Q&A: W.Va. Poet Laureate on Winning the Blue Lynx Prize

Dec 12, 2018

West Virginia’s poet laureate Marc Harshman won the 20th Annual Blue Lynx Prize. Winning the national poetry competition led to the publication this year of his latest compilation of poetry entitled "Woman in Red Anorak." Harshman spoke from his home in Wheeling.


Q: What is the Blue Lynx Prize?

The competition has been going on for several decades. I believe the press started in New England. Christopher Howell, a fine American poet himself, is the editor and director of the press and the prize. I submitted this manuscript probably 18 months ago. And the prize was, I think, initially announced late last year and publication and happened this autumn.

Q: Tell us a little bit about "Woman in Red Anorak."

This has been a very interesting experience, to have this collection of poems come out. As you know, I had a book out from WVU just two years ago, give or take, and my collections usually don't come this quickly. And I was doing a reading in Charleston from this new book "Woman in Red Anorak" maybe in October, and I realized suddenly, I'd never had this experience. Even though they're my poems, I'm thinking, 'Who wrote these? They're so new.' Most of the poems in my previous poetry collections have been around a while — I knew them inside and out, and I had read them before. Many of these I'd never read aloud before, and they were still very new to me. On the one hand, quite frankly, it was a little unsettling, on the other hand, it was really exciting.

As I have gotten older, I think I understand the process behind my writing poems. I realized that a certain poet or a couple of poets will get under my skin, and I know they will just drive the writing for weeks and months on end.

If you were to read Tomas Gösta Tranströmer — who's the Swedish poet who's been under my skin for a couple of years now, and whose influence I feel in this work — I don't know if anybody else could tell I was reading Tranströmer. But I know that he inspired at least stylistically, tonally some of these poems. Several of these poems owe a debt — a personal debt anyway — to this great Swedish poet.

Q: Can you tell us more about the inspiration of Tranströmer within this poem?

That's hard. You're trying to suggest the story but without over telling it. Trying to give the mood. There's a sense of foreboding in the poem and yet there's something also light-hearted and delightful. You know something has gone horribly wrong in the human sphere, but for the mice — hey this is a gravy train! Here's this sill, we chewed in, we're going to get into the house, there's abandoned birthday a birthday cake and it's all ours!

I don't know what the final resolution is for somebody reading this, but it gave me pleasure.

And I like discovery. I want a poem to be something that makes one make someone go, 'Oh, that's curious. That's interesting.' And that can that can be to the dark side of things or to the light side of things. Or in this case, maybe even a little of both.