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STARVE: a note-poem for the hungry. (to be interpreted as variously as possible.)

PART I:  In which we analyze and attempt to understand the most basic level of need–hunger–and the outcome of failing to meet this need.


verb \ˈstärv\

starved | starv·ing

Definition of STARVE

intransitive verb

1          a : to perish from lack of food

b : to suffer extreme hunger

2          a archaic : to die of cold

b British : to suffer greatly from cold

3          : to suffer or perish from deprivation <starved for affection>

transitive verb

1          a : to kill with hunger

b : to deprive of nourishment

c : to cause to capitulate by or as if by depriving of nourishment

2          : to destroy by or cause to suffer from deprivation

3          archaic : to kill with cold

Examples of STARVE

  1. Without food they would starve.
  2. They left him to starve out in the desert.
  3. providing food for starving children
  4. They tried to starve their enemies into submission.
  5. It was clear that the dog had been starved.
  6. You don’t have to starve yourself to lose weight.

Origin of STARVE

Middle English sterven to die, starve, from Old English steorfan to die; akin to Old High German sterban to die, and probably to Lithuanian starinti to stiffen — more at stare

First Known Use: 15th century

PART II:  In which we locate and acknowledge an important outlier in Abraham Maslow’s pyramidical theory of Need.

It should be noted.

Edward Said notes in Culture and Imperialism that the Irish were not considered white by the British. He writes: “The idea of English racial superiority became ingrained; so humane a poet and gentleman as Edmund Spenser in his View of the Present State of Ireland (1596) was boldly proposing that since the Irish were barbarian Scythians, most of them should be exterminated” (222). In an essay entitled “Race, Class and the Imperial Politics of Ethnography in India, Ireland and London, 1850-1910,” Kavita Philip examines this “idea of English racial superiority” more completely and her findings are far more frightening than the racist suggestions of a poet. Philip’s research regarding the scientific theories of race during the latter half of the 19th century is most troublesome not simply because of the “construction of fictions about foreign natives,” but “the belief that the science of the day revealed truths about the inherent character of populations” (289). Philip further notes:

While political considerations often operated explicitly in the formative stages of scientific knowledge, once ethnological stereotypes were reported in official tracts, supported by masses of data, they passed into the apolitical realm of incontrovertible scientific fact. Evidence of their conditions of production erased, they passed into the domain of cultural belief. (289)

The net effect of this kind of racism transcends the idea of English racial superiority and advances on to a level of imperial justification that is not only palatable to the British subjects, it is, as Kipling noted, their burden. Philip explains this in terms of the Irish problem: “stereotypical representations of the Irish as barbaric, primitive, and simian date back to the twelfth century, and were no less politically motivated then—serving as a justification for Henry II’s invasion of Ireland…the nineteenth-century stereotype was different from its predecessors only in being supported by the scientific theories of the time” (295). Descriptions of the Celts from the mid-nineteenth century included references to their being “the missing link between the gorilla and the Negro,” the Irish as “being for squalid filth and raggedness,” and as for Ireland itself, J.W. Jackson noted that “it was a moral fossil, like India, the only difference being that India is a civlised, while Ireland is a barbarous fossil” (Philip 296-297). In an attempt to understand Joyce and his works it is important to consider the prevailing attitude towards his people during the time period he was writing about. The air of English superiority is heavy in Joyce’s works and is present even in the systems of power that the Irish adopt from the British.

The idea of exterminating the Irish did not end with Edmund Spenser in the 16th century; in fact, it arguably came to fruition during the 19th century Irish Potato Famine, not long before Joyce’s birth. In an essay entitled “Dumbness and Eloquence: A Note on English as We Write It in Ireland,” Seamus Deane writes of a study the Irish government commissioned in 1947, the centenary of the Famine’s worst year. Deane notes:

Two convictions dominate what was remembered [of the Irish Famine’s worst year]. One was that the Famine did indeed have a genocidal dimension. Genocide was of a piece with traditional British government policies towards the Irish Catholic majority. The other, sometimes felt to be compatible with the belief in genocidal intent, sometimes not, sometimes entirely independent of it, was that there must have been a radical fault in Irish civilization, and most especially in the Irish-speaking civilization, that allowed it to succumb so completely to the potato blight and all its attendant ills. Some of the old people interviewed – and necessarily, they were on average an elderly group – believed or remembered that their predecessors had believed that the Famine was a punishment from God; and whatever the responsibility of the British government or of anybody else, that it ultimately constituted a divine judgment on a way of life that did not deserve to survive and that had to be expunged. (109)

