In Love With Our Capacity for Flabbergastments:
An Interview with Ross Gay

By Derek Sheffield

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Who cares about timeless when you could describe the lavender or how your beloved sounds when they’re sleeping or the precise amount of money this country spends on defense (war)?


The most recent book by Ross Gay is The Book of (More) Delights (Algonquin Books, 2023), the collection that occasioned this interview. His first Book of Delights was released in 2019 and was a New York Times bestseller. He is also the author of another book of essays, Inciting Joy (Algonquin Books, 2022), and four books of poetry: Against WhichBringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

Ross Gay
Ross Gay.
Photo by Natasha Komoda.

But what I really need to tell you about Ross Gay is this. Just over six years ago, at the ASLE biennial conference at Wayne State University in Detroit, a few hundred of us gathered for a poetry reading in our suits and high heels and ties and dresses. Lots of PhDs and Isms in the house. A dissertation being dithered with in every corner. But when Ross Gay finished reading his poems, there was a collective breath and then a standing ovation the likes of which I’ve never witnessed before at such a gathering. There we were, upright and clapping like crazy, even hollering. In that instant, it felt more like a rock concert—and we were asking for an encore. One more! One more! We did not want to stop trying to give back a little of what we had just received. What it was, I think, what we felt in his poems was his particular kind of Delight, his Joy, his Connectedness, that—as you see in this interview and read in his books—is not simple or easy or Hallmarky. It is as wild and complicated and shadow-streaked as our own lives. It’s real as real is. And it’s doing the real work.

Upon returning from that conference, I shared Ross’s poems with everyone ready to receive such gifts. And very soon, I found myself invited to read Ross’s “Wedding Poem” at my colleague’s wedding which took place on the shore of a mountain lake in the Cascade Range.

This interview happened via Zoom on August 11, 2023. Ross was beaming in from his place in Bloomington, Indiana, and I from mine in Leavenworth, Washington.

It feels like, Yo, heads up. Heads up. These motherfuckers are lying to us, so we really need to practice caring for one another.


Derek Sheffield: When I read this passage in The Book of (More) Delights—“And I noted how pleased I was, delighted even, as I tend often to be, at having not reached the summit. To have gotten close but no cigar. An interesting quality I was turning over in my head on my glad descent”—I thought of Richard Hugo, who wrote the classic poetry text The Triggering Town. Somewhere he talks about how he thinks poets are people who are in love with their own responses to things. What do you think of that notion? Is that what’s going on in some of these Delights?

Ross Gay: That is a lovely way to put it. I like Hugo’s poems a lot. And that Triggering Town is such an important book for me, too. I have never thought of it like that, but I think that’s a pretty good way to put it. I was actually preparing for your question to go another way. Like not wanting to reach the top or something is about keeping a relationship with mystery or something. But then when you said what you said, when you turned it… It’s so funny. I often think that things remain interesting to me as things to write about or wonder about when I don’t understand them. Puzzlement is a requirement for me. But it is funny. What he says. It makes me think that we might be in love with our capacity for flabbergastment. Or our capacity for being moved. Which is also to say, I think, whether or not we think of it often is that we’re in love with our capacity to not know. Because I think knowing knowledge is a way of sort of… you know, knowledge makes one stable. But to be unknown, unknowing, even to oneself means you’re capable of being changed actually. But I love that. I haven’t heard that quote. I love that you said that.

Derek Sheffield: I think that’s right. What’s behind Hugo’s observation is the curiosity, the puzzlement. We are curious about why we feel the way we do, about what we don’t know. And since you opened this door into mystery, let’s walk through it. In the Delight called “The Full Moon!” you write,

The moon may have chosen a few of the words in that last sentence. I am all the way on that team, and have been for a little while now, even though I was quite slow getting there, committed atheistico-materialist I aspired to be, pretending (or hoping?) everything was a machine that could be parsed and tinkered and decoded and conquered and possessed by the human intellect, figured out, I guess, myself especially I wonder (no luck). What is that about?

I mean, my god…

So, you are no longer a materialist? Are you a spiritualist, then, Ross Gay? Tell us.

