A one-paragraph job description awaited Marc Harshman when he accepted his appointment in spring 2012 as poet laureate of West Virginia.
Clearly, state leaders had no intention of being verbose with their official writer. Code 29-7-1 states: "There shall be a poet laureate of West Virginia, who shall be appointed by, and serve during the will and pleasure of the governor. No person shall be eligible to such appointment who is not a resident of this state, and who has not written and published poems of recognized merit."
Harshman is obviously well qualified. The poet and storyteller is also the author of 11 children's picture books that have been published in five languages. He has been honored by the state Language Arts Council, Arts Commission and Fellowship in Children's Literature.
"There's not much written about what it entails," said the former collegiate educator who also taught for several years at the three-room Sand Hill School in Marshall County. "The expectations are pretty much my own.
"I'm still very, very early in this. All I can say at this point is I really hope that I can support my fellow writers throughout the state of West Virginia. (I want) to do all that I can to nurture their success."
Harshman is taking his cues from the legacy of his predecessor, Irene McKinney. She served in the position from 1994 until her death in February.
"She was a truly important and amazingly talented poet from West Virginia," he said of the Belington native. "I'm truly blessed to be in a state with so many professional writers. "
He has already made numerous public appearances for readings and workshops in libraries, schools and events such as the West Virginia Writer's Conference in Ripley and the West Virginia Book Festival in Charleston. He will deliver the Feb. 7 Founders Day Address at Bethany College, his alma mater.
Manipulating a musical language takes time, according to Harshman.
"I'm a very slow worker," he said, referring to his always-present notebook. "I have poems that I have scribbled, worked on and revised for a couple of decades. I write and re-write my work just trying to get every word right so that it sounds correctly as well as reads correctly.
"A perfect day is a sunny afternoon, sitting outside under a shade tree … a cup of tea and a stack of journals and books of poetry and magazines. Whatever I read, ideas are constantly sparking in my mind and I can hardly keep my hand off my pen as I scribble down ideas.
"If you saw what I was reading and looked at what I was writing, you would very likely see no connection whatsoever," he said.
Harshman, who spent his early years in rural Indiana, said he was guided toward education by his parents.
"The once a week trip to town for groceries always included a trip to the library there in the small farming town near where I grew up," he recalled. "As far back as I can remember, I can see my mom and dad sitting in their chairs in the evening reading books. I remember hearing my father recite poetry to me. All these things truly shaped me."
He and his wife, Cheryl Ryan, an author and artist, have a 23-year-old daughter, Sarah.