Most interesting here is not the possible genocidal intent, disregard or justification of the British, but the Irish willingness to accept that it was God’s will for them to die. The most resounding note of religious hegemony is the native population’s willingness to die for Britain’s imperial agenda, all the while believing it to be penance for their sins against their God. To address the question of how the famine could be part of Britain’s imperial agenda, it is important to consider that the famine served to both make it easier to control the Irish and to promote the spread of the English language and make the Gaelic language obsolete, changing what Deane calls “Old Ireland” in exchange for the emerging “Modern Ireland.” Deane ponders the question of what the famine meant to the British: while it was ‘terrible’ to lose lives, in the long run the country would benefit from economic reform and the adopting of the English language (110).

What is still more disturbing, however, is the possibility of genocidal policy on the part of the Church. “To a much lesser extent, but still notably there,” Deane writes, “is also [the] belief that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in advertising people to accept their fate and to resign themselves to God’s will robbed the victims of their urge to resist and therefore allowed the export of food from the country and the evictions and clearances to take place without serious opposition” (10). Here Joyce’s “two masters,” the Roman Catholic Church and the British Empire, work one with the other against the native Irish population. Their religion suppressed any large scale resistance and the dissemination and decimation of their population allowed for the virtual destruction of their native language.

In 1970, Abraham Maslow hypothesized that human behavior is influenced by a hierarchy of five classes of needs, or motives, which are listed below:

  • Biological, such as food, water, oxygen, activity, and sleep.
  • Safety, such ase being cared for as a child and having a secure income as an adult.
  • Belongingness and love, such as being part of various social groups and participating in affectionate sexual and nonsexual relationships.
  • Esteem, being respected as a useful, honorable individual.
  • Self-actualization, which means becoming all that one is capable of.       People motivated by this need explore and enhance relationships with others, follow interests for intrinsic pleasure rather than status or esteem, and are concerned with issues affecting all people, not just themselves.  (Bernstein 360).

Bernstein also notes that according to Maslow’s model, “needs at the lowest level of the hierarchy must be at least partially satisfied before people can be motivated by higher-level goals” (360). This speaks to the importance of privilege in the establishment of a postcolonial “new,” that correlates directly to the condition of modernity as a means of expression. Bernstein’s one noted exception to Maslow’s hierarchy is interestingly concerned with British imperialsim: “the motivation of people deeply involved in political and moral causes seems to defy Maslow’s hierarchy; in 1981, Bobby Sand and eight others starved themselves to death protesting British Rule in Northern Ireland” (361). In Educational Psychology, Anita Woolfolk writes of Maslow’s humanistic approach to motivation:

In the 1940s, proponents of humanistic psychology such as Carl Rogers argued that neither of the dominant schools of psychology, behavioral or Freudian, adequately explained why people act as they do. Humanistic interpretations of motivation emphasize such intrinsic sources of motivation as a person’s needs for “self-actualization” (Maslow, 1970, 1968), the inborn “actualizing tendency” (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994), or the need for “Self-determination” (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991). So from the humanistic perspective, to motivate means to encourage peoples’ inner resources—their sense of competence, self-esteem, autonomy, and self-actualization. Maslow’s theory is a very influential humanistic explanation of motivation. (249)

Woolfolk’s analysis of Maslow’s model help to illustrate its more performative aspects. “Self-actualization is Maslow’s term for self-fulfillment, the realization of personal potential,” she notes, and for this to be possible, each of the lower needs must be met before advancing to this higher need (249). To understand the psychology of literary and linguistic agents of empire, it seems we should start by understanding their motivation. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides an excellent framework to understand how these romanticized notions of colonial territories arise, as well as how these texts influence and encourage other authors or agents of empire to work to seek similar adventure, either in imagination or in reality. Maslow labeled the higher level needs—“intellectual achievement, then aesthetic appreciation, and finally self-actuallization—being needs,” and suggested that unlike lower level needs, these ‘being needs’ can never be completely satisfied, “when they are met, a person’s motivation does not cease; instead, it increases to seek further fulfillment” (249). In the introduction to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence writes: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible” (24).

PART III:  In which we contemplate representational examples of hunger‘s influence on rational thought.

It was good discipline, he said.

As good as any other.

It isn’t the first time we starved as a people. Still you starved as persons, they starved our people. Distinction: made. Next: non servium, he said. Always in search of the father he never found.

Yes, then:   good.

Beware rabbit holes leading to bell jars. There is no candy in my kingdom.