The Book of (More) Delights, by Ross GayRoss Gay: Well, I am no longer on team “It’s All a Machine.” You know, I’m convinced that there is more understanding than we will ever, ever, ever understand. And I’m not interested in understanding it all. I’m interested in describing, in being lost with, in the presence of, or curious about. But I’m not actually interested in getting to the end or the bottom of it. And I’m sure as hell not interested in trying to outsmart it, which, as it goes on, that thing, it’s like, yes, there’s a kind of market for outsmarting… Earth, actually, is the word. Which you cannot do. Probably the end result of trying to do so is that you destroy Earth.

Derek Sheffield: If you keep going down that Cartesian worldview….

Ross Gay: Yes.

Derek Sheffield: So have you chosen a flavor? Jesus, Buddha, Bhagavad Gita? Or are we talking about like a Neapolitan?

Ross Gay: [laughter] It’s kinda like the mountain mint and the bees. That’s sort of like what it is. It’s funny, I was actually, just this morning, I was like looking at the mint here out in front of our place and it’s just nuts with bees right now. And I was trying to consciously identify what the feeling of really looking at that orgy is and I was like, Oh, the feeling is I don’t know shit. In addition to, Man, there’s so much something being satisfied here. There’s so much interaction and collaboration, but then I realize every single time I look, there’s 11 things that I didn’t see the last time. I’m like, God damn, I just don’t know shit.

Derek Sheffield: Yeah, I just took my daughter on a hike this past weekend and I couldn’t help but pull out my phone and record this bumblebee nectaring on a patch of alpine wildflowers and the bee had these massive sulfur-colored saddlebags. My daughter, her friend, and I all just leaned over and watched as much as we could. I had that same feeling, I don’t know shit, but right after that I had the feeling that I do know that this seems to be part of my job, kneeling here and paying heed and feeling “God this is gorgeous” go through me.

Ross Gay: Yeah. Totally. It’s like, Yeah, I don’t know shit, but this thing here is true.

Derek Sheffield: I, too, have come from a secular humanist materialist worldview to a place where I really don’t want it all to be broken down into a series of chemical reactions. That notion is so depressing to me. It’s much more interesting and beautiful, and it feels right, that there’s something that will always be beyond our understanding.

Ross Gay: Yes, I’m with you. Yeah, I’m totally with you.

Derek Sheffield: And that’s been my experience with poetry, too. The more I learn about it the less I know.

Ross Gay: Yeah, it’s like another place where the kind of beyond of it is really enticing and intimidating and I feel best in relation to it when I’m not trying to be the master of it, but when I’m sort of trying to play with it.

Derek Sheffield: Yeah, speaking of the “master of it,” I’m a big fan of Krista Tippett. In your interview with her on On Being when your first Book of Delights came out, you said,

Sometimes I think there’s a conception of joy as meaning something like something easy. And to me, joy has nothing to do with ease. And joy has everything to do with the fact that we’re all going to die. When I’m thinking about joy, I’m thinking about — that at the same time as something wonderful is happening, some connection is being made in my life, we are also in the process of dying. That is every moment. That is every moment.

I was thinking about this in terms of Lorca’s concept of Duende, a word that comes from the Spanish phrase for “master of the house,” and Keats’s concept of Negative Capability, which I think also has to do with that moon we were talking about earlier. That we can hold those two truths—that I am dying and you are dying even as we are making these new connections (a.k.a. attachments)—in the same hand without having to fully understand how, that we just feel it, deep. Are we talking about… I mean, is this soul we are talking about? What do you think about that with respect to your beautiful comment?

The Book of Delights, by Ross GayRoss Gay: Yeah, I think soul is a good word in association with those two terms Duende and Negative Capability. Fanny Howe has a beautiful essay called “Bewilderment.” Those things all kind of come together for me. But the thing about Lorca in that essay or talk that’s so interesting to me is that Duende arrives when you’re in deep and persistent communion with death. And that’s why he says, you know, it shows up when someone is dancing or whatever with the awareness that a giant arsenic lobster might drop on their head at any moment, or that they’re being eaten by ants. [laughter] And then in that moment in that essay where there’s the dance, the flamenco competition and there are all of these beautiful young flamenco dancers, but there’s this woman who’s much older and she gets up and out of all the amazing dancers she wins the competition in two steps. Part of why she wins the competition is because everyone sees what’s inside of her, this Duende, but to me part of that is like, “Oh, we’re in the presence of, as you say, these many things that are true at once.”

