W.Va. poet laureate reflects on writing

PARKERSBURG- Marc Harshman, poet laureate of West Virginia since May 2012, said his works are difficult to categorize.

“There are certain styles I will use to certain kinds of issues,” he said. “I cover love, death, sex, religion, politics, nature; they all come in there.

“I think it is true if one reads my work it is easy to see after a while that I am someone who was born in the country,” Harshman said.

Harshman was the last speaker Tuesday in the sesquicentennial speaker series at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

Harshman said the reading was set up to honor, in part, his appointment as poet laureate and for him to speak with area school children in writing workshops and a professional writers’ critique group.

Harshman said the latest collection of his work, “Green Silver and Silent,” is one of his works over the past 30 years. In addition to other collections of his work, he has written 11 children’s books.

Harshman, who was born in central Indiana, came to West Virginia in 1969 as a student at Bethany College. He has spent all of his adult life in the state except for the time as a graduate student at Yale University Divinity School and University of Pittsburgh.

Harshman has taught at the collegiate level and in grade school for more than 10 years in a three-room country school. He has been a writer full time for the past 15 years.

At the beginning of his reading Harshman spoke about his predecessor at poet laureate, Irene McKinney.

“She was a wonderful gift to this state and a wonderful poet; a real friend to writers and a good friend to me,” he said. “We’ve been missing her for some time.”

Harshman told the story of how he received the offer to be the new poet laureate.

“I was doing a talk to some grade school children in Pleasants County and my cell phone went off,” he said. “I barely know how to use the thing, it goes off, I looked at it and quickly closed it shut.”

Harshman said he continued his lesson and decided to look at the phone later to see who called.

“I punched the numbers in and it was the governor’s office asking if I wanted to be the new poet laureate,” he said. “Believe me there was such stuttering and stumbling you never heard it’s a wonder they let me accept the position after the start I made. It caught me unaware.”

In the year that has passed he said he is still in a bit of a state of shock.

“It’s been a humbling experience more than anyone can know,” he said.

He said his parents valued reading and his dad would recite poetry. That set him on the road to writing.

As a child he was sick a lot and he spent those days lost in his favorite books, he said.

Harshman said he came from a rural farm area of Indiana and reading was a big part of his life growing up.

“We made it into town once a week for groceries and a trip to the library in that small farming town where I grew up,” he said.

“As far back as I can remember I see my dad sitting in one chair with a big pile of books by his side and my mother in the other chair with a big pile of books by her side and myself sitting in the middle of the big braided rug with a big pile of picture books. I was a very lucky little boy.”