Friday, December 30, 2016

Applying TV Makeup to a CEO, by Morgan Finn

Morgan Finn lives in the Connecticut hills. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Kalliope, Thema, and Wild Dove. A poem of hers won first prize in the 2016 WEN Writing Competition. Upcoming: a story in Tallgrass/Outrider Press, and a poem in PMS Literary Journal.

Poet on the poem:
The first version of “Applying TV Makeup to a CEO” almost sprang onto paper, even though there were other participants that day for an insurance teleconference.  There was something deeply bonding as I hovered over the nervous CEO who let me see inside him, leaving an indelible impression of what lies behind the mask.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

As a Man, a short story by Laura Farmer

Laura Farmer’s fiction has recently appeared in The Antioch Review, North American Review, and other journals. She is Writing Studio Director at Cornell College and a book critic for The Gazette.

A word from the author:
While the plot in “As a Man” is entirely fiction, the world surrounding the characters is rooted very much in my own experience. From the power of hearing a long-lost voice on a tape recorder to the beauty and wonder that is St. Lucy’s parish in Syracuse, NY, these small, real moments were great fun to reflect on—making me feel like I was on a journey somewhere surprising too.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Static, by Tige Ashton DeCoster

Tige Ashton DeCoster, a native of Seattle, received his BA in creative writing from the University of Washington. Tige’s poetry has been published in Malpais Review, Fly South, Calliope, and others. He was the recipient of a 2009 Fulbright scholarship, and winner of the 2016 Joan Grayston Poetry Prize.

Poet on the poem:
My parents were involved with the civil rights movement in Seattle when I was growing up. Their influence drew me toward contemporary struggles surrounding inequality and racism.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Labyrinth, 3 poems by Oliver de la Paz

Oliver de la Paz is the author of four collections of poetry. His most recent book, Post Subject: A Fable, was published by the University of Akron Press. He teaches at Holy Cross and in the Low-Res MFA Program at PLU.

Poet on the poem:
I’ve been writing this series of poems based on the Theseus and Minotaur myth as a way to find an angle into writing about the experiences of raising a child on the autistic spectrum, while doing him the courtesy of acknowledging he is also changing and growing.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mossbride, by Hannah Craig

Hannah Craig lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her first collection is forthcoming from Parlor Press in late 2016. Her work has recently appeared in the North American Review, Mississippi Review, and Copper Nickel.

Poet on the poem:
The poem loosely refers to the 12 Dancing Princesses tale by the Brothers Grimm. Anne Sexton wrote a poem based on the same tale which ends with the princesses, denied future nights of enchantment & dancing, sagging like old sweatshirts.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Body Parts, by T. Clear

T. Clear is a Seattle poet who has been writing and publishing for over 40 years, and is a founder of Floating Bridge Press. Her many publications include Poetry Northwest, Seattle Review, Poetry Atlanta and The Moth.

Poet on the poem:
“Body Parts” was my reaction to the outrage I felt when I was not allowed to see my husband’s body for several days after his death in a car accident at the age of 47.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Cuspid Made of Gravel, by Ben Cartwright

Ben Cartwright’s poetry has appeared in Seneca Review, DIAGRAM, West Branch, Parcel, and Prick of the Spindle, among others. His fiction has appeared in The Stinging Fly, Johnny America, and Lilac City Fairy Tales. His collaborative work with printmaker Lindsey Merrell is forthcoming in Duende. Ben’s poetry manuscript After Our Departure won the 2016 Powder Horn Prize judged by Nance Van Winckel, was published by Sage Hill Press in October 2016. Ben teaches at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Using Rust as Pigment, by Jeff Burt

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, CA, and works in mental health. He has work in Atticus Review, Per Contra, The Watershed Review, and Clare Literary Magazine. He was the summer issue special poet of Clerestory in 2015.

