WV Book Team: State Poet Laureate explores death in new collection

By By Abby Freeland
WV Book Team

“Believe What You Can” is a new collection of poetry by West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman that explores the difficulty of living with an awareness of the eventual death of all living things.

Each of its four sections suggests a coping mechanism for this inevitable predicament, from storytelling, to accepting darkness and death as a creative force, to enjoying disruption and chaos and finally to embracing the mystery of life as the most triumphant story of all.

These difficulties come “not quite haphazardly” and not without a “last light” — something “beyond” and as “sweet as apples.”

With these moments of grace, Harshman taps into the satisfying richness that comes from unexpected revelations, helping us rise above the fragile recesses of life and death, all while portraying the lost rural worlds of the Midwest and Appalachia in ways untouched by sentiment or nostalgia.

Maggie Anderson, author of “Windfall: New and Selected Poems” and “Dear All” notes said, “Believe What You Can is an astonishing and generous book that gives a credible ‘map of true witness.’”

Ron Houchin, author of “The Man Who Saws Us In Half: Poems” said, “‘Believe What You Can’ overflows with rich lines and vivid images, as the poet laureate of West Virginia speaks to classic concerns of loving the land, struggling to thrive, and holding on to what can be believed.”

‘Late September’ (from ‘Believe What You Can’)

Far up the south pasture, bristly and sharp now,

a golden fox nestles, patient

in a golden sun on a golden bank.

Night begins her slow walk over the next hill

carrying under her purple skirts

the book of chances

whose purpose is to pull everything together

like God would do were She and He here

to study perfection like we do

looking up the hill, up the sky,

up the page to where Blake draws a line

between Adam’s first breath

and all the thunder to follow.

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Marc Harshman is the poet laureate of West Virginia. He is the author of “Green-Silver and Silent” and “Rose of Sharon.” His 13 highly acclaimed children’s books include “The Storm,” a Smithsonian Notable Book.

He is the host of The Poetry Break, a monthly show for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Public appearances

n Creators Talk with Marc Harshman

7 p.m. Wednesday at Economic Development Center at West Virginia State University, 1506 Kanawha Blvd. West, Charleston.

n Reading and Discussion with Marc Harshman

6 p.m. Sept. 26 at Moundsville-Marshall County Public Library, 700 Fifth St, Moundsville

n Reading and Discussion with Marc Harshman

Noon Oct. 22 at National Society of Arts & Letters, Parkersburg Country Club, 4910 First Ave., Vienna.

n Taylor Books presents Marc Harshman and Randi Ward

6 p.m. Oct. 28 at Taylor Books, 226 Capitol St., Charleston.

n Lunch with Books with Marc Harshman

Noon Nov. 15 at Ohio County Public Library, 52 16th St., Wheeling.

▪ ▪ ▪

Also recently published by WVU Press is “All My Mothers and Fathers,” a memoir by Michael Blumenthal, visiting professor and co-director of the Immigration Clinic at West Virginia University College of Law.

Shortly after his mother dies of breast cancer when he is 10 years old, Blumenthal discovers that she was not his biological mother, and that his aunt and uncle, immigrant chicken farmers living in Vineland, New Jersey, are really his parents.

As fate would have it, his adoptive father, a German-Jewish refugee raised by a loveless and embittered stepmother after his own mother died in childbirth, has inflicted on his stepson a fate uncannily — and terrifyingly — similar to his own: Having first adopted Michael, in part, to help his dying wife, he then imposes on him the same sort of penurious and loveless stepmother whom he himself had to survive.

With these revelations, the “mysteries” that seem to have permeated Michael’s childhood trigger a quest for belonging that will infiltrate the author’s entire adult life.

A former director of creative writing at Harvard University, he is the author of eight books of poetry as well as “The Greatest Jewish-American Lover in Hungarian History,” “Because They Needed Me: The Incredible Life of Rita Miljo and Her Struggle to Save the Baboons of South Africa,” “Weinstock Among The Dying” and “When History Enters the House.”

To order WVU Press books visit wvupress.com, phone 800-621-2736, or visit a local bookstore like Taylor Books or West Virginia Book Company in Charleston. For updates on books and events, follow WVU Press on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest or join our mailing list on wvupress.com.

Abby Freeland is the Sales & Marketing Director of West Virginia University Press and the acquisitions editor of Vandalia Press, the fiction imprint of WVU Press.

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