If you want to be Washington State’s poet laureate, you have to apply for the job, the same way you’d apply to be a teacher or a bookkeeper.
Gonzaga University English professor Tod Marshall decided to submit his name last year. He says the idea of advocating for all the arts, not just poetry, appealed to him.
“I think it’s really important to find different ways to bring humanities programming to people who might not have access to it,” he says.
Marshall wasn’t always so passionate about the arts.
As a kid in Wichita, Kansas, he says he never imagined he’d even go to college, let alone become a published poet.
Marshall attended a small college in Michigan on a soccer scholarship. He decided, almost randomly, to major in philosophy.
“I chose that as some kind of knee-jerk reaction to academia,” Marshall says. “When I found myself in college, I was really insecure about being there.”
He chose the most esoteric major he could find, to demonstrate that, “I loved wisdom more than anything else.”
By his junior year, a professor had nudged Marshall in the direction of literature and creative writing.
After earning his doctorate at the University of Kansas, he landed a job at Gonzaga University in Spokane.
Marshall is Washington state’s fourth poet laureate and the first from east of the Cascade Range. He has a deep love for the outdoors and says his surroundings have a profound influence on his poetry.
“There’s no way that you can live among the Scablands of eastern Washington and the sagebrush tumbling across the desert that is the middle part of our state and not have it affect you,” he says.
Marshall will hold the poet laureate position for two years. He plans to travel the state to encourage people to read and write poetry.
At the end of his term in 2018, Marshall will publish a volume of poems to commemorate each year of Washington’s statehood: 129 poems by professionals and the general public he meets during his travels.
The Washington State Poet Laureate program is a joint project of Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission.
Tod Marshall will take over the position from Seattle poet and KUOW contributor Elizabeth Austen. The official passing of the laurel takes place Tuesday, Feb. 9 at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House.