Poet on the poem:
What we mean by words often requires a deeper explanation than the denotation or even connotation of a work. Rust has an arresting color, the sign of metal fatigue even if the metal remains firm, a sign of dying while living. Seeing rust as a color, I had to come to a poetic understanding of what it meant, the past living in the present, the desire to rest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sixteen, by Shevaun Brannigan

Shevaun Brannigan is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her work has been published in Best New Poets. Visit her online at

Monday, December 12, 2016

Given Up, by Jeanette Beebe

Jeanette Beebe is a poet and journalist. Her work has appeared in Nat Brut, Side B, Imagine Magazine, Ariel, and Lyrical Iowa. Her undergraduate thesis at Princeton, “An Instrument for Blinking,” was advised by Tracy K. Smith. She reports for WHYY-FM (NPR, Philadelphia), and is a Master’s student in NYU’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program.

Poet on the poem:
“Given Up,” for me, feels like a letter. It’s also a poem, full of questions: about love, place, and where we “come from.” Exploring what uncertainty feels like is something that poetry’s particularly good at; it’s a language well-suited for tackling the “in-between.” Thanks to Susan Wheeler and Christian Barter, who helped me shape this poem, and to Tracy K. Smith, who encouraged me to ask the hard questions.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ray, by Taneum Bambrick

Taneum Bambrick is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Arizona where she received the Academy of American Poets Prize. She recently interned at Copper Canyon Press, and currently serves as an Associate Editor for Narrative Magazine. Her work appears in Cutbank Online, The Nashville Review, New Delta Review, and Cloud Rodeo. Taneum teaches at Central Washington University.

Poet on the poem:
“Ray” stems from a larger collection, Reservoir, which explores the human and environmental consequences of dams. The collection also explores the conditions of rural, working class spaces where hypermasculinity equates to survival.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Alien, by José Angel Araguz

José Angel Araguz, author of six chapbooks, as well as the collection, Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press), has had poems, prose, and reviews appear in RHINO Poetry, New South, and The Volta Blog. He runs the poetry blog, The Friday Influence. A second collection, Small Fires, is forthcoming.

Poet on the Poem:
“Alien” spun out of hearing the radio ads of a congressional candidate in North Carolina who ran a blatantly anti-immigrant campaign where the Twilight Zone theme played behind talk of a possible “alien” invasion.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Escheatment, by Jacob M. Appel

Jacob M. Appel is the author of two novels and six collections of stories including, most recently, Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana. He practices medicine in New York City. More at

Poet on the Poem:
I have always been fascinated by the contents of safe deposit boxes, ever since first visiting the vaults of our local bank with my grandmother as a child. Often, I fancied myself as the guardian of these private treasures … and, in “Escheatment,” I finally had my chance.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

For the Professor Who Told Me Rats Weren’t Noble Enough For a Poem, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Notre Dame Review, Callaloo, and Puerto Del Sol. She is the author of two poetry collections: her chapbook, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (Yes Yes Books, 2016) and her first full-length collection, winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, 2017).

Friday, November 25, 2016

Pushcart Prize nominations

Crab Creek Review is pleased to announce our Pushcart Prize nominations. It was difficult to choose just six pieces from the two issues. We are honored by the caliber of work sent to us for consideration, and are grateful for the opportunity to publish such fine work. Congratulations to the nominees, and we're crossing our fingers for each of you!

From the 2016 Spring issue, one poem and one short story triptych:

José Angel Araguz: El Rio

Sharma Shields: Sharpen Your Knives: Three Mother Stories

And from the 2016 Fall issue, four poems:

Elizabeth Acevedo: For the Professor Who Told Me Rats Weren’t Noble Enough For a Poem
T. Clear: Body Parts
Malcolm Friend: On Being Told I Look Like the Rapper J. Cole, or List of Black People I Apparently Look Like, or Do All Black People Look Alike?

Francine Witte: Selfie at the End of the World

You can read these fine poems and stories in the spring and fall issues of Crab Creek Review, available at Elliott Bay Book Company, and Open Books, in Seattle, Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island, and on our website, here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Meet Lisa Norris, Crab Creek Review's Assistant Fiction Editor!

Lisa Norris joined the staff of Crab Creek Review in September 2016. She brings decades of experience, insight, and creativity to the team. Please help us welcome her!

Lisa Norris
A word from Lisa:
I want to read stories that offer humor, well-realized characters, distinctive voices, and skillful uses of language, including strong active verbs and concrete details. I enjoy surprises that provide insight into human experience. Stories that promote connection and compassion particularly stay with me, but that is not to say that the work cannot include violent and/or disturbing language or action. Rather, the action must come to something—whether demonstrating the consequences of human limitations á la Flannery O'Connor in a story like "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," celebrating moments of insight as in Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," or offering broader cultural insights as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" or Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn, I Will Redeem." Advice to writers: read, write, revise— but also please experience your life! Sharing it is your gift to us, so pay attention. Also, if we don't take your submission, please try again.

