W.Va. Poet Laureate Goes National

West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman of Wheeling traveled to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., in late August for a special interview destined for national, and even international, audiences.

Grace Cavalieri, an author, poet, playwright and broadcaster, invited Harshman to participate in her series of interviews, “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress.” The interview was taped in the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center.

Cavalieri’s series is presented to public radio by National Public Radio satellite and Pacifica Radio. Unfortunately, West Virginia Public Radio doesn’t air “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress.”

However, an audio podcast of Harshman’s interview can be heard online now at www.loc.gov/poetry/media/ poetpoem.html.

The 29-minute interview began with Harshman reading “Diving for the Drowned,” a memorial poem that he wrote to honor James Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from Martins Ferry.

Astute fans will know that the title of Harshman’s 2012 full-length collection, “Green-Silver and Silent: Poems,” is taken from a line in that poem as he describes “the green-silver and silent current” of the Ohio River.

During the interview, Cavalieri praised Harshman’s “fabulous” voice as a poet and observed that, in writing about the land, he shows a novelist’s gift for detailed descriptions.

After listening to Harshman read poetry, Cavalieri suggested that he make a compact disc of his poems. In this taping, he read his poems, “A Winter of Sweets,” “These” and “Junco.”

As poet laureate, Harshman said he wants to support artists of all sorts in West Virginia “for as long as I can.” He also spoke warmly of his predecessor as poet laureate, the late Irene McKinney, and read one of her poems, “Personal.”

Harshman also offered the opening and final stanzas of his sesquicentennial poem, “A Song for West Virginia.” He closed the interview by reading his poem, “Done With Lying and Bad Luck.”

According to her website, Cavalieri – who once lived in West Virginia – “has conducted interviews with more than 2,000 poets including America’s premier writers.”

One of the award-winning poets listed among her interview subjects is Barnesville native Stanley Plumly.

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Harshman, of course, was inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame earlier this year.

This past week, it occurred to me that the Wheeling Hall of Fame board might want to make an exception to its own rule of honoring achievement that happened only after 1836. In fact, a precedent for such an action was set in 1986, when the Hall of Fame board inducted Noah Linsly, who died in 1814.

Which pre-1836 figure, you may ask, might be deserving of Hall of Fame board induction? Well, that would be Navy Lt. John Joliffe Yarnall, who fought valiantly in the War of 1812 and the second Barbary war in 1815.

When retired librarian John Kniesner of Bellaire gave a presentation at the Ohio County Public Library Tuesday, Sept. 3, on Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s heroic actions in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, he mentioned that, at a turning point in the battle, Perry gave command of his ship, the USS Lawrence, to Yarnall, a first lieutenant who was born in Wheeling in 1786. Yarnall was wounded in the hand, nose and neck during the battle, but remained at his post for the duration, Kniesner said.

In June 1815, while fighting in the second Barbary war against pirates, a ship under Yarnall’s command captured the Algerians’ flagship, Kniesner said.

After that victory, during the voyage home in July 1815, Yarnall’s ship disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean and was assumed to have gone down at sea, Kniesner said.

For his performance in the Sept.10, 1813 Battle of Lake Erie, Yarnall earned Perry’s commendation and a medal from Congress. In addition, Kniesner said that two World War II destroyers were named for Yarnall.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net