by Alex Baker
Tod Marshall is Washington State’s new Poet Laureate. And my professor.
I was first in Dr. Marshall’s Writing for Poetry class in Spring 2015. We were a tight knit group— able to joke around, but also critically discuss each other’s work. Dr. Marshall played the role of mediator, observing and occasionally speaking, only then to direct or force us heighten our own thinking. One day he read us one of his poems, not to brag, but to teach, to inspire, to share— he seemed an equal as he stood at the front of the room, reading his published and praised poem, while ours sat in piles in front of us, marked with revisions.
I am currently enrolled in Dr. Marshall’s American Lit class with a visionary theme. Our latest endeavor was Hart Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bridge,” which I found difficult. I admitted this to Dr. Marshall.
“To be honest, this poem was hard to understand. I had no idea what I was reading,” I told him during class.
“Can I ask you a follow up question?” Dr. Marshall said, standing back on his heels; he always walks around the classroom, wandering down the aisles, bouncing from one end of the room to the other.
“Why was it difficult?”
We exchanged a couple more sentences, me explaining my confusion and him supporting me, reminding our class about his excessive “obsession” with his poem during his Graduate and Doctoral theses. “It’s still hard for me now. I still have to look up words and think about it,” he said.
This is a glimpse of the humility in Dr. Marshall, and with that, the equal ground he stands on with his students, possibly also his colleagues, the other writers he meets, and poets at large.
Dr. Marshall continued the class discussion. When he noticed I didn’t have a copy of the poem in front of me, he grabbed his extra book and held it out for me, his thumb open to the poem. It was a small gesture and not at all a means to condemn me, but rather to help me, to engage with me, to let me stand on that equal ground.
In Spark Mag, Dr. Marshall said, “When I meet people through the state… I hope to reinforce a message that as children they probably took for granted: their voices, their words, their songs of the self, are important and need to be heard.”
Whenever I interact with Dr. Marshall, I feel that this idea is present. The way he supports and genuinely connects with me is equal to the people who surround me in class, the numerous other students who walk into his office or send him an email. We are all equals, whether he’s reading his award-winning poetry aloud or handing over a book, there we stand together.
Yet, even then, what we earn is our own. Dr. Marshall earned his new appointment at Poet Laureate and for that I send him my congratulations. Oh, and I’ll bring my book to class next time.
Tod Marshall earned his Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Eastern Washington University and a PhD from University of Kansas, where he is from. His works include Bugle, The Tangled Line, and Dare Say. He lives in Spokane, WA where he is a Professor at Gonzaga University.