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A COUNTRY OF STRANGERS: New and Selected Poems, by D. Nurkse. (Knopf, $35.) This substantial volume gathers work from Nurske's 35-year career to make the case that he is, quietly, one of our most engaged civic poets, even as he honors interior lives and emotional complexity.  --New York Times


Starred Review of A COUNTRY OF STRANGERS in Publishers Weekly



Spanning 30-plus years and 11 collections, Nurkse's poems are as fresh and bizarre as ever, lingering at checkpoints, border crossings, transit areas, and "that uncertain moment/ between false dawn and dawn." Nurkse's portraits of travelers—with "their suitcases tied with twine, their sacks made of canvas sewn shut, their boxes"—are skillful sketches of forced displacement, as strangers navigate "the sour box" of a tenement's elevator. These poems are varied in their subjects, exploring illness, the 9/11 attacks, divorce, the poet's experiences teaching at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, and biological phenomena. "We know the coming disaster intimately but the present is unknowable," Nurkse observes, and the present is where his poems are sharpest; a new baby is held "safe on that journey/ away from the body," and a bee circles a house "diligently, like a toy airplane." These small moments are among the many gifts this memorable collected edition offers. (Apr.)


Library Journal reviews A COUNTRY OF STRANGERS


POETRY A Country of Strangers: New and Selected Poemsby D. NurkseKnopf. Apr. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9780593321409. $35. POETRYCOPY ISBNWhat a stellar array of poems from Whiting/Guggenheim honoree Nurkse (Love in the Last Days), encompassing both new work and a large sampling of poems from 11 previous collections dating back to 1988. The settings range from thin-walled New York City apartments to wharves and factories to tree-circled lakes, while the subjects range from love, marriage, and parenthood to the world stage: wars, immigration, workers' rights, protests, and displacement, including his parents' flight from Nazism. The war poems are among the most striking, as when Nurkse imagines an Estonian couple escaping a damaged landscape or writes "They came back, to our village, to apologize./ But by then we were just eyes in the forest,/ whispers in an extinct language." The most poignant poems involve children's power to expand our lives, yet Nurkse also implies the unfathomable distance between people, whether parents, lovers, or children. The new section showcases many prose poems reflecting on mortality, while the natural world provides respite throughout ("Thrush or vireo, loud and invisible,/ slurring two maniac notes").VERDICT In intelligent, lyrical poems often tapping into deep emotion, Nurske brings humanity to his subjects. He could be describing the writing process itself when he says: "When I skipped rope before memory/ the song was already in my mouth." Highly recommended.Reviewed by Doris Jean Lynch , Apr 01, 2022


Starred Review of LOVE IN THE LAST DAYS in Publishers Weekly


D. Nurkse. Knopf, $27 (112p) ISBN 978-0-451-49480-1
Former Brooklyn poet laureate Nurkse (A Night in Brooklyn) transports readers to the "imaginary past known as The Last Days" in his 11th collection, rendering his own haunting version of the story of Tristan and Iseult. The collection follows the narrative of the medieval legend by threading together a mosaic of monologues, most of which belong to Tristan, who talks of his battle wound ("it hurt always, like another soul") and catalogues strange encounters while hunting. Tristan observes Iseult with wonder and doom: "we were not made for each other,/ but to be the other's obstacle,/ cherished and loathed like the self." Nurkse's Iseult is stoic; her actions prove her to be self-sustaining and magical. Tristan confesses, "I thought we would negotiate/ in the wild, she would be less a Queen./ But no. Each day she wears her robe and crown/ more imperiously, though they are pollen and dew." Minor players benefit from Nurkse's crisp attention to detail and knack for contextualization. A character named the chronicler, for example, "chooses fresh pumice and abrades the vellum—/ caul of a stillborn calf—and starts to doodle/ in the soft margin." Nurkse makes this familiar story something alien, new, and fascinating; like the potion that Tristan and Iseult share, it's easy to fall under his spell. (Sept.)