Lisa Norris has published two prize-winning books of short stories— Toy Guns (Willa Cather Fiction Prize, Helicon Nine Press, 2000) and Women Who Sleep with Animals (Stephen F. Austin State University Press Fiction Prize, SFASU Press, 2011). Her stories, poems and creative nonfiction have been published in Fourth Genre, Shenandoah, Ascent, Notre Dame Review, Kiss Tomorrow Hello (Anthology, Doubleday 2006) and others. She meets annually in a Northern Idaho cabin with the Free Range Writers, who were featured in Poets and Writers. She taught creative writing for 15 years at Virginia Tech, and is currently an associate professor at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. Visit Lisa at

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Meet Assistant Poetry Editor Linda Malnack

Hi! My name is Linda Malnack and I’m the new Associate Editor for Crab Creek Review. I was recently—happily—recruited by Martha Silano to assist with all things poetry. Here’s a little bit about me. I graduated from University of Washington with a B.A. in English in 1981 and in 1995 I returned and earned a Certificate in Advanced Poetry Writing. After the program I was invited to co-edit one of the first on-line poetry journals, Switched-on Gutenberg, which I’ve co-edited for nearly 20 years.

I’ve published poems in many journals, including Amherst Review, Blackbird, the Seattle Review, and Ruminate, and my chapbook, Bone Beads, was published by Paper Boat Press in 1997. I won a William Stafford Award in 1998, a Willow Springs Poetry Award in 2000, and a Writers Award from The Nassau Review in 2014. My second chapbook, 21 Boxes, will be published by Dancing Girl Press at the end of 2016.

 I feel like every writer, no matter how long they’ve been writing, faces the same blank page every time they start writing. With that in mind, I take classes to gain new insights into how to begin (again). I’ve taken classes at Hugo House over the years and attended many conferences and workshops, including Centrum Writers Conference (Port Townsend), Tomales Bay Writers Workshop (California), Glen Workshop East (Massachusetts), Writer Island Workshop (Orcas Island), and Bread Loaf (Vermont). 

Our fall open reading period is just around the corner, and I look forward to reading your work! Learn more about me at

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Laundry - Barbara Crooker, Spring 2016

Barbara Crooker’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including The Bedford Introduction to Literature and Good Poems American Places. She has six full-length books of poetry, including Small Rain (Purple Flag Press, 2014) and Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2015).

“Laundry” is part of a series of glosas I did while in residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. I gave myself the challenge of writing these glosas using quatrains taken from Irish writers, and tried to let the beauty of the landscape and the musical rhythms of conversation seep into the poems as well. They’re part of a manuscript in progress called The Book of Kells, which I hope to complete when I return there this spring.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Poetry - Jamie Crepeau, Crab Creek Review Spring 2016

Jamie Crepeau: I work full time as a machinist and I have been writing poetry seriously for the past five years. I have had poems published in the literary magazines Freshwater, Helix, and Fresh Ink. I like to write about many different topics and make people think.

I wanted to write a poem that describes good poetry in a creative and unusual way. I like to use imagery, sound, and similes and metaphors to create strong poems.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Confessions of a Snipe Hunter - Grant Clauser - Crab Creek Review Spring 2016

Grant Clauser is the author of Necessary Myths (Broadkill River Press 2013) and The Trouble with Rivers (Foothills Publishing 2012). Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Good Men Project, Painted Bride Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review and others. He writes about electronics, teaches poetry at random places and chases trout with a stick.

“Snipe Hunter” comes from an experience as a Boy Scout when I was a kid. It’s one of those tricks older kids play on younger kids, is slightly cruel and also foreshadows knowledge we come around to as adults.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Among the Living - Steven Carrelli, in Crab Creek Review Spring 2016

Steven Carrelli is a visual artist and writer living in Chicago. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited widely in the United States in solo and group exhibitions, and they have appeared in regional and national publications. He teaches at DePaul University in the Department of Art, Media and Design.

