poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Dennis Nurkse was born in Dec. 13, 1949, in New Jersey, the son of Estonian economist Ragnar Nurkse. He received his BA from Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, and worked as a factory worker throughout the 1970s. He has also worked as a construction worker, grant writer, human rights representative to the United Nations, street musician, kindergarten teacher, translator, bartender, and harpsichord builder, among others.

Nurkse is the author of ten poetry collections, including, most recently, A Night in Brooklyn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), The Border Kingdom (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), and Burnt Island (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).

In his review of A Night in Brooklyn, poet Philip Levine writes: “He possesses the ability to employ the language of our American streets, shops, bars, factories, and any place else and construct truly lyrical poems, sometimes of love, sometimes of anger.”

Nurkse’s honors include awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Whiting Foundation, as well as fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was appointed Brooklyn poet laureate in 1996 and served in the position until 2001. Nurkse has taught poetry at Brooklyn College, The New School, Rikers Island Correctional Facility, Rutgers University, and University of Southern Maine. He currently teaches in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College.


Bibliography

A Night in Brooklyn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)
The Border Kingdom (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
Burnt Island (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006)
The Fall (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)
The Rules of Paradise (Four Way Books, 2001)
Leaving Xaia (Four Way Books, 2000)
Voices over Water (Graywolf Press, 1993)
Staggered Lights (Owl Creek Press, 1990)
Shadow Wars (Hanging Loose Press, 1988)
Isolation in Action (State Street Press, 1988)

Nights On The Peninsula

D. Nurkse, 1949
We could not separate ourselves from our endless making.
We were always fabricating time, God, paradise, 
the bell-shaped lupines, the rough-grained elm
and smooth beech. We made the night sky from a rusty hinge,
the sea from a sigh and a bead of sweat. We made love
long before dawn. We constantly modified each other,
adding a leer to the other's face, or a smirk, even in sleep.
What kind of a tool-maker invents eternity and exile
and makes them race, like a child with the index and middle finger?
Even in dreams we bore the burden of waking, we called it suffering.
Even in a trance we had maps and blueprints. In the deepest dream
we received the gift of death—it rained on that peninsula.
The wind passed like a sponge over the gambrel roofs.
The leaves showed a blank side, veined like a cresting wave.
We were almost home, we thought. We had never seen this world
but we sensed it, like a cat's breath against our wrists:
we were married, the bees loved us, the ocean might relent,
the child muttered over a handful of dust and spit.

Copyright © 2011 by D. Nurkse. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2011 by D. Nurkse. Used with permission of the author.

D. Nurkse

D. Nurkse

D. Nurkse is the author of ten poetry collections, including A Night in Brooklyn, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).

by this poet

poem

1
They’re happy but don’t know it.
They think they’re bored and hate each other.

The other has forgotten the hammer and must pound
each triangular tent peg with a damp stone
that has a smooth underside but no flat plane,
and here the earth is granite or friable lichen.
poem
We gave our dogs a button to sniff,
or a tissue, and they bounded off
confident in their training,
in the power of their senses
to re-create the body,

but after eighteen hours in rubble
where even steel was pulverized
they curled on themselves
and stared up at us
and in their soft huge eyes
we saw mirrored the
poem
In that lit window in Bushwick
halfway through the hardest winter
I cut plexiglass on a table saw,
coaxing the chalked taped pane
into the absence of the blade,
working to such fine tolerance
the kerf abolished the soft-lead line.
I felt your eyes play over me
but did not turn—dead people
were not allowed in