Marc Harshman is a poet, storyteller and children’s writer. He was named the recipient of the West Virginia Arts Commission Fellowship in Poetry for 2000 and the Fellowship in Children’s Literature for 2008. He resides in Wheeling.
To me, coming home to West Virginia means … coming home to neighborhoods, places where people know each other. Whether next door or out the ridge, there are names and faces here I know and trust. Living in the foothills of West Virginia along the Ohio River these past 35 years has given a singular blessing to my work as both poet and children’s writer.
My favorite West Virginia reunion memory is … when I’m off in the distance I see the rising rumple of the hill country, I know then a reunion is coming. It is then I know I’m to be reunited with family, or friends, or dog, or simply my steep back yard and its scraggly garden topped with locusts, cherry, beech and tree of heaven. Yes, tree of heaven – a junk wood, mostly, but as metaphor very true: These trees, these hills, “… almost heaven.”
West Virginia’s best-kept secret is … (no news here) – it’s people willing to open their arms to stranger and friend.
Even when I’m away from West Virginia, I feel its influence in my work or life … My wife and daughter and I live in a simple house in the foothills along the Ohio River. Whether on a farm or in town, there goes on here the kind of independence, self-reliance, neighboring and husbandry that I value and which reminds me of the energetic attentiveness necessary to pursuing any craft and so nurtures, in part, my own writing. To paraphrase Wendell Berry, I find that “region,” in the sense that it matters to me, is a place where “local life is aware of itself.” I have nearly always lived in such places. I know the name of the next ridge and the creeks and hollows that surround it. I know the folks next door and they know me. And they, too, know these names. And with these and much else, we can still speak with a shared language and a shared knowledge of community. This is what matters most to me about the places where I live.
The ideal homesick remedy might be “Rocks in My Pockets,” co-written with legendary West Virginia storyteller Bonnie Collins, with its heroes comically portraying the victory of hometown resourcefulness over greed and ambition. My poetry collection, “Local Journeys,” might also apply, as it provides in a series of linked poems a detailed account of numerous walks taken in southern Marshall County over the course of four seasons.