A few words about the poem:
“Among the Living” was inspired by the memory of the sudden illness and death of a great and very dear friend, Marshall Patner (1931-2000). Written 15 years after his death, it is a testament to the vitality of his presence, which continues to be startlingly great. I count him among the living.

Monday, May 2, 2016

1955, a poem by Stacey Balkun -- Crab Creek Review, Spring 2016

Stacey Balkun is the author of Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak and Lost City Museum. Her work has appeared or will appear in Gargoyle, Muzzle, THRUSH, Bodega, and others. A 2015 Hambidge Fellow, Stacey served as Artist-in- Residence at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2013. She writes for

A few words about the work:

My current project explores the work and lives of female surrealists who have been overlooked by history. “1955” is inspired by the biography of American painter Kay Sage and is specifically about the year her husband died unexpectedly. Because painters like Sage have been left out of the history books and exhibits, my hope is that this project will allow readers learn about and connect with these artists in a new way.

Image from Wikipedia:Le Passage, Kay Sage

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sharpen Your Knives: Three Mother Stories (excerpt) by Sharma Shields - Crab Creek Review Spring 2016

Sharma Shields is the author of the novel, Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac and the short story collection, Favorite Monster. She serves on the Board of the Spokane County Public Libraries, as founder of Scablands Lit, and as a community arts activist. Sharma lives in Spokane, WA with her husband and two children.

I’m obsessed with mothers and children lately, those roles being so central to my own life. I wanted to explore the metaphor of the woman as “witch” or “bitch” here, as well. The presence of the knives are really a way to express my terror at the thought of parenting poorly; parenting sometimes feels to me like a dangerous undertaking. I so badly want to do right by my children.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Contributor Poems: El Rio, by José Angel Araguz, (Crab Creek Review 2016 Spring)

José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow. Winner of Rhino Poetry’s 2015 Editor’s Prize, he is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Cincinnati. Author of Everything We Think We Hear, he runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence. “El Rio” comes from trying to move beyond predictable tropes about border crossing and work out how the river makes itself known, through dreams as well as everyday occurrences of profiling, and unignorable.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Conversation with Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall

Tod Marshall
Maya Jewell Zeller

This interview was conducted over several email exchanges in February 2016. Tod was a gracious and generous conversationalist.

MJZ: Tod, I first encountered your work via your 2002 collection Range of the Possible: Conversations with Contemporary Poets. I was a graduate student, coming to understand how, collectively, this group of poets—two generations removed from the Modernists—would speak to varied aesthetic approaches. If you were to make a new collection of such conversations, beginning in 2016, who would be your ideal list of interviewees?

TM: It’s a little weird that you asked about this; Tony Leuzzi (Passwords Primeval, a collection of interviews) and I are part of an AWP panel this spring that focuses on the literary interview. Consequently, the two of us just finished interviewing each other about similar sorts of things; in Range, I tried to give shape to what seemed an overwhelming project: how to choose twenty poets from so many possibilities, and to tell the truth, accident and geography played as much of a role as anything; I started the book in grad school in Spokane, and I finished it more than ten years later—in Spokane. But to get to our question: I’d get rid of the lineage framework and just focus on a wide range of poetic practices and a wide range of personalities: Cathy Park Hong, Dorothea Lasky, Robyn Schiff, Matthew Dickman (I’m trying to stay outside of Washington), Douglas Kearney, all roughly of a similar generation; oh, wait, I’m doing it again. I don’t know, Maya; there are so many fine poets doing so many worthwhile things. I can tell you some poets that would have fit into the book with whom I didn’t get to speak (and would have loved the chance): Norman Dubie, Jane Hirshfield, Sharon Olds, C.D. Wright. Did you know that she picked Dare Say for the University of Georgia Press? I never got to thank her in person. Such a brilliant and original poet.

MJZ: How about if the range of voices were limited to Washington State? (And yes, you can have that project idea—I’d love to see this book!)

TM: Won’t be by me. My interviewer days are over, I think. I have an untranscribed recording with Tomaž Šalamun that I might bring to publication; losing him is another sad loss for our poetry community. Anyhow, if I were magically to get the energy to undertake such a project, I would love to talk with Lucia Perillo again. Tim Ely (an artist/poet of sorts). Rob Schlegel. So many others. Don’t make me choose!