In a way, I feel like there’s a there’s a kind of immaturity that we have as a culture and I don’t know even if “we as a culture” is an accurate thing, but the notion that our dying and our living ought not be considered the same thing. You know what I mean? And it feels like that actually is a great prohibition on joy, or an impediment to joy. Generally speaking, we are not considering every day that this time in this form is not very long. Evidence of which is that I’m older today than I was yesterday. This body is actually different. In a way, I sort of feel like that understanding is so basic but it can feel for any number of reasons and maybe—yeah I don’t know, someone else could explain to me why—but I think that deep disconnect between the fact of our dying and the fact of our living and actually the common fact of our dying being one of the things that deeply fundamentally connects us. You might say it’s the fundamental connection. Though you might also say that we mostly like sweet things is a pretty sweet fundamental connection, too, [laughter]. But I think there’s a kind of sorrow to that refusal, like a sorrow, and I think a lot of misery comes out of it too. I feel like the practice of understanding that we are commonly dying actually leads to a lot of tenderness, it leads to a lot of understanding. It also leads to a lot of enthusiasm and flabbergastery.

It’s wild. It’s wild! To be here, to have this nice conversation over this thing, and it’d be like, Damn, that dude’s gonna be dead. I’m gonna be dead.

Derek Sheffield: Todd Davis and I had a conversation for Orion magazine a few years back through which this same base note thrummed. But now, listening to you, I’m wondering: for those who believe that this mortal life is only the caterpillar stage and what really matters is when we die and enter an afterlife, how might that belief affect the kind of tenderness and connection that can come from our recognition of our common mortality?

Ross Gay: Yeah, I know. That’s a good question. I suspect in a bunch of ways given the many ways that all kinds of different people with different belief systems can act. The kind of profound generosity that people who might believe that this is the larval stage of a kind of full-on second life or whatever, the kind of profound generosity, and then the kind of closedness that can also happen. And then the way that, you know, sometimes the profound generosity that people who have no relationship to that kind of thinking who are deeply atheistico-materialist. And then the kind of profound closedness and selfishness that those same people can have. The evidence to me suggests that it’s all twisted up.

Derek Sheffield: Yeah. I know it’s a doozy of a question. And maybe we should be more like our poems and your Delights and leave it hanging out there because it’s more fun to live the questions. That’s what I feel in your Delights, these beautiful questions, ponderings, these beautiful “attempts”—to go back to the root of the word “essay.”

Ross Gay: Yeah, I was just reading Montaigne this morning.

Derek Sheffield: Ah, there we go. Big Daddy!

Ross Gay: [laughter] Big Daddy.

My intention is to feel curiosity. I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel despair. If I say I don’t feel despair, I’d be full of shit, but my intention and my practice is to feel curiosity.

Derek Sheffield: Sometimes I’ll work with students who’ve come from other classes and other teachers and they’ve been told that they shouldn’t write about their own lives in their poems, that that’s like the least that poetry can do and it’s already been done, etc. Have you encountered that and what do you tell your students?

Ross Gay: Yeah. I think my general response to those sorts of rules is to refuse them, like you shouldn’t do this or you should always do this. I refuse that. The idea that someone shouldn’t write about their life, just as the idea that someone should always write about their life, I would refuse.

So, yes, I do hear those kinds of things. I think probably when we were growing up there used to be a kind of stance, this notion of a certain kind of timelessness about poems, the potential for a kind of timelessness, so that the way Frank O’Hara talked about the little nitty gritty like the cigarettes he’s getting and what he’s passing on the street, what’s in the newspaper, that was actually often not really thought of as being high enough or something. Whereas there was plenty of talk of something timeless, so the little stuff of one’s life might not be worthy of big poetry.

I was lucky to never really have those kinds of teachers in my life—teachers who commanded we write timeless, eternal poems without French fries or our friends. Marie Howe was one of my teachers, as were Thomas Lux and Gerald Stern and Toi Derricotte. All of whom, in addition to being some of my favorite writers, some of my models, write about the details of daily life as a way of asking what seem like fairly persistent or ongoing questions. Who cares about timeless when you could describe the lavender or how your beloved sounds when they’re sleeping or the precise amount of money this country spends on defense (war), etc.?

