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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)

Making Shelves

D. Nurkse, 1949
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.

From A Night in Brooklyn by D. Nurkse. Copyright © 2012 by D. Nurkse. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.

From A Night in Brooklyn by D. Nurkse. Copyright © 2012 by D. Nurkse. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.

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
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

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 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