MJZ: Looping back to my first question: you’ve always been interested in Modernism, and the book Wright chose, Dare Say, tackles this. Is it fair to say that Modernism is still a major influence with which you’re obsessed?

TM: Well, modernism was my primary literary area for my PhD, and so I was pretty steeped in it from 1992-1996. As in, immersed. So, because I was working on the interview book then, it seemed natural to make that connection. I think, though, as far as my own writing goes, Dare Say exorcised that obsession. That first book is so full of stuff; it’s the rag bag that Pound talks about in his opening riff to the Selected Cantos. Except it ain’t so much a rag bag as a museum: Bach and Botticelli, Kandinsky, Van Gogh and Apollinaire. Stevens. And other “leftovers”(as I kind of rename all those cultural markers in Bugle). I love teaching modern poetry, and the poems (and art) still speak to me, but when I need to get my own writing going, I’m more likely to pick up Gilbert or Hugo or Bishop or something from the stack of living poets that I try to keep near my desk.

MJZ: Speaking of living poets, how would the Modernists have felt about social media? You’ve confessed to having a discomfort with social media yourself, but now, in your new position as WaPL, you have a Twitter account, an active Facebook profile (both as Tod and as PL), and a Humanities Washington media guy. How do you see yourself using social media platforms to lead people to poetry and the arts?

TM: Well, I guess the social media stuff for me comes down to two things: the time investment (substantial) and the meaningfulness of the contact. It’s great for spreading information and making an initial contact; it’s not so great for any sort of intense or memorable dialogue. Elizabeth Austen gave me some great advice a few days ago; she said to remember that I was appointed to this position because of me, that people want to directly interact with what I hope to share about poetry. All of the other stuff is just a tool to make in-person contact happen. As for the moderns: I suspect Pound would have loved it. He would have been a beast on Twitter: @il_duce, I suppose. A fun game: Twitter names for the modernists: @hurthawk @lovetheplums @realtoads @ghosts_thattap @notherethere @thethe @dempoliceman @wearyblues @harpandaltar. And so on.

MJZ: Perfect. In your first reading as Laureate in Spokane, you said that poetry, and the other arts, “engage the awful energies of the intellect.” Is that different from the ways that academia in general engages that intellect?

TM: Hmm. I guess what I meant was that poetry has a host of different energies that it can use to impact us: the texture of sound, the evocation of an image, the web of allusion, the rawness of emotion, and through the awful energy of the intellect. I think that it’s a mistake not to recognize that there are many great poems that demand that we bring our brains to the page. Sure, that demand can be intimidating, but it’s usually the case that several of the energies I’ve listed are at work. Hence, a first entry point to a great poem like “For the Union Dead” might be through just noting the great phrases and their musicality—both to the ear and through the mini workout they can give the lips, teeth, and tongue. The vivid images might be a second sparking point. Eventually, though, a reader might arrive at investigating the historical background of the poem and think about civic duty, civil rights, the commodification of the bombing of huge cities in Japan (and so on). That work involves brainwork. I hope that the layered impact of how a poem might reveal is not too different from how our classes at the university might work.

MJZ: Layered impact—yes. I’ve heard you read on numerous occasions, and I’m always delighted at how the musicality of your language comes trumpeting off the page (and how layered the poem is beyond that). I’m especially taken when a poem reveals an emotional vulnerability—like in “Birthday Poem,” a piece I’ve read aloud to several friends, only to look up to find them crying. What are a few poems that move you?

TM: Thanks, Maya; that’s very generous of you. I can’t get all the way through June Jordan’s “Poem About My Rights” without being moved: “I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name.” Countee Cullen’s “Incident” always moves me: “Of all the things that happened there / That’s all that I remember.” Philip Larkin’s “High Windows”—

And immediately                                            
Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:      
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

Jeez, what a brutal poem on that “long slide” that is our dwindling life. Li Young Lee’s “This Room and Everything In It”—heck, many of Li-Young’s poems yank out a little bit of your heart (“The Gift”—!!). As far as shaping that vulnerability within a poem—that’s a hard, hard thing to do; “Birthday Poem” began as a parody of the PNW school of dead deer poetry, but over the course of drafting it (and the smart help of my editor), the poem became something else entirely. Everything is constructed in a poem, and so even an apparent “intimate” revelation, what might be seen as vulnerability, is still very much within the poet’s shaping.