The other thing I was going to say is that I think when you write with great wonder about “oneself,” oneself becomes a really slippery thing. Which is why the poems that are really beautiful, that are personal and allegedly about a person’s experience, they explode into not being about one person’s experience. That’s what we know. So that’s what I would say. I would say if you write with great surety or confidence or knowingness about an experience, I think it might be hard to make that real interesting. But if you write with great curiosity about the same exact thing, that, to me, is going to be interesting. When we wonder about ourselves, we’re interested. Partly because we change in the midst of it, and I think people changing is really interesting.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, by Ross GayDerek Sheffield: On a related note, when I talk to my students about poetry, I talk about it being like a big house, one that I would put your books of Delights in. Because there’s so much poetry in this prose and we talked earlier, before the interview, about the kind of magic that happens when poets turn to prose. And maybe we need a little more of that. I mean, I think you’ve got something going on here. I mean like one of the bits of poetry I came across was in a beautiful passage for your friend: “Walt’s the one who would tell me I’m fucking up but would never judge me a fuck-up. Walt’s the one who makes me think of Donny Hathaway’s ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.’ Walt’s the one who never fled from my need, flailing and sloppy and shitty and even cruel sometimes though it might be, which maybe explains why I will never put his phone number in my phone; I keep it by (my) heart.”

The sonic beauty of these Delights is everywhere. One-hundred years ago poetry and prose weren’t really allowed to be in the same house. Now here we are, and visual and digital are in there, too. Like you said earlier, it’s all tangled up. But some of our fellow poets have a different project and they’re more interested in interrogating language. They might say, Look, Ross, you know that words are just a series of symbols, right? You know “word” is not world? So why are you dickin’ around with these old symbols when we really need to be working on getting beyond language? How would you respond to that?

Ross Gay: I was actually in my head having a conversation about how in a way poetry or so much writing is sort of conservative, you know, and by conservative I mean it’s deeply inside of a system of knowledge that is widely familiar. And I was thinking that one of the neat things that sometimes poems and other arts and other stuff too can do is actually trouble meaning itself. And I have to think more about that. But I feel like there’s something true about that, that there’s… even the ways that we tell stories actually can trouble meaning. If we know this story has to have a beginning, middle, and an end, or if it has a kind of resolution or this and that, that offers a kind of meaning. Any time I go to a big movie, I’m thinking, Okay, I’m being programmed—I don’t mean programmed in a nefarious way (though probably!), but to understand the world in a certain kind of way. And that’s a story line. And then when you see, something, say a film that really doesn’t work like that at all, that is imagistic or in reverse, you’re like, Oh, okay, these stories actually do sort of offer us modes of meaning. Which feels to me like big stuff, you know, and it doesn’t feel outside of language. It feels like language is one of the ways, written language or spoken language, feels like one of the ways that we do it. I love that you said, “dickin’ around.”

Ross Gay and Derek Sheffield: [big, whole-bodied laughter]

Ross Gay: It’s been a while since I heard that!  It’s such a good phrase. I’m gonna take that up again.

But the other thing is, I think stories, song, form, play, curiosity, etc.—it’s just what we do.

And even if a given story is not that interesting to me, or a given poem, how it’s done or made or what it’s doing, I think, Oh yeah, that’s what we do. We tell stories. We understand things through stories. A useful or exciting project for me might be, What if I don’t know how to tell a story? Then what do I do?

It’s interesting: the older I get, those grander kinds of antagonisms feel less significant to me. I love a wide range of poems. I love poems that are very narrative, right-in-the-strike-zone poems. And then I also love poems that I don’t know how they’re working at all. I don’t know what they’re doing with language. It might even be hard to identify it as a poem. I am very interested in that. In fact, I might be getting more interested in stuff I don’t understand, which makes sense given what I’ve been saying—poems that do not simply affirm my sense of poetry and language and meaning and form and all the rest.

Derek Sheffield: Yeah. One of the things I’m hearing, from the last two questions and answers is: if a rule or someone is telling you that you should not be interested in the things you’re interested in, then don’t listen to that. Refuse that. In that way, you bring it back to the individual where it’s about following our own genius. What is it that interests you? What is it that adds to you and surprises you and that questions you and if that leads you into this kind of poetry, great, and if it leads you to another kind, equally great.

Ross Gay: Exactly. Yeah.

Ross Gay
Ross Gay.
Photo by Natasha Komoda.

