Marc Harshman, Poet Laureate of West Virginia [on] the Role of Poetry in Daily Routine

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As a ‘state’ poet laureate, poetry is never far from the daily routine.  I am honored, humbled, and delighted to be in this position for the small state of West Virginia, but it means I’m often coming ‘at’ poetry as a task, as well as a pleasure, pleasure and vocation being more of what I would choose as the words to describe my relationship with poetry.

A typical morning finds me going through the numerous emails requesting speaking engagements, blurbs for forthcoming books, details regarding, let’s say, adjudicating upcoming Poetry Out Loud finals, preparing a reading with other laureates, as recently done in greater Cincinnati, answering questions regarding my predecessors, replying to emails from friends asking if I’d offer a critique on poems—a pleasure, or emails from strangers asking for a critique—not a pleasure.  And so it goes. 

And yet…. the preceding sounds too harsh.  There is pleasure in most of the above.  Poetry Out Loud, for instance, is one of the premiere weekends of the year, a time when I watch high school students present with love and care some of the finest poems ever written—gives me hope for the future.  And my readings with other poets are usually more fun than any poet should be allowed to have.  Further, these busy mornings of correspondence do include much reading of poetry.  It could’ve been otherwise to echo the Jane Kenyon poem.  Additionally, I look forward to the daily post from the Library of Congress, as well as poems sent along on a regular basis from several close friends:  “Hey, Marc, look what I came across this morning! What do you think?”  I am fed, is what I think, grateful for such friends and for the many great poems that find their way to me.

And on good mornings, the poetry ‘surround’ includes an hour or two of serious revision, mostly at the screen. Often intertwined with re-visioning, will be online and hard copy perusal of various magazines to which I’ll be sending finished poems or, rather, poems I like to think are finished—I still get that wrong more often than I’d like to admit.

At mid-day, I approach a more in-depth immersion in poetry.  Throughout the afternoon the dining room table is spread with books of poetry, journals, dictionary, and my notebook, the one in which most of my poems begin, a Bienfang Sketch Book.  I read and I scribble for as long as I have time.  Usually in the beginning, at that table, I’ll look over what was written the day before and begin some initial revising—long hand.  Then, after reading for a while, I’ll begin attacking the virgin field of the page.  Maybe, later, I’ll take a walk, attentive to what surrounds me as I make my slow way through the large city cemetery nearby, the various plants and wildlife there often finding their ways back into the poetry.  I’ll also mull over in my head a few lines of verse, my own or others—they keep me company.  Of course, the concerns of the day will also inhabit my skull, some welcome, some not, some good compost, some just shit. And, following the walk, I’ll return to the table, return to the poems, reading, scribbling some more.

Depending on the day and energy levels, the evening may be much the same as the afternoon, only the more serious journal reading might be replaced with reading a novel, every other one, I suppose, a murder mystery, and the locus of activity not the table, but an easy chair beside which is an end table piled with old copies of the London Review of Books, Appalachian Heritage, and dozens of others.

Lastly, at the very end of the day, with luck there’ll be a poem swimming in my head when I pull the covers up or, if not, though it’s rare, perhaps a poem will surprise me in my dreams.  I live in hope.  I live in poetry.


Marc Harshman’s latest collection of poems, WOMAN IN RED ANORAK, has won the 2017 Blue Lynx Prize and has now been published by Lynx House/University of Washington Press. His fourteenth children’s book, FALLINGWATER, co-written with Anna Smucker, was published by Roaring Brook/Macmillan

in 2017 and has been an Amazon Book of the Month choice, as well as a Junior Library Guild selection.  His previous title, THE STORM, was a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children.  Children’s books have been translated into Danish, Korean, Swedish, Spanish, and Japanese. His poetry collection, BELIEVE WHAT YOU CAN, was published in 2016 by West Virginia University Press and won the Weatherford Award from the Appalachian Studies Association. It was also named the Appalachian Book of the Year by the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival in Tennessee. Periodical publications include The Chariton Review, Gargoyle, The Georgia Review, Appalachian Heritage, The Emerson Review, Shenandoah, and Poetry Salzburg Review.  Poems have been anthologized by Kent State University, the University of Iowa, University of Georgia, SPM Publications [London], and the University of Arizona. He holds degrees from Bethany College, Yale University Divinity School, and the University of Pittsburgh. In the spring of 2016 he was an invited reader at the Greenwich Book Festival in London and he recently returned from performing with Doug Van Gundy a show titled, Running with Whiskey, highlighting poetry, music, and storytelling at the Red House Arts Centre in Wales.  Appointed in 2012, he is the seventh poet laureate of West Virginia.



Poetry Reading & Lecture – March 11, Mountain Magic series, 6 p.m., Kanawha County

            Public Library, Charleston, WV


Poetry Reading w Andrea Fekete, - March 12, More Than Words reading series,

            Hurricane, WV


Discussion of Poetry & Healing, panel with Pauletta Hansel & Jeanne Bryner– March 16,

            Appalachian Studies Association, Asheville, NC


Running with Whiskey: Poetry & Storytelling & Music with Doug Van Gundy, Cabell

            County Library, Huntington, WV [time TBA]


Poetry Reading – April 11, 6 p.m., Spoken & Heard series, The Dairy Barn Arts Center,

            Athens, OH


Poetry Reading with the Jenny Wilson Trio [jazz] – Sound/Color/Words, May 11, 7:30

            The Monongalia Arts Center [MAC], Morgantown, WV


Poems While You Wait (™) , [poems on request], with Joel Peckham, June 29,

            noon – 2 p.m., FestivAll,Charleston, WV


Keynote address, WCoNA inaugural conference, Sept. 7, 7 p.m., Wheeling, WV

            [Writers Conference of Northern Appalachia]


Poetry Reading – Nov. 16, Kentucky Book Fair, Lexington, KY