"Certainly for writing children's picture books, the writing requires a succinct form. That melds rather easily with my having written in the succinct form of poetry for most of my life. There are no wasted words."
He has heard lots of people remark: 'Oh, children's writing -- that must be easy because it's shorter,' Harshman said. "Not really. Not if you're trying to write at a publishable level with New York publishers. You've got to do it just right. Every word counts."
Poets whom he admires include Ted Kooser, who served from 2004 to 2006 as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Harshman shared dinner with him some years ago. "If nothing else, I'd like to emulate his persona," Harshman said. "He was so self-effacing and quiet and humble and clearly shared a passion for poetry."
What, then, is the continuing role of poetry in this 24/7 information-drenched culture, swamped by a million Facebook status updates and 140-character tweets each second?
"It's a good question," Harshman said. "I think poetry enables us to take that breath we need to re-see the pace of our own lives. It reminds ourselves of what it means to be human."
Poetry's "prophetic function" can be like that of the Hebrew prophets of old, railing against kingship and power, he said. "As the prophetic poet demands re-seeing the status quo, that turns us again to what can be best in us."
Which leads him, Harshman added, to one of his favorite lines of poetry from "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," by William Carlos Williams:
"'It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.'"
Or, Harshman said, as writer and political activist Elie Wiesel once wrote: "'Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.'
"It's one of the things I struggle with," Harsman said. "I occasionally want to have that grace to say something that really matters. I think all writers have that."
When all is said and done, he said, he has been blessed to have been able to devote so much of his life to something he dearly loves.
"I see myself as a journeyman poet. I can lift my head up when I say that: I think a journeyman can be a good thing to be. I will simply show up on Sunday and do the best damn job I can and try to read the best poems I have at that particular moment.
"That's what makes you get up in the morning. I want to learn, I want to read new poems each day, as well as write them each day. It's a real blessing in this life to do what you want to do. Not that it's not real hard and I don't cuss and scream and get angry and depressed.
"There's also a desire that I truly want to do this. If you even have one moment in your life where the words fit together, it's good."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.