W.Va. storytelling comes to life at Smoot Theatre

PARKERSBURG – West Virginia’s tradition of storytelling and poetry came to life Friday during the Smoot Theatre’s Kids’ Club “Happy Birthday, West Virginia” program.

Marc Harshman, poet laureate of West Virginia since May 2012, spoke about his writing and a selection from his long poem “A Song for West Virginia.”

“This was commissioned by the Wheeling National Heritage Area and was first read publicly in Charleston on West Virginia Day and was later with the Wheeling Symphony,” he said. “Tonight I will also be sharing from some of my children’s books.”

Overall, Harshman has written 11 books for younger readers.

“I will talk to them about how I became a writer, how these particular books came to be created and tell the actual stories of those books,” he said. “One book, ‘Rocks in my Pockets,’ is an original Appalachian story told to me by its co-author Bonnie Collins, who was from Doddridge County.”

Harshman told the children that many of the stories like those he has written may have their roots in older stories that are told in new ways and at times may be interwoven with the author’s own experiences.

Harshman, as poet laureate of West Virginia, said he is a representative of artists in the state. In that role he said he represents not only writers and poets but those in the visual arts.

Harshman was introduced by Debra Conner, as Margaret Blennerhassett, who is regarded as West Virginia’s first poet. As Blennerhassett, Conner said after leaving the area she published a book of poems about the area and her times on the island, both happy and sad.

Conner said Blennerhassett had leisure time, something not many women in the early days of Wood County had. She said Blennerhassett would walk through the area, at times walking to Marietta and back to the island, and used those experiences, along with her imagination, as a basis for her poetry.