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D. Nurkse

1949–

Dennis Nurkse was born on December 13, 1949, in New Jersey, the son of Estonian economist Ragnar Nurkse. He received his BA from Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. 

Nurkse is the author of ten poetry collections, including, most recently, Love in the Last Days: After Tristan and Iseult (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), and A Night in Brooklyn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).

Of Nurkse's writing, 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

Love in the Last Days: After Tristan and Iseult (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017)
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)

D. Nurkse
Photo credit: Chris Taggart; courtesy of Sarah Lawrence College

By This Poet

5

Searchers

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 longing for death:

then we had to beg a stranger
to be a victim and crouch
behind a girder, and let the dogs
discover him and tug him
proudly, with suppressed yaps,
back to Command and the rows
of empty triage tables.

But who will hide from us?
Who will keep digging for us
here in the cloud of ashes?

Nights On The Peninsula

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.

Making Shelves

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 those huge factories.
I bargained: when the bell rang
I would drink with you on Throop
under the El, quick pint of Night Train
but you said no. Blood jumped

from my little finger, power
snapped off, voices summoned me
by name, but I waved them back
and knelt to rule the next line.

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