By The Paris Review
 April 27, 2018THIS WEEK'S READING


For the first time in many mornings of being "held temporarily," I read beyond my stop on the train. It was the fault of an ancient love, Love in the Last Days, a retelling of Tristan and Iseult by D. Nurkse (whose poem "Irún" appeared in our Fall 2017 issue). I know the story more or less, and I thought I was done with philters and dragons, but Nurkse's reimagining makes for beautiful verse. Plenty of poets have taken this reimagining as their task, but Nurkse's work seems to ask: Is a love potion in the woods still compelling poetry? The answer here is yes. "She stared as I struggled with her kirtle, / vissoir and mandemain. Then we were naked. Except for her eyes. I was scared. I'd been naked in combat, / never in love." Each poem is spoken from a different voice, including a horse whose words are among my favorite. When Tristan sleeps among dogs on the floor of the king's chamber, "each snored according to his breed … The kennets and harriers twitched and writhed, / from their thick faint furious cries I deduced / a wounded rabbit, a feist in heat, an adored master." The lines are lovely, the lovers are doomed, the legend lives, and then you're sitting in an empty L train at Eighth Avenue long after the doors have opened to release you. —Julia Berick

Philip Levine recommends D. Nurkse’s A Night in Brooklyn: “After I read D. Nurkse’s last collection of poems, The Border Kingdom, I told myself there was no one in the U.S. who could write a better book. Well I was wrong, there was a poet who could and recently did publish a better book, the same D. Nurkse. A Night in Brooklyn, his newest collection, finds him on home territory—he was for a time the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn—he should be the laureate of the Western Hemisphere. 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. He can be wonderfully large and inclusive: “In these long slant-lit streets, she says, / you will find factories that once made shoehorns, / waffle irons, or pearl cuff links and store front churches / where voices adored the living God while tambourines / clashed a little behind the beat…” from “Twilight in Canarsie,” which finally gets the poem it deserves. The voice behind these poems is certainly Nurkse’s, but more often than not I feel it’s that deepest voice we hear rarely if ever and then only in poems, the voice of those closest to us, those we love and care for and who—because they are human—remain mysteries: “All my life I have been dying, of hope and self-pity, / and an unknown force has been knitting me back together.” No one is writing more potently than this.” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)

The poet D. Nurkse’s New York is worlds away from gentrification.

In “A Night in Brooklyn” (Knopf, $26), he stacks images from the borough’s farther reaches upon ghosts conjured from its past: Throop (Avenue) under the El, Ebbets Field, night truckers, lovers winding into each other from Greenpoint to Canarsie. He strays to “the rain-streaked avenues of central Queens” in one poem and abroad in several others. But Mr. Nurkse, who was Brooklyn’s poet laureate from 1996 to 2002, delivers the portrait his title would seem to promise.

These are not easy poems, but they don’t play tricks on the reader, either. Stay with one, and it will unfold into a meditation on birth, death, longing or loneliness. And even a casual tour through this short collection returns delights — scenes like: “At the border of Bensonhurst/a nun dragged a balky collie/on a retractable leash.”

‘A Night in Brooklyn,’ by D. Nurkse

We undid a button,
turned out the light,
and in that narrow bed
we built the great city —
water towers, cisterns,
hot asphalt roofs, parks,
septic tanks, arterial roads,
Canarsie, the intricate channels,
the seacoast, underwater mountains,
bluffs, islands, the next continent,
using only the palms of our hands
and the tips of our tongues, next
we made darkness itself, by then
it was time for daybreak
and we closed our eyes
until the sun rose
and we had to take it all to pieces
for there could be only one Brooklyn.

Poem excerpted from “A Night in Brooklyn” (Knopf, 2012)

--The New York Times

Voices over Water

The two most impressive books of poetry I've read this year are by D. Nurkse (CB Editions)--an ambitious saga (broken into fragments) of emigration and re-settling--and by Alice Oswald...

--Andrew Motion, Books of the Year, Times Literary Supplement, UK, Dec. 2, 2011