Lion Rock Visiting Writer Derek Sheffield

So, I have to tell everyone how awesome Derek Sheffield is. He’s a critically acclaimed poet and nature writer, and is coming to CWU as a part of the Lion Rock Visiting Writers Series and will perform Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the Wildcat Shop. I emailed him to set up an interview about his upcoming performance, and was reminded that the stereotype of poets as brooding and humorless is just that – a stereotype and nothing more. Whether you’re a poetry geek or not, Sheffield’s response to me is sure to amuse you.

I asked Sheffield whether an interview over the phone or via email would work best, and he responded, “Let’s do it by email– that way I won’t have as many…uh… verbal fillers.”

 

I had never gotten this response before and thought it was pretty funny, so I thought I would keep the joke going and responded with, “Via email, like, works for me because, like, you can think about how you want to answer all of my questions!”

 

In response Sheffield sent me an attachment to the following poem with the note, “Here’s something you might like.”

 

Sestina: Like

By A. E. Stallings

With a nod to Jonah Winter

 

Now we’re all “friends,” there is no love but Like,

A semi-demi goddess, something like

A reality-TV star look-alike,

Named Simile or Me Two. So we like

In order to be liked. It isn’t like

There’s Love or Hate now. Even plain “dislike”

 

Is frowned on: there’s no button for it. Like

Is something you can quantify: each “like”

You gather’s almost something money-like,

Token of virtual support. “Please like

This page to stamp out hunger.” And you’d like

To end hunger and climate change alike,

 

But it’s unlikely Like does diddly. Like

Just twiddles its unopposing thumbs-ups, like-

Wise props up scarecrow silences. “I’m like,

So OVER him,” I overhear. “But, like,

He doesn’t get it. Like, you know? He’s like

It’s all OK. Like I don’t even LIKE

 

Him anymore. Whatever. I’m all like … ”

Take “like” out of our chat, we’d all alike

Flounder, agape, gesticulating like

A foreign film sans subtitles, fall like

Dumb phones to mooted desuetude. Unlike

With other crutches, um, when we use “like,”

 

We’re not just buying time on credit: Like

Displaces other words; crowds, cuckoo-like,

Endangered hatchlings from the nest. (Click “like”

If you’re against extinction!) Like is like

Invasive zebra mussels, or it’s like

Those nutria-things, or kudzu, or belike

 

Redundant fast food franchises, each like

(More like) the next. Those poets who dislike

Inversions, archaisms, who just like

Plain English as she’s spoke — why isn’t “like”

Their (literally) every other word? I’d like

Us just to admit that’s what real speech is like.

 

But as you like, my friend. Yes, we’re alike,

How we pronounce, say, lichen, and dislike

Cancer and war. So like this page. Click Like.

 

Okay so that’s a pretty geeky joke, but I was amused enough by it to want to share it with all our readers. I was excited for Sheffield’s reading from the beginning, but now I’m expecting it to be even better than I had thought. He seems like, totes funny right?

Update: Sheffield is still awesome and he’s reading tonight at 7:30 in the Wildcat Shop!

 

When Sheffield responded to my questions for him, his passion for his work as a writer and professor was clear. One of the best parts of my job is getting to talk to people about what they love to do, and Sheffield is immersed in working towards being the best writer he can be, and helping his students do the same.

 

 

He told me,“I thrive on the challenge of teaching poetry in a culture that tends to undervalue it. As a teacher/poet who has been fortunate to have worked with some of the best teachers and poets, I see it as my duty to pass on the gifts I have received.”

 

 

 

I wondered what drew Sheffield to poetry, and what kept him writing in a style that he acknowledges as typically underappreciated. He explained, saying, My poems often explore the crossroads and confluences where the human and non-human meet. When I have the feeling that, through the process of either making or reading a poem, I have brushed up against something that has come from outside our collective knowing, that’s my favorite aspect of writing and reading poetry.”

 

 

 

In regards to his reading at Central, Sheffield is excited to join the Lion Rock Visiting Writers Series, which has featured some of his favorite writers. When I asked what impression he hopes to leave at his reading, he said, “I hope audience members come away with the impression that poetry is something they might want to make room for in their lives. Also, I hope to provide them with a reminder that we limit our humanity and ourselves severely when we don’t let our awareness wander frequently into wilderness.”

 

 

 

For anyone interested in the literary world, the natural world or both, Sheffield’s work provides the chance for exploration. Like, totes.

 

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