Still: I won’t say I didn’t want to run my hand up her thigh until I reached her kingdom come.

Fuck the pain away

Sands of South Armagh

Abraham needs


Air food water shelter

Next: no next.

There is an exit on Route 80

Center right in the rectangle

Where I was once told the head is good.


Always be longing.

But: not hoping.

Conundrum: yes, but not also.

Also, rarely yes and rarer still



Actualizing: as was said before.

Now: ibid.

Love: easy to give.

Thought: complete.

Companionship: rare.

Day 282: day 281+1.

Surgically repeat.

Listless, no. Not kinetic,

Not feeling hungry, but knowing


Eat for life, not for taste.

Not entirely tasteful.

Strength comes from: ?

Non servium. Yes? No.

Would you like it long or soft?


My scars are visible in polite society:

Some: Are.

There are rockets in the South.

News: attended to.

War: (more) imminent.

The way it worked with the potato famine was objectively brilliant.

Starve them out of their language: resolve: irrelevant.

Mechanism: willingness and means.

Motive: property and real estate.

And: pride of winning.

What won: property, real estate, hubris.

What lost: a matter of perception.

Moynihan: “To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”



“Hunger was good discipline,” another said.

“At least that if no more.”

Spoken through her eyes.

“Graven in the language of the outlaw.”

PART IV:  In which hunger drives the test subject deeper into variable pasts.  

NOTE: There remains a marked distance from linear and chronological thought and reasoning.  This symptom seems to be accelerating quiet rapidly; however, we have not yet found a logic to which we can attach our efforts to develop any justifiable estimate of outcomes (much less timelines for those outcomes).  Further, it is evident that any attempt to establish elements of “truth” or “meaning” in the subject’s rambling would prove fruitless.  Absent of logic though it may seem, it is equally clear that the subject nonetheless understands these scribblings to be an imperative expression of some facet of that which he is enduring.  More importantly, there appears to be an underlying, yet thus far indiscernible, explanation of “why.”  

Craven in the language of the outlaw.

These words, even if spoken, are not enough

If: we define enough.

Objectivity: in one sense, open to interpretation.

Find your way in the rectangles.

Break service, create winners, eliminate unforced errors.

Keep to the basics. Serve and volley. Advance the net.

Acknowledge all rules of engagement.

There is no mention of a top to the tank,

And so I think freedom via evaporation.

Patience may be required, but the water retains control.

Please note and remember.

Dear bombs,

I know a story of a hand grenade.

Dear unknown dead friend of my father,

I wish you remembered the specifics. Bunker. Beer. Grenade. Despair. Time. Laughter. Forgetfulness. Boom. Blood. Tragedy.

Still, he says the metal in his arm is from another day and a different bomb. Shrapnel, he calls it. Sometimes he speaks of puff the magic dragon. Or of the woodcutters. Or of the dog who’d eaten C4 and needed to be put down. K. above all muntions, there was the time he went to clear the field after a B-52 airstrike, having just smoked pot for the first time. Far from the blast site, there were the dead lying between jungles with their fingers knuckle deep in their brains to stop the slow intolerable pounding of the bombs. K.

Dear Pennsylvania,

Ibid. You adieu.

“nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.” on the side, in fact.

On all sides: Quarries. Mines. (Not in the exploding yellow blue red white flash sense, but mines to be worked and lived and died in. Pappy H. Mammy H.) K.

The burial of the dead:

It goes as such:

First, you stand far off in the distance with your shovels so that the family and loved ones cannot see you. Respect.

You watch them mourn and cry and you wait for them to go back to their cars and drive away. When the last of them drives off beyond sight, you walk to the site, and you put your shovel in the upended dirt and you put it back in place. You tell any jokes that you can think of and you laugh and smile as much as possible throughout the task. You pretend that what you are doing is not what you are doing, and that in some few months it will only be grass that you are mowing.


PART V – PART VIII: In which we observe the effects of hunger transitioning towards starvation.  What follows is both anecdotal and analytical evidence that our notions of need appear to be subjective.  


have your ghost meet my ghost in the room at the end of the hall.

have your ghost meet my ghost in the room at the end of the hall

the walls are closing in, we agreed.

hills like white trumpet calls

the sand storms dune we hope sun-soaked beneath bare feet;

I dream of a collaborative tropical escape: run busted hand

up mended leg;

fuck it all away.

it’s a million o’clock in late February and the Sirens sound off

across the polar vortex.

i awake to an announcement coming over the intercom:

“no skin.  i repeat, no skin.”

