State’s poet laureate will engage the senses in workshop, reading

Tod Marshall

Tod Marshall

By Marcy Stamper

People may envision poetry as staid, formal or exclusive. But Washington’s poet laureate, Tod Marshall, will disabuse anyone of that image — Marshall will excite readers and writers about the power of poetry to fuel the imagination through links with rock concerts, fishing and camping, and places that hold special meaning.

Six months into his two-year term as the state’s inspirational muse, Marshall is coming to Twisp next week to present two separate events — a workshop and an informal talk and reading.

In a workshop entitled “If You Ain’t No Place You Can’t Go Nowhere,” Marshall will help participants explore ways to connect their imagination to both real and imagined landscapes in Washington.

The workshop name comes from the book The Triggering Town by noted poet and writer Richard Hugo. Hugo stresses the importance of identifying “where” a poem is situated. He observes that rooting creativity to a particular place can allow the imagination to grow in unexpected ways, said Marshall.

There area many ways to think about the concept of “place,” said Marshall. For some people, it could be connected with specific plants or animals (such as huckleberries, salmon or balsamroot and the sensory memories they trigger). It could be linked to place names, like Twisp, the Columbia, or the Palouse, or with the people who made their mark in an area, from native inhabitants to athletes to politicians.

Workshop participants will explore using a range of diction and line and sound texture in their writing. They will practice freewriting and drafting a poem.

Based in Spokane, Marshall is a professor of the humanities at Gonzaga University, where he also directs a program in writing and coordinates the visiting writers series. His most recent book is Bugle (2014), which won the Washington state book award in 2015. He is also the author of two previous poetry collections, Dare Say (2002) and The Tangled Line (2009), and of a collection of interviews with contemporary poets called Range of the Possible (2002).

The workshop is Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp. Admission is by donation. To register, contact Methow Arts at or 997-4004.

Marshall’s reading and informal talk, entitled “Creativity: Where Does Inspiration Begin?” will provide insights into how Marshall got started as an artist. Marshall promises a wide-ranging presentation that can be expected to touch on rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Van Halen in addition to literary ancestors like Emily Dickinson and writers of the Beat Generation.

Expect live guitar solos, a sense of the incredible seriousness of creativity (Marshall says it can be life-saving), and a willingness to admit that the imagination can thrive in the most unexpected places.

Marshall uses vivid language in his poetry, as in this verse from his poem “When You Fry Catfish, Do You Imagine a Sky Full of Stars?”

Dull blades mangle fish skin. Hesitant flicks

of the wrist make a mess of flesh. Scraping the intestinal cavity — 

gut hole, you say — sends flecks of tissue to air, spatters

bits on the floor. Dogs will lick it all clean.

The reading and talk are on Friday, Sept. 16, at The Merc Playhouse at 6:30 p.m. Suggested donation is $10. Marshall urges attendees to wear a rock concert T-shirt if they have one in their closet.

Marshall’s workshop and reading are sponsored by Methow Arts.