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Hints of North Central Washington in Sheffield's poems

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Any list of accomplished authors and artists residing in North Central Washington would have to include Derek Sheffield, a poet who lives near Leavenworth and teaches at Wenatchee Valley College.

He has been awarded a number of prizes for his poetry, including the James Hearst Poetry Prize. He was runner-up for the 2012 Emily Dickinson First Book Award and a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award. His works have been published in Poetry and Orion magazines and aired on KUOW in Seattle, among others.

An appreciative crowd showed up at Caffe Mela in Wenatchee on Wednesday night to hear Sheffield read from his soon-to-be-released first book, Through the Second Skin. Readers will discover poems based on events or places in North Central Washington, but not all of the references are overt. I was enamored by "Delicious Apocalypse," which was inspired by the 99-cent mushroom burgers that EZ's Burger Deluxe used to serve on Tuesdays. "Don't tell EZ's about this poem," Sheffield told the crowd. "I don't went them to put in on a bumper sticker." Sorry, Derek, it was too delicious not to share.

"Firefighters Walk Into Mountain Sports" and "Between Highway 2 and the Wenatchee" will also be familiar to readers here.

His love of nature is a prevalent theme, which is not a surprise given that he credits William Stafford and Mary Oliver as the poets who have influenced him most.

In introducing Sheffield, Jamie Howell talked about the difficulty of being accomplished in poetry. For many writers, it's considered the pinnacle of the written arts. Poems are to be savored like fine wine.

Sheffield spoke of the mystery that surrounds the genre. "You see us turn to poetry at all the big occasions," he said, such as the famous poems that helped people find solace in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Poetry, he discovered early in his life, is "where people are really talking about the essential stuff. I never looked back."

Through the Second Skin will be on sale in January. His next reading will be held at The Grove recital hall at WVC's Music and Arts Center on Jan. 24th at 3 p.m. It's well worth a listen.