In this latest Weirding Word (SM) interview, Hiram Larew, a poet who directs an international farming program for the Federal government by day, discusses writing and his poetry. Hiram's latest book, More Than Anything, is an eclectic collection of poems published in 2007 by Vrzhu Press. An advocate for the diversity of poetic voices, he has read widely across the U.S., and is the co-founder of the The Poet Connection. Hiram‘s work has appeared in several journals and books including the washington review, Rhino, Rue Bella, The Cosmos Club Journal, Frantic Egg, Not Just Air, and Echoes. Nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize and winner of the 1999 Artscape Poetry Award, his poems have been recognized for awards by, among others, Louisiana Literature, Verve, the Allen Ginsberg Awards, and S. S. Calliope.
WW: Tell me a little about yourself and how you got into poetry?
HL: I have a background in the biological sciences, and at the same time, I have a strong vocational interest in poetry. People have asked how the two worlds come together. I’m not sure that they do. Do they influence each other? I think they do. Not in particularly deliberate ways, but I do think my poetry affects my work and how I use words. My work does influence the way I see the world. I used to conduct clinical research, but no more.
WW: What is it that inspires you to write poetry?
HL: I think if I had to sum up motivation, it would have to be the surprises I encounter. I think I’m amazed at the unexpected—both good and bad. The illogic of situations. Now why does that motivate me? I guess the scientist in me wants to know how and why things happen even if they can’t be explained. But I guess something in me wants to document it.
WW: When did you start writing poetry?
HL: I remember writing when I was a teenager. I remember reading poetry and being impressed by it, wowed by it. I guess because it provided a way of looking at growing up that I hadn’t seen before and it made sense to me. I never will forget reading some of Dylan Thomas’ work. I probably didn’t understand what he was saying, but I liked the way he was using words. I couldn’t believe there were ways people could use words and create them anew, make them fresh by rearranging them.
I’ve been to workshops, but don’t have an MFA. I guess you could say I’m kind of unschooled in writing and appreciating poetry. But I try to strike out on my own and understand. I’ve spoken with Kim [Roberts] about how an MFA can help you understand what people are doing with words. I know when I like something, but an MFA might help you understand better why.
WW: So, your writing would be about our assumptions?
HL: Yes, about our assumptions and how they’re disproved. And I don’t know how it sneaks in. I wasn’t raised in a big city. I have a rural background. I tend to draw on rural settings. People in rural settings can usually see straight to the point. I also like the sounds of words and using them to emphasize or de-emphasize ideas or particular words or notions. I don’t tend to be as narrative as most poets. I tend to move through poems in ways that aren’t quite as logical, but go to a lot of places before reaching the end.
More typically, I start with an idea of doing something or saying something that has struck me. I’m not always satisfied with where it goes. But, typically, I’m satisfied with how it’s developed. My best critic is time. If I can set aside something for a few months and come back to it, then I can look at it and decide to keep it. But, if I come back to it in six months time and it doesn’t excite me, then I know that it’s not something I want to pursue.
WW: So, writing is a long process for you?
HL: It tends to be. I know several writers who write poems every day. That is wonderful. I’m impressed and awed by that ability. In my case, it’s more of a line or two every now and again kind of process. I find if I’m able to get away, I can sometimes concentrate and get a lot done. But, typically, it’s right before bed or just getting on a train. I feel lucky if in a year’s time I can come up with five or six poems that I feel are worth sharing. My pieces tend to be shorter as well. I have trouble sustaining the process over time. I feel more comfortable working in that mode.
See Part 2 of the interview with Hiram Larew later this week on the Weirding Word Blog.