He pushes poetry not only because it’s a part of his life, but also because he believes it has the power to make a truly positive change.
Marc Harshman, the poet laureate of West Virginia, will officially launch the Wheeling Poetry Series today at noon at the Ohio County Public Library during the weekly “Lunch with Books” program. The Wheeling Poetry Series will include three events each year, and the opener will feature the current poet laureate of Kentucky, George Ella Lyon.
In April 2015, Lyon was appointed as Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, and she is the author of four books of poetry, a novel, a memoir, and a short story collection as well as 37 books for young readers. Her first book, “Mountain” (a poetry chapbook), came out in 1983.
“Very few writers have had the same level of success that she has experienced in so many different genres,” explained Harshman. “And despite her successes, she is completely humble to the point to where you wonder if she can be real. But I assure you George Ella is very real.
“The people who choose to attend the first in this poetry series are in for a real treat because she is such an exceptional writer,” he continued. “This is a very rare opportunity for the people of this area, and we’re very excited to be able to begin this new program with such a high level of literary talent.”
Lyon noted that she will be reading from her latest work.
“I plan to read from my collection ‘Many-Storied House,’” she said, “It is all set in the house where I grew up, a house my grandfather built. I’ll also share with the audience the writing exercise that started the book.”
Lunch With Books programs are free and open to the public. Patrons are invited to bring a bag lunch, and complimentary snacks and beverages are served. For more details, visit www.ohiocountylibrary.org or call the Ohio County Public Library at 304-232-0244.
Following her readings during the new Wheeling Poetry Series, Lyon will be visiting the campus of West Liberty University, and she also will be featured during a poetry reading at The Blue Church at 7 p.m. this evening. Harshman has long lobbied for a consistent venue in the Wheeling area so major American poets can visit, read, and discuss their work, and to add to the resurgence of the art form. Additionally, he was not pleased with the loss of the James Wright Festival in the author’s hometown of Martins Ferry in Belmont County.
“That annual event was a towering success, lauded by poets across the U.S., and I see no reason why such a success cannot be replicated here in Wheeling,” he said. “And some will remember that frequently some of the programming for the Wright festival was, in fact, held at various locations in Wheeling.
“I have a great faith in poetry to refocus in us what it means to be human, and with every passing year I feel an ever greater need to be reminded about what it is that we hold in common as men and women who value beauty and the kind of meaning revealed in artistic expression,” he continued. “I am not embarrassed to continue to quote as immensely relevant William Carlos Williams’ adage that ‘It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.’
“In a political season that seems more sad and pathetic than ever before, perhaps the news that may be found in poetry will hold a brightness, a freshness more useful than the sound-bites from talking heads reporting on the doings of the millionaires and corporate figureheads dominating what currently passes for news here in America.”
Harshman and his wife, Cheryl, have long been very supportive of the Wheeling area’s art scene, and he often attends the monthly Arts Round Table at the Wheeling Artisan Center. He plans to host the Poetry Series events as often as possible.
“I believe poetry can accomplish some things that other art forms cannot because it really reaches into a person’s soul,” he explained. “I believe poetry, reading it and writing it, makes for better people and better citizens.
“Because poetry changes the people writing or reading it, I think it could lead to a changed world,” Harshman continued. “I know that’s very idealistic on my behalf, but I also know just how powerful poetry can be for me and for others. It allows for spiritual renewal, and I know when I am writing poetry, it’s a very, very good thing for me.”
His goals, Harshman believes, should be obvious to the public.
“I think we’ve witnessed a resurgence for poetry, and we are very fortunate to have a venue like the Ohio County Public Library and a program like Lunch With Books,” he said. “What Sean Duffy (the library’s program director) has accomplished has been very impressive because he has built an audience that attends no matter what the topic.
“I see that as a stroke of luck for all of us in the Wheeling area, and I am very excited to be involved now with the Wheeling Poetry Series,” he continued. “I am also very encouraged to see everything people are now doing at the Blue Church in East Wheeling. They have put together a great lineup of events that will allow many people in our community to get involved.”
(Photos supplied by Sean Duffy, Ohio County Public Library)