Derek Sheffield’s Reading List

Books I’m reading right now:

What Narcissism Means to Me, by Tony Hoagland. Funny, smart poems.

Now & Then: The Poet’s Choice Columns 1997-2000, by Robert Hass. A writer friend gave this book to me. An anthology of poems containing brief, helpful introductions by Hass. I read it like apples: one entry a day.

The Book of Light by Lucille Clifton. Try this on: “the earth is a living thing / [. . . ] is a black and living thing / is a favorite child / of the universe / feel her rolling her hand / in its kinky hair / feel her brushing it clean.”

The Story and Its Writer, edited by Ann Charters. An anthology of short fiction which approaches fiction primarily from a writer’s perspective. The appendices are packed with writers writing about their own work and the work of others.

Books I’ve finished in the last three months:

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. This is exhilarating. By the end of it, your electrons have jumped their tracks. It also makes you chuckle a few times every chapter. For example: “In 1781 Herschel became the first person in the modern era to discover a planet. He wanted to call it George, after the British monarch, but was overruled. Instead it became Uranus.”

Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet, Hard Night, and The Long Home, by Christian Wiman. I recently finished a “study” of Wiman’s works. His formal poems make me think of an edgier Frost; they are poignant and memorable and make me want to read more contemporary formal poetry. Ambition and Survival is a collection of essays, reviews, and more. This book mixes the personal with the literary so that as you read Wiman’s insights on Milton, you get glimpses into Wiman’s life. He uses the literary to elevate the personal and vice versa.

Home & Away: The Old Town Poems, by Kevin Miller. Lyrical poems of place and people a la Edward Hopper.

Earthly Meditations ,by Robert Wrigley. A new and selected book of poems. Many striking “nature” poems.

Generations, by Pattiann Rogers. No one makes science sing so well.

Essays I’ve read in the last two months as models for my writing class:

“Muck and its Entanglements: Cleaning the Outhouse.” This essay by John Berger addresses the human condition — mortality, spirituality, nature — through a description of shoveling excrement. It’s provocative, revealing, and funny.

Chores.” A beautiful, visceral distillation of Deb Marquart’s The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere. Reminds me a bit of Jim Heynen’s work, but with much more grit. When one of my students called it gross last week, I knew it was a perfect model.

“The Men We Carry in Our Minds.” This essay by Scott Russell Sanders addresses class and gender issues through moving personal reflection. My Latino students love it; they know exactly where Sanders is coming from — where he came from. They carry the same blue collared men in their minds.

“The Deer at Providencia.” This essay by Annie Dillard explores the place of suffering in the human condition. It is hard to shake — in a good way.

Periodicals I’ve read recently:

The Georgia Review
(the current issue, Spring 2009, focuses on culture and the environment; new work by David Gessner and other favorites)
Hayden’s Ferry Review

AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle

Books I’ve strayed from but will finish because I’m a lifetime member of the “clean your plate” club:

Wisdom of the Mythtellers, by Sean Kane
The Art of the Commonplace, by Wendell Berry

Books on the “to read” shelf:

The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature, by David Quammen
Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold, edited by Luna B. Leopold
The Greening of a Nation?, by Hal K. Rothman
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, by Janisse Ray
The Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of The Pacific Northwest, by William Dietrich
In the Wilderness, by Kim Barnes
Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee, edited by Earl Ingersoll
Our Lady of the Forest, by David Guterson
The Tie that Binds, by Kent Haruf
Just Before Dark, by Jim Harrison
American Bloomsberry, by Susan Cheever
Too many books of poetry to list . . . Alas.

Books on the “to buy” list:

Can Poetry Save the Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems, by John Felstiner
Anything by Scott Russell Sanders

Derek Sheffield’s poetry collection, A Revised Account of the West, won Flyway’s Hazel Lipa Environmental Chapbook Award. His poem “Delicious Apocalypse,” his second to be published in Orion, appears in the September/October 2009 magazine. He lives in the eastern foothills of the Cascades.

Derek Sheffield’s collection, Not for Luck, won the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize judged by Mark Doty. His other books include Through the Second Skin, finalist for the Washington State Book Award, and A Revised Account of the West, winner of the Hazel Lipa Environmental Chapbook Award judged by Debra Marquart. Coeditor of two collections, Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy and Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry, he lives with his family in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains near Leavenworth, Washington, where he birds, hikes, plants, fishes, and forest bathes. As a professor of English at Wenatchee Valley College, he teaches poetry and ecological writing and serves as co-chair of the Sustainability Committee. He is the poetry editor of


  1. I loved What Narcissism Means to Me. From the conversational beginnings, where he shares a beer on a summer porch, to the last poem (reprinted on the back page of the American Poetry Review Nov-Dec issue) every poem sings sweet truth.

  2. Thanks for these fantastic lists, especially the teachable essays. I can speak to some on your “to read” list…Ray’s “Ecology” is fantastic, and also fun to teach. Rothman’s history is a helpful, if general, overview of environmentalism in the U.S. Anything by Haruf is great, as you probably know.

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