Derek Sheffield: I had a couple of poet friends tumble out of the mountains here last night. They did this 20-mile hike through a place called the Enchantments just up the road. They arrived at my place for salad and a beer at about 8:30 p.m. dirty, sweaty, and exhausted. I said, “Hey, I’m going to talk to Ross Gay tomorrow. What should I ask him?” And one of them says, “I love the joy. I love the delights. But where’s the despair? Where’s the shadow side?” And we started talking about the arc of your work, how in the earlier poems there was more overt shadow, in Bringing the Shovel Down, like right from the get go, that lead poem, holy god, man. So, the question came up: Have you somehow outgrown despair?

Ross Gay: That’s a question that to me suggests… not having read the books.

Derek Sheffield and Ross Gay: [big, whole-bodied laughter]

Ross Gay: Which I get, too, like the thing is, the last poem in Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, in the last stanza is a little girl in a dream walking with the speaker, pointing at the sky, and saying, “It’s much worse than we think and sooner.” And the speaker saying, “I know. That’s why the fuck I’m singing like this.” And then inside the joy. You know, this is a thing that I haven’t thought about. In Bringing the Shovel Down, I think among the things that I was wrestling with were these sorts of foundational stories about animosity, antagonism, brutality that are so seductive. So there’s like the Bringing the Shovel Down poem about the kid thinking this dog’s gonna kill him and he kills the dog. Or there’s a poem in there called “Glass” that’s about these kids and their abusive dad. The dad has the mom sent away and the kids basically grind up glass and feed it to their dad in his soup or something. All this, you know, crazy shit. And that’s a book that’s written in the midst of—it probably started in about 2005. So, deep in Iraq, deep in Afghanistan, deep in this ongoing imperial world-murdering American project.

When I think about the work that I’m doing now, there’s a way that it’s changed, absolutely. In a way, I’m sort of learning how to articulate this thing which is: if you study what you love, probably that will grow. Not only will it be nourishing, it’ll make you feel better. It might be better for your blood pressure. What you love might grow and sharing what you love might be a worthwhile project. Ideally a contagious project. But the shadow side I think in these recent books is a little bit the same shadow side. In this (More) Delights book, there is a kind of understanding that there is a perpetual onslaught of brutality that takes all kinds of shapes and some of those shapes might be corporate power, or they might be state power, versions of state power, all of these things that maintain the ongoing imperial world-murdering American project.  And it feels like the last book, Inciting Joy, is fraught with that rage. (Sometimes with that book I wonder if people read the footnotes, which is where some of that rage is—for the record, not hidden in footnotes or buried in them, but as a kind of ground from which the essays emerge.)

It feels like, Yo, heads up. Heads up. These motherfuckers are lying to us, so we really need to practice caring for one another. We really need to practice this. We really need to tell different stories, which is sort of what that Bringing the Shovel Down book is doing, too. It’s like becoming aware of the stories, I think, growing up to the persistence and function maybe of those stories, and by now I’m sort of like, Okay, those are the stories saying heads up, but these are the stories that in the midst of the heads up, which never goes away, I want to practice noticing, and learning.

[Added by Ross Gay After the Interview: I don’t want to mess up the flow of the interview, but what I should have said was that despair was really not in Bringing the Shovel Down either. Or if it is, it is despair moving to something else. The two versions of the title poem (one in which a little boy kills a chained dog, the next in which a little boy strokes and feeds and releases the chained dog) are the most emphatic indication or vessel of that change. Despair I think is a condition of surety (see my approximate quote of Sharon Salzberg below) that nothing is going to change. The Shovel book is the exact opposite of that. Not only in content or language (ha, even the title can imply both violence and putting down a weapon; swords and plows) but in form.]
Pawpaws on picnic table.
Gathered pawpaws.
Photo by SA/Andrew P., courtesy Virginia State Parks, via Flickr.

Derek Sheffield: Yeah, I remember you talking before about developing that joy or delight muscle. I like thinking of that. I think, too, you’ve strengthened your noticing muscle. Noticing is everywhere in these Delights.

Ross Gay: Yeah.

Derek Sheffield: The kind of noticing that is an invitation, that says, We can all do this. Right now. Right here.  

