Roy Lee Harmon occupied the post of West Virginia State Poet Laureate three different times, starting in 1937 on through till 1978, some 41 years, becoming Poet Laureate Emeritus in 1979. He had a gift for rhythmic homespun versification that had a strong appeal to Mountain State readers.
At the time of his appointment by the governor, the 36-year old Harmon had been in newspaper work in West Virginia for 18 years. He’d written and syndicated a column for weekly papers entitled “Hillbilly Ballads” for the prior seven years, discontinuing that column when he came to Beckley to accept a position as sports editor of the Beckley Post-Herald.
In addition to writing six books, Harmon founded the West Virginia Poetry Society before he died in 1981. In his last book, published in 1978, he noted that after suffering from a long illness, when he died, “I shall thank God of all creation who has allowed me to live so long in my beloved hills of West Virginia and write my poems.” He was from Boone County and lived in Beckley, WV for many years.
It was a place for lean, tall men with love
For freedom flowing strongly in their veins,
For those attuned to vagrant stars above,
To rugged peaks, deep snows, and June-time rains.
And so our State was whelped in time of strife
And cut its teeth upon a cannon ball;
Its heritage was cleaner, better life,
Within the richest storehouse of them all.
With timber, oil and gas and salt and coal,
It bargained in the world’s huge marketplace.
The mountain empire reached a mighty goal;
It never ran a pauper’s sordid race.
And best of all, it sire a hardy flock
Whose fame will grow with centuries to be,
Tough as a white-oak stump or limestone rock,
The mountaineers who always shall be free.