MJZ: You have said that “mystery is a good thing.” From where does your duende originate? Will you talk a little about your childhood in Kansas?

TM: Hmm. Well…hmm. I was born in Tonawanda, New York. My parents were young—17 and 19, I think, when I was conceived. Kids. They both came from households with various levels of dysfunction, and, not surprisingly, my father’s alcoholism shaped my early years (he’s now 25+ years sober); we moved a lot, sometimes in the middle of the night; lots of DUIs for him and all that attendant stuff—and one of those moves took us from the Adirondack Mountains to a place as strange as Wichita, Kansas. I was six. We lived in a motel for a few weeks. I imagine my story isn’t that unusual. Our family struggled. I lived from six to thirteen or so in a trailer park; again, not a big deal, but the thing that made it a bit more challenging for me was that was the 70s, a time of “gifted” programs; I tested in to one, and it put me with all of the “gifted, talented, and creative” kids—95% of whom were also fairly wealthy. I was stigmatized; that period of my life probably entrenched issues connected to class and privilege with which I still wrestle. When I was a teenager, I started acting out to get attention—minor crimes and substance abuse stuff. I got in trouble a few times, and I got lucky a few times that I didn’t get into more trouble. I’ll take the Fifth on the details. In Wichita, I hurt people and didn’t respect too many things, and I got hurt, too. It took me a while to figure it out (30 years? Still hoping to do so?), but I think the duende—although that word seems kind of melodramatic when talking about oneself (Lorca connected it with intense dancers and bullfighters; I’m talking about street racing in Camaros and drug abuse and misdemeanors)—might have shadowed me one morning on the South side of Wichita. I found myself on the street, strung out after a few days of poor behavior, and I felt pretty intensely that the universe was always hungry, and it could take me like that. And why shouldn’t it? That realization shimmered things a bit—death suddenly was the mother of beauty. And then I probably went and spent my last few quarters on a Zip Trip hotdog and started walking to where ever I was keeping my clothes. A few weeks after that, I got a phone call to go play college soccer at a small school in Michigan— Siena Heights University (lots of Dominican nuns). I went. Somehow it worked out. Many of the people I called friends back then didn’t make it out of there. I can’t recall too many details—or, to put it more accurately—some details from that period come back to me through poems, but that sensation, that shivering moment on a Wichita street, that sense of how freakin’ large and indifferent the world is—well, that stuck with me.

MJZ: You’ve called Bugle dark. While I wouldn’t say this collection is “light,” I can point to your frequent language play—playfulness that in some ways undoes the dark, and at other times compounds it, makes it more eerie (for example, a rhyming sonnet about a friend’s suicide taps into a genre that relies on tension between form and meaning).

TM: I guess that I see the “brassiness” of Bugle as working in two ways—as a sort of nervous laughter, that human twitch that happens when we see something so awful that we don’t know quite what to do, and as a sardonic gesture toward the reader that lets the reader know that the maker knows: “see all this terrible stuff? It ain’t that bad; I can slant rhyme off of it.” It’s kind of a puny bravado. Bugle isn’t any darker than the air we breathe: dead bodies in the river, children brutalized by sexual predators, disconnect and various forms of abuse— of language, of substances, or each other. The thing that frightens me is how that stuff is no longer spectacle—or, more accurately, is only spectacle, is not felt with any visceral sensation, any gut-wrenching horror.

