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Through the Second Skin


About the Book

Orchises Press, 2013

Lyric poems set in the author’s native Northwest. Written over the course of a decade, Derek Sheffield’s first collection is the work of a mature artist assured in his craft and at home in a variety of forms. It is the poetry of the human, middle ground, of distances approached but not yet arrived at; of reflection—of “bears watching us watching them.” Informed without being literary or academic, at once experienced and digested, the poems in Through the Second Skin share their secrets in intimate, respectful equipoise.

Sample Poems

Ornithology 101

The Accretions

Near Wild Grasses

Getting It Done

Sometimes I Risk

Darwin’s Eyes

Selected Reviews

“Poetry this keenly engaged is enough to make me think that, as the supreme fiction, poetry is an instrument that just might have the power to keep the world in balance. This is a book to be read and re-read in contemplation and admiration for the way it opens up the reflective space so many of us hunger for in a frenzied time.”
Alison Hawthorne Deming, Terrain.org

“Derek Sheffield’s first full-length collection is the culmination of a complex and brilliant mind drawn to the natural world. Through the Second Skin contains hues of Roethke, Heaney, Hopkins, James Wright, Frost, and Richard Hugo, but Sheffield never acquiesces to mimicry. His poems invite the reader through a gamut of emotional resonances. Consequently, this collection reads more like a mid- or late-career book rather than a first full-length, as Sheffield’s voice is not only mature, but confident, strong, delightfully unpredictable, and genuinely remarkable.”
— William Wright, Shenandoah

“Lyrical beauty that explores the complexities of the relationships between humans and nonhuman animals… informed by an understanding of ecology, a respect for natural cycles, and an extensive knowledge of flora and fauna.”
Janine DeBaise, ISLE

“The strongest collection I’ve seen in years. I only rarely find a poem in the New Yorker or the Atlantic as good as many in this book.”
John Daniel, Wilderness

“The rarest of finds in our current literary milieu, this is a collection that can amplify the reader’s experience with the natural world, a book whose poems don’t pale when read by firelight under a wide swath of stars above a chorus of loons on a lake, but rather, are so formally and observationally authentic as to join the surrounding symphony.”
Chris Dombrowski, Orion

“In carefully chosen moments rendered through sharp and precise images, Derek Sheffield reveals the vulnerability and strength of the soul. There it is on every page—in every flicker and stone of living light portrayed and defined throughout this book. Take note of its many names.”
— Pattiann Rogers, author of Quickening Fields and winner of the John Burroughs Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Nature Poetry

“. . . suddenly it feels as if the moments of life were not only evanescent vanishings – here they seem (also) to be hewn from some enduring granite. Realness. Now. Here. (What else is there, actually?) In this language, Sheffield’s transient moment becomes a transforming lens. Through it we see . . . everything.”
— David Oates, 3 Quarks Daily

“Inhabiting a landscape of light, bees, ants, search engines, murderous windows, wood roaches, loons, forest fires, outdoor sports stores, fertile rivers, and volcano-blasted mountaintops, Sheffield maps a deep, “almost in your grasp” relationship to nature. [. . .] Sheffield’s strength is in taut expressions of natural detail mixed with psychological revelation: “a breath of fierce light searching me / with one dark eye.” A confident, new Western voice, the speaker of these poems is an acute observer and a faithful, yet inventive, scribe.”
John Whalen, Colorado Review

“These poems by Derek Sheffield demonstrate, more clearly than anything I might manage to say about them, the remarkable flexibility of his voice and the versatility of his penetrating attention. From the forthright, robust Anglo-Saxon of “Firefighters Walk into Mountain Sports” (done so ably it would have made Richard Hugo envious) to the witty, scholarly, wry images and rhythm of “Holy Traffic at the Universal Gate,” he shows himself capable of handling almost any tone and texture convincingly. Many contemporary poets content themselves (not the rest of us) with one medium-paced voice which keeps delivering a kind of extruded poetry, no matter what the subject or the shifts of mood might be. Readers, if they’re awake and aware, will find Derek Sheffield a refreshing and rewarding source of satisfaction.”
— David Wagoner, author of Traveling Light and winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

“His vivid descriptions, unexpected diction, and genius for alliterative phrasing make Through the Second Skin a must-have for every Northwest poetry lover.”
— David Horowitz, Quill & Parchment