetry.  I just recently had a poem accepted by a Nigerian journal.  Hopefully, as a result, I’ll learn more about Africa’s very active poetry scene.

What inspires me?  Surprises.  They are endlessly fascinating to me.  And, while I rarely successfully capture them in my poems, I surely do try. The unexpected, the out of the ordinary, or especially, the all-at-onces that happen over a coffee or when riding the subway.  These are what I live for, both in my poems and, I suppose, in my work on food security.  Here’s an example of what I mean about surprises that leap into my poems:  A while back, I noticed that I’d parked so closely to a shrub that one of its branches had popped into my car through the window.  That surprised me, and led to a poem called, “Golly.”


I don’t know about you
But when a leafy branch comes in the window
I love it
Beyond common sense
In fact I love anything that’s where
It’s not supposed to be
And all the air around it

And what I live for more and more
Are the things that shouldn’t happen
My best friend is the uh oh sound
Everyone makes
When a glass breaks
And my hero is whispers

One of these days
What I hope to notice
Before anything else
(Even before eyes)
Is shoulders
Because just like hills
They make me guess
At what I’ll never know.

This poem first appeared in my collection, More than Anything.

Karen Jelenfy is a painter and writer currently living in mid-coast Maine, USA.  Her paintings and drawings are direct responses to the forests and seacoasts around her home. Observation becomes squeezed and battered by memory; the tangled world takes on color. Nothing and no one is at rest.

Hiram Larew is in wicked love with poetry.  His work has appeared in​ journals and collections, most recently, Amsterdam Quarterly, vox poetica, Honest Ulsterman, Little Patuxent Review, FORTH, Viator and Every Day Poems.  Nominated for four Pushcarts, he organizes poetry events, activities and conclaves that showcase wide poetic diversity and insights.  A global food security specialist by training, he lives in Maryland, USA. See his page on Facebook.

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