Mining the Mind

For his newest collection, Tod Marshall delves into darkness to pen thought-provoking poems

Poet and Gonzaga writing professor Tod Marshall. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Poet and Gonzaga writing professor Tod Marshall.

Grotesque art at the First Friday artwalk, bridge jumpers, hitchhikers and a birthday poem about death.

Days before the official release of his third poetry collection, Tod Marshall talks with us about his writing process and the darker sources of inspiration he sought to capture throughout his new 50-page collection, Bugle. Marshall, a 1990 graduate of Eastern Washington University's MFA writing program, currently teaches creative writing and literature at Gonzaga University.

INLANDER: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

MARSHALL: I think it varies quite a bit from book to book. One way that I've described my three books is that I wrote The Divine Comedy backward. My first book is kind of optimistic and paradisal. The second is a little more purgatory-ish, and this book is more Dante's Inferno than anything else. In order to find inspiration straight from the inferno, one needs to just look around, really. There's lots of brutal images in my book, but none of them rival just doing a cursory glance on CNN.com.

What I thought would be the central metaphor is the big [Berkeley] pit mine in Butte, Montana... That pit mine as the world in which all these bad things are happening — memories in which we hold little bits of trauma — became a central part of the book. From the pit mine, people took copper and silver and zinc and made it into brass, and brass makes a bugle and a bugle makes music. So from even the most toxic slime we can make a song.

So that is also the inspiration for the collection's name, Bugle?

There are, over the course of the book, several Bugle poems. I see it as a raucous, loud, disturbing instrument. Its direct purpose is to call soldiers to battle, wake us in the morning, and we associate it with "Taps." It's not a beautiful instrument like a cello. Those bugle blasts are often disturbing notes that might rouse us from our routine, and the slumber we sometimes slip into because of routine.

How do you hope readers react to the darker poems in the collection?

I think one doesn't have to go to a book of poetry to find dark and disturbing stuff. There's so much out there in the news headlines every day. Incorporating that into a book, trying to make it part of a transformation that could be hopeful or positive, was my project. Whether it achieves that, I don't know. I hope toward the end the reader is thinking about the way awfulness can be made into new myths, and the way brass becomes music.

Now that this book is out, what are you working on?

New poems. I am just trying to read widely, and trying to find a different poetic mode. There are lots of sonnets in this book, and I've been working in that 14-line, rhymed form. I'm trying to write without rhyme, and write a longer line, and hope the new mode will propel me to the next book. ♦

Boogie Woogie Book Launch feat. Tod Marshall, Nance Van Winckel, David Armstrong and Railtown Almanac poets • Tue, Dec. 9, from 6:30-8:30 pm • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • thebartlettspokane.com

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About The Author

Chey Scott

Chey Scott is the Inlander's Associate Editor, overseeing and contributing to the paper's arts and culture sections, including food and events. Chey (pronounced "Shay") is a lifelong resident of the Spokane area and a graduate of Washington State University. She's been on staff at the Inlander since 2012...