Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday Muse: West Virginia's Poet Laureate

I've had a desire to give back, with stories and poems.
~ Marc Harshman

Poet, children's book writer, and professional storyteller Marc Harshman is West Virginia's Poet Laureate. He succeeds Irene McKinney, who served the state for some 18 years, until her death in February of this year. In announcing the appointment May 18, 2012, governor Earl Ray Tomblin singled out Harshman's creativity, which he said "serves as a reminder of the immeasurable talent of West Virginia's authors."

Harshman has noted in interviews that one objective as Poet Laureate will be "seeing what I can do to support the life of writers here in the state of West Virginia," where, he adds, there is "a very vibrant, healthy community of writers of all genres."

Information about the position of state poet, who serves at the will of the governor and receives a $2,000 stipend annually, is included in my post about McKinney.

* * * * *
My poems are frequently narrations springing from specific
and local geographies. . .  I believe the poems reveal perceptions of 
value gleaned from the bleaker aspects of lives lived either alone or
in communal isolation from the mainstream. The free verse in which
I compose is intended to be voiced, to be heard, and is informed 
by the harmonies and rhythms of traditional verse.*

Crediting a "language-rich household" with making him a writer, Wheeling resident Marc Harshman has published a number of chapbooks: Local Journeys: A Collection of Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2004; 2006), Three Poems (Costmary Press, 1987), and Turning Out the Stones (State Street Press, 1983).  His Rose of Sharon: Poems was published by Mad River Press in 1999. Some of his work has appeared as limited-edition broadsides. 

Though he also is the author of 11 children's books (more are under contract), some of which he describes as "extended poems", Harshman has remarked that poetry is his "first love". In a statement about his work, he says:

An artist's manipulation of words through rhythms, images,
and countless other figures is high calling. . . .*

Themes including community, relationships, nature, addiction, time's passage, and the spiritual characterize Harshman's prose and poetry. Place — his childhood in Indiana, his long residency in West Virginia, and his travels abroad — exerts a strong influence in Harshman's work and roots it. His three decades in West Virginia, he says, are "a singular blessing" to his writer's life. 

Here's an excerpt from Harshman's poem "Winter Into Spring", which gives a good sense of Harshman's fine ear for language and imagery (note the assonance and alliteration, as well as rhythm):

[. . .]
One split and rotting log is furred
with a spidery moss along which runs
a three foot snake of red bramble:
even days under the pounding pressure
of the waters' pull to ocean
have not robbed it of its tiny thorns—
grass-blade thin and sharp they remain.
[. . . .]

Strikingly different in feeling and is this contemplative excerpt from the fourth section of the poem "Four Movements After Carl Ruggles":

[. . .]
Had I not been small once and tucked
into darkness once a day, week after week,
once upon a time? Had I not seen dark mount
the bedroom walls larger than the space between
all I knew, a sky high with lightlessness,
and know then that this would be a part of me,
and nothing to do with fear this, that place before,
where the repetition of nights upon night
practiced a way back into the welcome dark. [. . .]

Harshman has published poems in dozens of  journals, including Atlanta Review, BluelineCider Press Review, The Bitter Oleander, EquinoxThe Georgia Review, Southern Humanities Review, Shenandoah, Poetry NorthwestThe Progressive, The Innisfree Poetry JournalSycamore ReviewTipton Poetry Journal, and Tusculum Review. He is anthologized in Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry 1950-1999 (Publishers Place, 2000; the poems from Harshman are "Them", "There Will Be Dancing", "Oxford", "Checking the Spring", and "Clark Hill"), Wild Song: Poems of the Natural World (University of Georgia Press, 1998; "Byng Inlet, Ontario"), and The Anthology of Appalachian Writers (Shepherd University, 2012), among other collections.

In addition to receiving a poetry fellowship (2000) and a fellowship in children's literature (2008) from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, as well as a fellowship from the University of Minnesota (1994), which he used to research Scandinavian myth and folklore, Harshman has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won a Literal Latte Journal award for his prose poems. Other honors include a 1995 Smithsonian Notable Book for Children prize (for The Storm) and a Parent's Choice Award. He was 1995 West Virginia English Teacher of the Year. His prose poem "In the Company of Heaven" won a Newport Review flash fiction contest.

In addition to a master's degree in English from University of Pittsburgh, Harshman holds a master's degree in religion from Yale University Divinity School. 


Photo Credit: West Virginia Living Magazine

Poetry Quotations © Marc Harshman

Marc Harshman Profiles at Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library, West Virginia Wesleyan College (out-of-date); Something About the AuthorCenter for the Book, West Virginia Library Commission; West Virginia Folklife Center; West Virginia Department of Commerce (West Virginia Authors Series)

Marc Harshman Poetry Online: "There Will Be Dancing", "Junco", "Just  Like That", "Red Accordian", All at Marc Harshman Website; Four Movements After Carl Ruggles", "Pieta", and "The Open Borders", All at The Innisfree Poetry Journal; "Seven League Boots", "Even the Tin Man Had a Heart", "Just Like That", "What We Don't Know", and "Cards", All at Hamilton Stone Review; "Seven League Boots" at Tipton Poetry Review; "Even the Tin Man Had a Heart" at The Progressive; "Not Quite the Marryat Code but Decipherable, Nonetheless" and "Crickets Wearing Wristwatches", Both at La Petite Zine; "Winter Into Spring" at Appalachian Heritage; "Wild Cousins"and "As If", Both at Weber: The Contemporary West; "With Shakespeare in the Admissions Room at Yale" and "The Catafalques Are All Empty" at Literal Latte (Short Fiction); "Only One" at The More the Merrier (Blog); "Homily" at Project MUSE, Johns Hopkins (Excerpt); "Skipping Time - Part One" at Prime Number Magazine

Belinda Anderson, "Marc Harshman and Cheryl Ryan: Writing West Virginia", Art Works, Winter 2005-2006 (pdf)

Laura Treacy Bentley, "Conversations with Marc Harshman", WV Living, Fall 2011 (Also see: "Seven: March Harshman", 2010.)

Glynis Board, "New Poet Laureate Muses" (Webcast), West Virginia Public Broadcasting, May 24, 2012

Mackenzie Mays, "Harshman Named W.Va. Poet Laureate", The Charleston Gazette, May 18, 2012

* Quoted from Something About the Author Marc Harshman (This information comprises a biographical sketch, statements by Harshman about his poetry, teaching experience, and the sense of place that pervades his poetry, book information, and a student interview with the writer.)

"Tomblin Taps Wheeling Writer as WV's Poet Laureate",, May 18, 2012 (This article also is reproduced in The State Journal.)

Finishing Line Press, Powell's Books, and West Virginia Book Company carry several Harshman titles.

Wild Song: Poems of the Natural World on GoogleBooks

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you for the introduction, Maureen.