Writing for Writers: Poetry, James Joyce, and the Arc of Absurdity

mc escher hands

One night last week I was having drinks with a close friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We proceeded to catch up on how things were going with work, with our romantic relationships, our families, mutual friends, the whole standard ticket. At some point in the evening, things turned to talk about writing—as they often do.  My friend happens to be an exceptional poet.

We often discuss our struggles, our victories, our works in progress, and so on. He is one of very few people with whom I discuss my writing; however, after our discussions or exchange of notes on one another’s writing projects, I feel more inspired and tend to recognize a spike in my productivity and in the quality and quantity of my writing. This is generally the case when I share writing—or ideas about writing—with other writers as well.

Until recently, my friend spent a lot of time with the NYC poetry community. He volunteered at organizations that held readings, and read relatively frequently at these readings as well as others throughout the city and in Brooklyn. Whenever possible, I would go to these readings in support of my friend, and because I genuinely think his poetry is wonderful and I enjoy hearing him read it.

I never felt entirely comfortable amongst the tightly knit community of poets. Quite honestly, I don’t know how much of that is my fault. Still, it seems like a paradox of self-interest for a poet to knock around town putting on airs that alienate even people who go to readings and are interested in poetry.

Scenes vs. Communities.

Generally, I do not enjoy participating in—or being in the presence of—anything that can be called a “scene.” I am not suggesting that I am against people with common interests getting together and sharing ideas. In fact, I think communities are what give our lives meaning.   And on more basic levels of need, our survival depends upon them.

It is this point that stuck with me in our conversation: that communities of people who share common interests and ideas are what give our lives meaning.

I think of Septimus Smith—the “Solitary Traveler” in Virginia Woolf’s—Mrs. Dalloway. An extreme example, he committed suicide because his life lacked any kind of significant communication. There was no meaningful connection.

I think also of Marlow returning from his visit to the Inner Station, no longer feeling like he could relate to ordinary Londoners after having seen the horrors at Kurtz’s camp.

No, they did not bury me, though there is a period of time which I remember mistily, with a shuddering wonder, like a passage through some inconceivable world that had no hope in it and no desire. I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretense, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces, so full of stupid importance.

My Dad pointed out this section to me when I was a teenager to explain how he felt when he returned home from the Vietnam War. He could only talk about the war with others who had been there and had seen what he had seen. He knew, too, that there were many who had seen worse. For them, the circle of understanding must have been even smaller.

Working off of Maslow’s model of human needs, a sense of belonging comes soon after the basic needs are met (safety from harm, food, water, sleep, shelter, etc.).

To Bring This Back to Writing.

I am thinking of Hemingway’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. Particularly the following section:

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

Studies & Meaning.

First, it is probably necessary to disclose that I studied literature and writing, both as an undergrad and as a graduate student. Later, I taught literature and writing at Brooklyn College for a few years. The study of literature is critically important to me. And much of my ability to feel like my life is meaningful hinges on my writing and how that work is going.

Here, I am referring to the kind of meaning that one can only find through some combination of toil, talent, and luck. The clarification that I mean to make is that it is a different kind of meaning than one can find through their children, or their parents, siblings, or friends. It is the kind of meaning that leads to self-actualization when things are going well, and existential crisis when things are going poorly.

Futility & Absurdity.

The first words that came out of my professor’s mouth during my first graduate school English class: “Okay, is everyone ready for another exercise in futility?”

Simple and easy like that. It was something we already knew—or we certainly should have known—but it was something that we (as tuition-paying students) had to necessarily sweep under the rug. If we didn’t learn our lesson with a bachelor’s degree and continued on that path towards advanced degrees, then our capacity for self-delusion must have been strong.

It is true that good writing is far more rare than it probably ought to be. It is also true that there is tangible professional value in writing well-crafted and grammatically correct sentences. However, it is also true—I suggest—that there is an absurdity involved in a life’s work of studying—at a professional level—the language and literature of one’s own country. Particularly when that country violently rejects the idea of secondary languages.

For artists of any medium, I would argue that things angle towards absurdity as the available audience diminishes.   There comes a point in most art forms when the artist’s creation is too esoteric, highly allusive, or otherwise difficult for laypersons or casual enthusiasts to enjoy. As you near absolute absurdity, enjoyment is more possible than understanding—the work itself has become incomprehensible to anyone but the creator himself.

James Joyce.


The focus of my graduate studies was Modernist literature & postcolonial theory. One of my favorite authors is James Joyce. I’ve written about his works extensively and I have lectured on him both in the U.S. and abroad.