MJZ: You have particular through lines in all three of your collections. For example, in Dare Say, section III of “Botticelli,” your long poem, is called “Primavera” (and the long poem itself follows poems titled “Storm,” “Lightning,” and “And This, Following the Weather”). In your newest collection, Bugle, your poem “Primavera” begins “Spring is coming, that storm,/ prophetic incubator.” (Bugle also repeats several poem titles within one collection—I’m a fan.) Talk about repetition and obsession, in your work and others’.
TM: I like the books talking to each other, and there is a lot of that— muddiness and weather-y stuff, musical stuff; it’s something I work at. Within a book, that repetition is absolutely essential to me; leit motif is, of course, an important practice for the modernists, and I think that it’s probably my greatest borrowing, but that’s not that unique of a practice. One of the poems that I’m most proud of is the first one in Dare Say. I became obsessed with the Goldberg Variations and Bach and was working through a great stack of literature connected to the concentration camps. I tried to rewrite Bach’s musical piece as a sort of recurring dirge, and although I don’t think it completely does what I’d hoped, I still stand by it. A handful of words function as musical motifs, and they get used and reused through homonyms and functional shifts. “Flex” and “mud” are two words that I probably overuse. I also have a mannered tic toward accretive catalogs, those long lists that heap details.

MJZ: Yes. In her March 2015 Rumpus review of Bugle, Julie Marie Wade claims that the collection “contemplates what we think we know about nature, music, human frailty, and human triumph,” that the “book is full of [reveilles/ wake-up calls].” Is this a fair characterization of what you wanted the book to do? Is this also what you want to do in your role as PL—wake us up to poetry?

TM: That was a great review. Very smart and generous. I’ve read several of her reviews, and she is a good writer and a sharp critic. So, yes; she said many insightful things about Bugle. The “what we think we know” is probably crucial in that sentence about the book. That’s usually the problem: that we think we know too much, and it lulls us into complacency. I think that “waking people up” to poetry would be a fine goal for a PL. Sam and Kathleen and Elizabeth did great work of that sort, but there’s always more to be done—of course, that’s challenging when there are so many forces putting us to sleep. Remember the Stafford poem? “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”—

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

MJZ: So. You’re a teacher, a writer, a mentor to new poets, you serve your community in myriad ways, and you still manage to play basketball with Jess Walter on Sundays.

TM: Well, I’ve always been high energy, but let’s be honest. For every forty hours that I put in working on poetry stuff, helping students, service work, raining jumpers on Jess, there are billions of people that put in 40 hours of mind-numbing, bone-bruising labor. My life is very blessed, and I think that the best way that I can recognize that blessing is to work as hard as I can at the labors that I do that somehow pass as work. MJZ: Do you consider yourself to be an introvert? How do—or will—you balance your need for solitude with others’ need for your presence?

TM: This will be a tough negotiation. I don’t know if I’m an introvert, but I do value solitude. I thrive on being out in the woods or on a trail or along a river, figuring out where to cast, getting lost in that one action. You know, that sense where the clatter-chatter turns off for a bit, and you become action, the doing. Moments like that don’t happen much when you’re having to negotiate various social dynamics. But I knew what was going to be asked of me when I signed up for the job, so to speak. The people at poetry events are there because they want to be there; if people have come out to support poetry, then I owe it to them to do my best to make their time spent worthwhile, and I can’t do that as an introvert (for more on this dynamic see the previous answer: I’ll have plenty of time to seek solitude after my gig is up).

MJZ: Enough about you [“forget you!”].

TM: Thank goodness.

MJZ: Let’s turn back to the work of others. You often quote Ed Hirsch: “We need all our poetries.” In your opinion, which poems or poets are underrated and deserve more attention?

TM: Well, Jeffers probably deserves more attention. His poetics and subject matter were very counter the energies of the era when he wrote. Going way back, I love the prose poetry of Thomas Traherne. He was doing Blake before Blake did Blake (late 17th century England). Robert Sund’s poems should be known beyond the borders of our state. When I need to mix things up in my own poems, I go to weirdness: Mina Loy, early Merwin. A poet we hosted at Gonzaga a few years back, George Ecklund, is doing some very unusual and energetic things in his poems. Cid Corman is a poet not many folks know; his contributions to American poetry (from Kyoto after the late 50s) are substantial; he was one of the first translators of Paul Celan. William Bronk. Lorine Niedecker has been discovered, I think, and is no longer “underrated.” She’s great. George Oppen was a touchstone for a while. Some of these folks have become more mainstream, but the list shows that I enjoy ranging about—from the narrative and discursive energies of Jeffers to the paratactic textures of Oppen.

MJZ: This echoes earlier claims in your Introduction to Range of the Possible, when you stressed your interviewees’ “emphasis on the need for variations in the art.” How will you work toward reifying that inclusiveness in your new role?

