State’s Poet Laureate to Make Big Swing Through Lewis County

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Washington’s poet laureate is bringing his well-metered words and carefully crafted message to Lewis County for a whirlwind tour intended to tout the merits and accessibility of iambic pentameter, and other poetic stylings.

This week, Tod Marshall, Washington’s official poet laureate and a professor at Gonzaga University, will bring his message to Centralia College, Salkum Timberland Library and the Mineral School, in addition to Onalaska and Eatonville public schools in a series of free presentations.

“Poetry matters — not just to poets, professors and students. Poetry matters to everyone,” said Marshall, winner of the 2015 Washington State Book Award for his collection, Bugle, in a press release. “I was a first-generation college student, and because of that, I understand the skepticism that many have for the arts. But I’ve also come to realize that the inner life that the arts and humanities can nurture is important to living deliberately and introspectively. So I am interested in how poetry and all of the arts can help us find our best selves.” 

In an email to The Chronicle, Marshall took the time to explain his passion for poetry and why he believes that it is rewarding art form that should be utilized by the masses.

Marshall noted that the goal of the poet laureate position is to “increase awareness and appreciation of poetry” around Washington. Marshall added, “I hope to work toward those goals through outreach to as many different sorts of communities as possible: from kindergarten classes to university class; at retirement homes and arts centers.” 

This will be Marshall’s first visit to Lewis County, and he expressed an excitement to bring his message to such a unique and naturally awe-inspiring area

“I think that it’s important to emphasize to people the many ways that poetry is already part of their lives — through the children’s books that they loved and the song lyrics they’ve memorized,” said Marshall, who believes that poetry has been unjustly stigmatized as “overly difficult,” and “inaccessible” by some.

“That’s an unfortunate dynamic, and I hope to help counter that misrepresentation of poetry,” explained Marshall.

The good folks at the Mineral School will host Marshall during his stay. Jane Hodges, founder of the Mineral School, said that she and her enclave started working to help coordinate the poet’s visit nearly a year ago. She readily admits that part of the Mineral School’s aim was to get Marshall to visit the east end of Lewis County, and then happily suggested other locations where he could visit. She also stated an intention to feed Marshall well during his visit.

“Hopefully the heat’s on after the storm,” joked Hodges.

The thrust of Marshall’s visit, though, will be focused on spreading the cultural significance of liberal arts and literature.

“The poet laureate has a two-year post, and each poet laureate gets to chose how they spend that term,” explained Hodges. “Typically, poet laureates are looking to do as much activity as possible in order to spread the word, like a Johnny Appleseed of poetry.”

True to form, Marshall is working on a large-scale poetry project that will encompass the majority of the Apple state. The project, known as WA 129, is an attempt to gather poems from poets of all stripes from across the state for publishing in a book that gets to the core of Washington’s poetic heart.

“I’ve always been drawn to outreach in the humanities. I think that it’s important for all of us to have compelling encounters with the arts, with history, with philosophy and theology, and so the poet laureate position gives me a chance to visit many places and talk about that subject,” said Marshall.

Marshall does not spend all of his time in the ivory towers of Gonzaga though. Often, he can be found alongside, or waist deep, in countryside creeks and rivers casting flies and communing with nature.

“I’m a diehard fisherman,” noted Marshall, who “just got back from a two-day trip to Dillon chasing brown trout.” 

Marshall said he likes to get out in a tent for at least a month of the year.

Casting flies is an art form in and of itself, but fishing, such as life, can lead to a wide array of emotions. Poetry is Marshall’s preferred method of processing and conveying those human emotions. 

“I think that the arts are absolutely integral to human experience. Rural or urban, the cultivation of some sort of inner life, some sort of imaginative space, something that isn’t connected to paying bills or the grind of our every day, is essential to exploring what it is to be human,” wrote Marshall. “Think about field hands singing songs or cow herders (probably some of our first poets) singing ballads or highly ritualized dances as part of public events, heck, even ancient cave paintings. All of these examples illustrate how the arts are part of our being in the world — and have been for a long time. They make us think about who we are; who we are in relationship to the world around us and to others.”  

The Washington state poet laureate position is supported by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission. The Lewis County Our Literacy Council and Centralia College partnered to arrange Marshall’s visit.

More information, including samples of his work, can be found on his website at http://www.todmarshall.com/index.html.

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