Visiting Writers Series, Installment #3—November 4, 7:30pm
It is Thursday evening, November 4, 2010, and the skies are clear with that definitive chill in the air that indicates it is fall in Pullman. WSU faculty and students gather into Kimbrough 101 to listen to a reading given by Tod Marshall, the last visiting writer of the fall semester to participate in the English Department’s Visiting Writers Series.
Tod Marshall is the author of two books of poetry, including Dare Say (University of Georgia Press 2002) and The Tangled Line (Canarium Books 2009). These two books are filled with unique poems bearing titles such as “Describe KFC to Icarus,” “No Nightingales in Kansas” and “St. Jude and the Tomatoes.” He has also published a book of interviews that he did with contemporary poets—Range of the Possible (EWU Press 2002)—as well as an anthology of poems by these same contemporary poets, which he edited—Range of Voices (EWU Press 2005). Tod received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1996 and currently resides in Spokane, Washington, where he is an English teacher at Gonzaga University.
Tod gives an hour long reading from his books, interspersed with some insight into the background and inspiration behind his writing. He finishes the evening by reading from some newer poetry that he is currently working on. Afterwards, I meet briefly with this local poet to get some insight into the creativity behind his writing.
INTERVIEW WITH TOD MARSHALL
Angela: Do you purposely go out into the world to experience unique things, or do you just let things happen to you? Where does the majority of your subject matter come from?
Tod: Well, I don’t think that I do anything exotic in order to go find poems out there in the world. I think if you looked at my life on the outside you’d [see] kind of a boring life. But I think it’s important not to turn down new experiences. There’s that Eleanor Roosevelt quotation: “Try something every day that you’re afraid of,” or something like that. So, I think that that’s important just to remind us that we’re alive, and to keep us fully alive. A lot of my poems come out of[a] combination of the normal things that I do and reading and things that I read about. I steal things that I read about and blend them together so it’s all a blender that mixes those things, and hopefully comes up with something interesting.
Angela: In your book The Tangled Line (2009), you did a lot of juxtaposing of really bizarre things that don’t seem to go together [“divorce and martinis,” “custody and omelets,” “fly fishing and Marie Antoinette”]. Why did you decide to do that exactly?
Tod: The first reason I decided to do it is because I had just finished my first book and I was kind of stuck getting going on new poems, so I did it as an exercise. I’m going to give myself this template that I’ve got to write poems within—“describe something to something else” [as in, “Describe divorce to Martinis”]. Eventually, after lots and lots of failed attempts—probably fifteen, twenty poems that just never really went anywhere— I started to find commonalities and threads. In the course of that book they describe a historical book. I also think that description can be a form of containment—if we’re trying to describe something, we’re trying to get control of it. Life doesn’t usually let us do that, so there’s [an] artificial control in [the] section of the book that has to do with Daedalus the maker. [He is] the grand artificer wanting to get control over all these circumstances that are really beyond his control. There are lots of riffs there on different types of violence—from the violence of our country at war to the violence that happens in a custody fight over a kid. You try to find ways to control your life when it’s out of control, and one of them is through coming up with a template.