In February 2008, I presented a paper on Joyce at the University Roma Tre, in Rome. Some of the most renowned Joyce scholars—and literary giants in general—were at the conference. These people had invested an even greater portion of their lives to Joycean scholarship. This was probably the first time I recognized the level of absurdity upon which our unfortunate fraternity is bound. I also knew that this would probably be the first and last time that I’d be in a room full of people who wanted to talk about James Joyce and had extensive knowledge of the subject.

So far, it has been.

Studying Joyce is a strange thing to do, and it takes at least a modest amount of willful self-deception. Joyce falls into the realm of Ivory Towerism in the mind of most people. His detractors accuse him of being pretentious and portentous. I’m not sure that I’d bother arguing that he wasn’t pretentious. He did, after all, write a book that only he could fully understand (Finnegans Wake), and then did several of the translations himself. I would argue that that is just entirely too weird to fall into the stuffiness of the Ivory Tower.

After all, you can’t get much more punk rock than having that kind of talent and spending it on writing experimental books that few people read and fewer understand.   To properly read Ulysses and Finnegans Wake takes a lot of time and a number of additional books.

Joyce is of the Martello Tower—a tower of inward-looking meaning, manufactured to pillar oneself against outward-looking indifference.

There is a loneliness involved in caring about something that so few care about. Your authority in a given field of study is nothing if not futile if there is no one with whom you can exchange ideas. So, for this reason, I think of Hemingway’s remarks about organizations for writers once again. Writing is a lonely life. Particularly when there is an absence of reciprocal engagement.


New York School

Poetry itself is not as arcane as Joyce studies; however, I do think that a parallel can be made. A recent report showed that among adults who read books for pleasure, less than 7% say they read poetry.

Moreover, a study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts found:

More than half of American adults read a work of literature or a book (fiction or nonfiction) not required for work or school. However, adults’ rates of literary reading (novels or short stories, poetry, and plays) dropped back to 2002 levels (from 50 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2012).

If only half of the American adults read books, and only 7% of those people read poetry, the audience becomes critically small. This study doesn’t come as a great surprise to me.

When I first started to write seriously—or when I first became serious about writing—I mostly wrote poetry. At that point in time, I surrounded myself with other poets, went to poetry readings, and even our parties seemed to somehow involve poems or discussions about poetry. It was a really great time in my life.

I mostly write prose these days, but I do go to poetry readings every now and then. I see a similar pattern. For the most part, the community of people reading poems is the same community that is writing poems.

Fortunately for the poets and their battle against isolation and absurdity, there is a much larger community of people writing poems than there are reading Joyce.

For my Joyce friends…if you ever find yourself out on the ledge with no one to talk to. Send me an email, and I will happily shoot the shit about that crazy Irish bastard.

With that in mind, I’ve even linked a paper that I’d written on Joyce, with the hope that it makes us all feel a bit less alone for failing at indifference.

Click below to read:


The Internet.

For all of its flaws and it’s destructive influence on face-to-face communication and its negative impact on manners and social grace, this is one area where I am unquestionably grateful for the internet. It is far easier to find people with common interests.

And, of course, any possible kind of porn you’re into…

If you’re into Joyce, that shit is probably pretty weird. If you know what I mean…you know what I mean.

BEDTIME STORIES: with Ernest Miller Hemingway

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois.  On July 2, 1961, he shot himself in the head with one barrel of a double-barrel shotgun at his home in Ketchum, Idaho.  Hemingway’s wife, Mary, told authorities that his death was accidental, and occurred as the author was cleaning the weapon.

Although Hemingway is famous for the concise style of his fiction and prose, it is less widely recognized that the author also wrote poetry (perhaps in accordance with his own design).  Still, an edition of Hemingway’s poems survives, and fans of the author can still find a copy.

Perhaps the most well-known of these poems, his “Poem to Mary (Second Poem),” was also recorded by the author, along with a handful of other works, including his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, which was recorded a later date, as Hemingway was ill and unable to be present at the presentation.

This video contains Hemingway’s original recording of his “Poem to Mary (Second Poem),” along with footage of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Harry S. Truman, WWI infantry films, and as yet unseen footage shot in NYC on September 11, 2001.  Other color footage was shot in Central and Southern Morocco, and in Central Pennsylvania.

This video doesn’t exist

The video was inspired by Ted Turner‘s apocalyptic preparations for CNN and created as a response that those preparations were insufficient in rendering “something,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald might say, “commensurate to his capacity to wonder.”

*NOTE:  Neither “UNIHABITABLE,” nor “into” were written in error.