TM: It’s not too hard, I think. I try to remember that to keep “the line from thickening,” poetry has to undergo constant renewal. So, I hope that as WaPL, I convey to people that I’m excited by all of the ways that poetry is written and spoken and performed. Poetry in Motion, a fun film from the 80s by Ron Mann, emphasizes this point—the video has Bukowski, Waldman, Ginsberg, The Four Horseman, Snyder, Creeley, Shange, and so many various voices. It’s a cool project. I think that it’s going to be important to listen to what people outside of “poetry world” think about poetry; unlike Ezra Pound, I think that it’s very important that we do not punch readers in the face: we can challenge readers, sure, but as Whitman asserted, we need great audiences for poetry—the best way to make that happen is to be a good audience member yourself; listen to others’ works; attend readings; try to understand different visions of what poetry is.

MJZ: In a blurb on Poets & Writers, you say you “think that it’s best not to know where a poem or essay might come from and, of course, not to anticipate the next sudden swerve of where it might go. Cultivate possibility through a willed variety of influences.” I like this as a dictum for young writers, but as I’m sure you’ve found, people often need direction. What specific resources would you recommend for teachers in our school systems?

TM: Well, it depends what they are teaching. I just came upon a textbook, Sound Ideas, by Eugene McCarthy and Fran Quinn. It emphasizes the energy that can blossom when poetry is approached as a performative art, as a sound texture and a field of meaning. Lots of the time, tracking terminology and ferreting out figures of speech can mute the poem, relegate radical alliterative chains and soothing tunes to a non-concern. That’s too bad. Donald Hall writes about this a lot, of course; so do Pinsky and Hirsch and Laux: the music of poetry is important, and it’s part of why children love poetry. As teachers, we need to try to avoid pushing the mute button. That’s a great first step.

MJZ: Agreed. What if someone approaches poetry—as many of us do—outside of school systems? In a recent radio interview, you mentioned how rap and performance poetry embody the spirit of the beat poets, saying that it’s just “another incarnation of that energy,” and that you admired the way it makes “gymnastics with language.” In addition to those more popular venues, or through schools, where should young—and new—poets begin their study?

TM: Well, I was riffing on Carl Sandburg who praised the beats for their counter cultural energies. Rap and Hip Hop and Spoken Word and Slams all celebrate incredible brilliance with language: word play and sound texture. That’s all good. Maybe young poets should begin their study by memorizing the poems they love; if the poems impact us, we should show them the courtesy of “taking them by heart,” show them the hospitality of entrance into our identity. I think that many music enthusiasts do this all the time; memorable poems are as easy to take in, to graft to our being (I’m borrowing some of these ideas from George Steiner). Yeats was sometimes quite snobbish, but he was onto something important when he said “Nor is there singing school but studying / Monuments of its own magnificence.” Studying: painstaking application. But that sounds so severe: if a young person wants to find poetry, he or she should just go look for it in the library; sit down in the stacks and start peeking into books. I’ll bet something cool happens.

TOD MARSHALL was born in Tonawanda, NY, and grew up in Wichita, KS. He studied English and philosophy at Siena Heights University, earned an MFA from Eastern Washington University, and graduated with his PhD from The University of Kansas.

Tod’s books include Range of the Possible: Conversations with Contemporary Poets (2002) and the accompanying anthology, Range of Voices (2005); and poetry collections Dare Say (2002), The Tangled Line (2009), and Bugle (2014),which won the 2015 Washington State Book Award. Tod’s work has been published in many journals, featured by prominent websites, and appreciated by a wide variety of audiences. He directs the Writing Concentration program and coordinates the Visiting Writers Series at Gonzaga University, where he is the Robert K. and Ann J. Powers Endowed Professor in the Humanities. He also serves in several mentorship capacities with Eastern Washington youth. In addition to his public work, Tod enjoys backpacking and fishing and spends about a month of every year in a tent.

In February 2016, Tod Marshall became the fourth Poet Laureate of Washington State. Sponsored by Arts Washington and Humanities Washington, the Poet Laureate “serves to build awareness and appreciation of poetry—including Washington’s legacy of poetry— through public readings, workshops, and presentations in communities throughout the state.” Learn more about the Poet Laureate program at