Ross Gay: Yeah. And it inclines us to care for one another in the midst of systems of thought, systems of belief, etc., that incline us to distrust and actually brutalize one another. That’s the other thing. For the person who came down out of the mountains to your place, one of the things to me is that these Delights have an acute social project. One way of saying it is that we need to guard against the theft of care that masquerades as care. And to actually affirm or shout about or celebrate the care that is actually care.

Derek Sheffield:  Yeah, I like that. Another way to think about that, it occurs to me, is, in the Delights books and in the Joy book, there are some interrogations of what delight really is and what joy really is and what it really looks like to care for each other, versus what we hear in the news.

Ross Gay: Yes.

Derek Sheffield: To go back to an earlier question, it seems to me that Duende comes into play. When you have known that shadow side intimately, persistently—when you know in your bones that “It’s much worse than we think and sooner,” that’s involved somehow with the delight and the joy—it’s still there.

Ross Gay: Yeah, totally.

Derek Sheffield: And I go back to a passage from The Book of (More) Delights. In “Shortcut,” about a conversation with one of your friends as you stop by his place to gather some pawpaws, you write, “The whole while we chatted, we worried, we despaired that it had just rained in Northern Greenland. I told him my rage was florid. Your rage is what? he asked. Florid, I said. My rage feels florid.” And then you add this bit of poetry: “Alex’s seven-year-old child ran by as I heaved my backpack of fruit onto my shoulders.” That’s it, man. I mean, these two adults are talking and they’ve got this abundance of figs and pears and pawpaws and here this kid zips by. That’s where it’s going to hit. That’s where: in that boy’s life. So beautifully understated, that shadow side, that despair.

Ross Gay: I was actually just doing an interview with Tricycle, the Buddhist magazine, and Sharon Salzberg said something like, “Despair is sureness.” When you feel despair, you know what’s gonna happen. My intention is not to feel despair. My intention is to feel curiosity. I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel despair. If I say I don’t feel despair, I’d be full of shit, but my intention and my practice is to feel curiosity, like, Huh, what is gonna be the case for that six-year-old or seven-year-old kid? I know for one thing, there will be suffering. Just because that kid’s a creature, you know, a human creature, that is a condition. But I also know that my buddy just gave me a backpack full of pawpaws.

Derek Sheffield: And here we are again, back to connection and sustenance alongside loss and suffering. Yes, it’s bleak, in so many ways. The big IT, all of it, all over the world, but there’s also… this. We aren’t really hearing about this… the backpack full of pawpaws.

Ross Gay: Yeah, and that becomes a kind of injury itself when we get convinced that the only thing that’s happening is horrible. Yeah, there’s plenty of horrible. But it’s also the case that we can get confused and not think that our neighbor actually just lent us their shovel. You know, that happened, too! Happens every day, matter of fact, some version of that.

Derek Sheffield:
So, I have to ask, because “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian,” your poem in Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, is a big poem for me and my students. And we have to get this out there for the scholars to come who will be poring over your oeuvre. [laughter] Is the fig tree you mention in The Book of (More) Delights the same tree?

Ross Gay: You know, where I live in central Indiana, it’s hard. You need perfect conditions to have the figs ripen all the way. Extra hot, extra dry. But these people, they have this perfect spot. Totally exposed. So they always get a lot of figs. It’s a different fig tree.

Derek Sheffield: Okay, scholars, did you hear that? It’s a different fig tree.

Ross Gay: You know, they cut down that big tree on Ninth and Christian. But fig roots are so vigorous…. I was there in early June, and it’s back! A 15- or 20-foot tree, full of fruit!

Derek Sheffield: Well, that sounds like the perfect Delight to end on. Thank you, Ross.

Read an excerpt of The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay appearing in, or catch up with him at


Derek SheffieldDerek Sheffield is coeditor of Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, PoetryHis other collections include Not for Luck, selected by Mark Doty for the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize, Through the Second Skin, finalist for the Washington State Book Award, and Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy. He teaches in Western Colorado University’s low-residency MFA program, edits poetry for, and can often be found in the forests and rivers along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range near Leavenworth, Washington. Catch up with him at

Read poetry by Derek Sheffield appearing in “Abortion Wish,” a Letter to America poem, “Report from America Auténtico,” a Letter to America poem translated into Spanish by Rhina P. Espaillat, two poems, and one poem.

Header photo by Aleksandr Nik, courtesy Pixabay. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.