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Reviews

Good words about Derek Sheffield's books.

Books written and edited by Derek Sheffield receive wide acclaim. Follow a link below for reviews of each book, or scroll down for all reviews:


Not For Luck, Poems by Derek Sheffield

Not for Luck

“Poetry to make you long for moments in the wild.”
NIck Ripatrazone, The Millions

“Derek Sheffield, one of the Northwest’s most important ecologically centered writers, crafts poetry that often intermingles the human and non-human worlds. In his works wilderness enriches us, makes us more human, and reminds us of our own primordial origins.”
William Wright, Shenandoah

“Exquisitely observed, crystalline in its imagery, this book is an act of vision, bringing us the world up close: “cottonwood shade mixed with leaf murmur,” “the lightbulb face” of  bull kelp, the “bright, untied, ready-for-anything voices” of his young daughters. Keenly attuned to time’s passage and the inevitability of loss, these poems unspool patiently, slowing us down so that we may dwell in “the aggregate beauty of every trout and star-clotted night.” Like the wood rat in “The Seconds,” Sheffield is a collector, a historian “who would make hill after hill of all the years…”  Lucky us.”
Ellen Bass, author of Indigo and Like a Beggar

“One of the best books about fatherhood I’ve ever read.”
Tim Green, editor of Rattle

“Derek Sheffield writes with a marvelous dual vision, coalescing details of the natural and human worlds, illuminating moments that sparkle and shimmer within.”
Arthur Sze, author of Sight Lines, winner of the National Book Award

“In Not for Luck, Derek Sheffield achieves something of inestimable value: a trustworthy, convincing voice.”
Mark Doty, winner of the National Book Award and author of What Is the Grass

“…refreshingly authentic. A straightforwardness—a genuine, unapologetic sincerity—communicates an abiding empathy for disappeared and surviving Native Americans, for children, friends, insects, “a crow-mobbed eagle,” kelp and mountain streams: facets of the world’s every-day beauty, its existential crises.”
John Whalen, Colorado Review

“Derek Sheffield often treks near a swift river, among trees and weed-slick rocks, eddies of swirling brooks, under a big sky, in a territory called Wenatchee. He’s willingly among the elements, but his view is often inward, particularly—and movingly—when he writes about his daughters. In “Her Present” he and one of his daughters ready themselves before they leap as one from the bank into the icy river. It’s a countdown for them, a “three, two . . .” then the gleeful exhilaration of smacking glacial water. It is what I feel in these poems—exhilaration at finding this true voice in our Western landscape.”
Gary Soto, author of New and Selected Poems, finalist for the National Book Award

“Like master dancers Gregory Hines or Gene Kelly, there is an easy grace to the way Sheffield moves through a poem.”
Kali Lightfoot, Broadsided Press

“Each poem in the volume feels as if it could not have been said any other way.”
Todd Davis, New York Journal of Books

“Derek Sheffield’s poems are familial in a bracingly unfamiliar way. Their moments of tenderness are fragile and earned. Their melancholy is serene. Their passages of greatest power tend to portray beauty at the moment we realize we cannot keep hold of it without destroying it, and so release it like a grown daughter or wild trout. The moments of light dazzle. The moments of darkness haunt, yet remain ever alert to the eerie, breakable beauties of this Earth and its human and other families. Not for Luck is a skilled, true, deeply lived collection.”
David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and The River Why

“Not for Luck is a quintessential collection of poems that examines the narrative intersections of nature and nurture. With pitch perfect descriptions, Derek Sheffield sharpens our senses to the world around us, a world in which the natural order of things invariably involves loss and rejuvenation. Sheffield’s natural world, a place of learning that never stops, is a world of hope, a place of resilience where “what we know / of the tribe whose / steps have fallen / before ours,” makes clear our way forward.”
Colleen J. McElroy, author of Blood Memory and Here I Throw Down My Heart

“In this richly satisfying collection, Derek Sheffield’s displays an apparently effortless ability to rise from the most physically grounded data drawn from the natural world into the rapt region of lyrical daydream:

Have the thinnest veil of dusk,
fog, or drizzle, call stillness
near, her sister, silence, here.

He can ascend seamlessly, so, from the world that surrounds his ever vigilant eyes and ears, a world of any explored landscape or just “dusky gnats” and  “that whitefaced dog” to where we may “tilt our faces / toward a crater’s living steam.”

In short poems or longer stretches, I love how Sheffield’s language inserts itself subtly but decisively into the world of specific facts, animating it all with a poetic language that is both concrete and inventive, offering, for example, a simple stream that “purls and moils / wrinkles into flats.” What this poet offers in generous measure are poems of the sympathetic imagination, an imagination prompted equally by the natural world or the affecting, sometimes fraught world of family and fatherhood, especially in some lovely poems of his daughter: “She opens her eyes and sees / the frost in my beard. Her laughter ignites another fire.”

In brief, Not for Luck, displays a poet working at the top of his talent, creating an often radiant display of crystalline moments drawn or filtered out of the ordinary passages of life—as father, husband, son, teacher, environmentalist, and most of all (to bring all these together) poet.”
Eamon Grennan, winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and author of There Now

“Derek Sheffield’s book, Not for Luck, revels in the names of things, of birds and trees and water and weeds, and the book wears its learning lightly. But it’s not merely an accounting of the nouns of the world: Sheffield gives accurate names to specific incandescent states of being, those that are hardest to capture, including and especially love. These poems are suffused with the love of a father for his daughters, of a husband for his wife, and the love of an ardent observer, a joyful participant in the closely observed physical world.

