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Tod Marshall

If the Washington State Poet Laureate is ever banished to a desert island, you’ll find him re-enacting Whitman poems in the surf.

Tod Marshall is the Washington State Poet Laureate and the author of numerous poetry collections including Bugle, which won the Washington State Book Award in 2015. Reading Habits is a recurring series that asks authors, artists, leaders, and others about their lives as readers.


A book you’re reading right now.  Oh goodness—am all over the map. Work stuff: Song of Solomon, John Cage, Plath. Outside of work: A Woman of Property, a collection of poetry by Robyn Schiff. Sound Ideas, a book about performance and poetry appreciation. Paul Celan (a not so cheery biography). The Ballad of Abu Ghraib by Philip Gournevitch (another not so cheery book). The Breakbeat Poets, a cool anthology. I keep my nose in a lot of books. Lucia Perillo’s new Selected. Just got The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell in the mail. Looking forward to that.

You’re banished to a desert island. For reading material you’re allowed to take the complete works of just one author. Who is it? Walt. I could jump in the surf and reenact section 11. Emily Dickinson might, though, be more appropriate. A prolific and various poet whose works would keep giving me different things every time I came back. Maybe The Bard.

A book you’ve read more than once. As I Lay Dying. But that’s for teaching purposes. Probably evading your question: Real Presences by George Steiner. Philosophy/theology book on art and the possibility of God.

What you’re holding when you read: a paper book or an e-reader. Paper. Because that’s what I’ve known. Am willing to change, though. Am getting more tech savvy these days.

A book that changed your life in a significant way. Well, as a youngster, The Great Brain books caught my imagination; in hindsight, I see that they were stories about marginalized kids trying to get noticed/matter in a world that wasn’t immediately hospitable; that probably gave me some sense of empowerment. As an adult, Amazing Grace by J. Kozol—read right after Savage Inequalities—mattered a great deal to me; a devastating look at how we have failed the most vulnerable in our society: impoverished children.

A book that was better than the movie. Is it ever the other way around?

A movie that was better than the book. Birdman did unexpected things with Raymond Carver’s short story, but that’s not really a good example.

A book you found too disturbing to finish. I have a fairly high disturbing threshold. I have stopped reading books because I thought that they were disturbingly poor in terms of the quality of writing. We Wish to Inform You That We Are About to Be Killed With Our Families by Phillip Gournevitch was hard to finish.

A book you’re embarrassed to admit you like. Like my threshold for the disturbing, my “get embarrassed” threshold is pretty extreme. I read lots of different stuff—and I like watching bad tv, too. And good tv. Rectify, Blood Ties, Buffy, Arrow. I watch all kinds of stuff.

Do you read with music on? If so, what kind? Music without lyrics.  Am only attentive enough to focus on one stream of language.

A book you think should be considered a classic, but isn’t. Wisconsin Death Trap, 1973 by Michael Lesy. Thanks to Dennis Held (a crazed Wisconsinite) for getting that book on my radar. Chilling, funny.  Just a great look (literally) into the macabre.

Where you buy most of your books. Aunties Bookstore in Spokane or, I’ll have to admit, Amazon.

A genre you think is underappreciated. Poetry.

Longest number of hours you’ve ever spent reading something. What was it? I read Jess [Walter]’s Citizen Vince straight through. A great read. How, if we’re talking cumulative instead of one sitting, then there are many options; I’m a slow reader, and sometimes it takes me a long time to finish a chunky novel.

Your favorite place to read. On the porch of a family cabin west of Spokane (Lake Roosevelt nearby; so quiet when the party boats aren’t, well, partying; basalt columns rising up to the west. Eagles. Deer. Occasional wild horses and bears. An expansive feel to the air. Glorious.)

Your least favorite place to read but you often end up reading there anyway. On the couch (pause). Soon: zzzzzz.

The Washington State Poet Laureate program is sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission/ArtsWA. Follow Tod at

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