“Let’s not forget those dusky gnats,” he reminds us, or the dog that will “perk her ears / toward something always coming, that never quite arrives.” Sheffield is a master of these liminal states, and in rendering them, achieves a kind of off-hand-sounding lyricism that is anything but accidental, as in this fly-fishing poem: “It was when a yellow warbler tumbled leaf-like / from a streamside willow to nearly snap / my dropper before landing with a tap / on my rod tip, jittery droplet / of an eye flicking toward mine.”

Not For Luck is a kind of gift back to the world, for all its terrors and delights. In these lines Sheffield catalogs the everyday with an eye toward the miraculous, and with a honed attention to the poetry, to the sound and the sense of the world around us.”
Dennis Held, author of Not Me, Exactly and Ourself

“In the poems that comprise Not for Luck, Derek Sheffield has created a collection of love letters to the earth, its varied landscapes, atmospheres, weathers and living things.

But what he has also compiled is a record of his experiences in those landscapes, and expressions of gratitude to those with whom he has shared those experiences. Finally, he has also made a list—like those that travelers make before packing for a lengthy trip—in order to remember items they cannot do without: in Sheffield’s case, communication, the mutual trust without which life is a desert, and those people—and beings not necessarily human—whose presence in our lives gives everything else its value.

Poem after poem reflects on the interconnectedness threatened today by our new and increasing dependence on technology to keep us company, and the resulting solitude and decrease in empathy that cheapens human life. Some of these conversational, direct, deceptively simple poems–especially those that record the childhood of the poet’s two daughters—“Daughter and Father in Winter,” “Bedtime Story” and “Her Calling,”—sing their gratitude for shared joy remembered. And others—“Her Yarn,” “It Wasn’t the Laundry”— reveal how even strangers may touch lives across miles and generations. And some illustrate, through unforgettable imagery, what our species may come to accept as normal after the loss of those essentials Sheffield honors in his work.

Read “The Wren and the Jet…” and those poems named above; better still, read the whole book. It will make you a wiser packer for your—no, our—trip into the future.”
Rhina Espaillat, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize and author of And After All

“What to expect from Derek Sheffield’s fine new collection? Imagine an ancient Chinese poet, wise in the ways of mountains and rivers, who is, in addition, a fellow spirit of animals, a keen observer of neighbors and strangers, a vivid miner of memories, and a father blessed with daughters. Imagine poetry that can embrace flyfishing, bedtime stories, backwoods lore, atomic bombs, indigenous history, and everyday love. Imagine, enter this field of poems, and enjoy.”
— Scott Russell Sanders, author of The Way of Imagination

“We have less need for luck when we nurture all our relations, and this is a book that honors myriad forms of kinship. In poems to Laika the Russian space dog, to a friend at wood-cutting, to a chicken named C-3PO, to a nanny in pain, these poems “start saying exactly what needs saying.” In oblique blessings to daughters, to an unknown half-brother, to a poet lost and found, to a crippled ancestor, Sheffield deals homage in all directions clean as a mountain stream. How to heal connections with such lyric “winks of calm”? When a warbler lands on the tip of your fishing rod, you know.”
— Kim Stafford, author of Singer Come from Afar

“For much of our lives we are letting go of things and people we love. If we are not careful with what we have been given, we will be letting go of our world as we know it, the fragile kinship that exists between people and planet. Derek Sheffield sings about those moments. His poems help us understand that luck is of our own making, not some random occurrence. We need to make choices about our actions and our world. We need to make them now. The poet Jorie Graham admonishes us, “For every lie we’re told by advertisers and politicians, we need one poem to balance it.” In this time of national crisis when lies surround us, Not for Luck provides that balance.”
Anita Skeen, author of Never the Whole Story and Wheelbarrow Books Series Editor


Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, co-edited by Simmons Buntin, Elizabeth Dodd, and Derek Sheffield

Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy

“When you get a book like this, Dear America, you carry it with you into war, onto the battlefield, into classrooms, because it’s not just a book in the traditional sense, it’s a tool to sharpen the dull mind, to see injustice where before you let it pass. It’s a weapon to raise when others raise their rifles. You shake this book in their faces and tell them, This is who we are, this is what we’ve made, this is us and what we fight for and represent and will protect for our children’s children.”
Jimmy Santiago Baca, winner of the International Award and author of A Place to Stand

“These letters come from a deep, real love of this place, and they imagine willing, receptive readers on the other end. We need a series of miracles looking forward, and this is one.”
Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and co-founder of 350.org

“Dear America is THE book for 2020.”
Steven John, The Manual

“Collectively, [these letters] form a testament to the Whitmanian multitudes and their lucubrations on the nation after the election: critical, but free of invective. They are united . . . by their devotion to a polity that can still be called “America,” a multiethnic project grown from Transcendentalist, immigrant, and abolitionist roots . . . . It is fair to say that [these letters] put the epistle back in epistolarity; there is a robust assertion of a literary public sphere. These pieces are Ciceronian, rhetorical in a manner that feels traditional and contemporary. They vary in tone from earnest to satiric and in strategy from confessional to hortatory. All of them insist, however, that it is still possible to address other citizens as citizens. This is what the title means by “Dear America,” however the salutation is adapted. Citizens are writing to others about the state of the republic and the cracks in citizenship itself.”
Anthony Lioi, ISLE


Through the Second Skin, Poems by Derek Sheffield

Through the Second Skin

“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

“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

“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

“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

“Poets, like other artists, are imbued with a sense of place to greater or letter degrees. In the case of Derek Sheffield, the Pacific Northwest’s waters, mountains, landscape and climate are so much a part of him that they are present in every poem he writes and nearly every sentence he utters.”
Dana Standish, Seattle Magazine