r e c o m m e n d e d  r e a d i n g  



Reading and writing change people and change societies. It is not always easy to see how nor to trace out the subtle map of cause and effect that links such changes to their context. But we should make an effort to do so. There is an important, unanswerable question here. Is it a matter of co-incidence that the poets who invented Eros, making of him a divinity and a literary obsession, were also the first authors in our tradition to leave us their poems in written form? To put the questions more pungently, what is erotic about alphabetization? This may seem not so much an unanswerable as a foolish question, at first, but let us look closer into the selves of the first writers. Selves are crucial to writers.
  Anne Carson
from “Losing the Edge,”



Mary-Sherman Willis, a poet and a city gardener, whose poems will appear in our next issue, writes:

From 1996 until recently, Dennis Nurkse was the poet laureate of Brooklyn. Like Brooklyn’s most famous poet, he is an American writing poetry about America. But unlike that notorious yawper, Nurkse’s poems make you go quiet to listen. His spare lines, absent of rhetorical folderol and loaded with story, lift off over the terrain he likes to revisit: war and a post-war childhood, immigration and assimilation (his father, Estonian; mother, French), being a worker in the modern age, marriage and parenthood, divorce. His poems are textured with the blue-collar grit of his adopted borough. A while ago he said, “I’m a lyric poet. When it’s consistent with the nature of a group of individual poems, I order then in narrative, sometimes novelistic sequences. My work is engaged with contemporary history. I admire Walter Benjamin’s remark, to articulate the past historically…is to seize hold of a memory as it wells up at a moment of danger.”

His six books of poems are published under “D. Nurkse.” The most recent is THE RULES OF PARADISE. I’m particularly fond of the fourth, VOICES OVER WATER. It tells of an Estonian couple who emigrate to Canada in the early part of the 20th century. It is heartbreakingly lyrical, its imagery out of fairy tales. Here, in the voice of the wife, is “The Oak Bed”:

The wedding sheet frayed under us

so I cut it in four and sewed it back

with the unworn edges at the center,

and when that center became transparent

I cut on the diagonal and sewed it back

matching worn cloth with worn cloth

until I had a mackerel sky of diamond rags,

degrees of use, and still each night

we’d sit at the edge of the mattress

trembling with exhaustion and at last turn

as if unwed, to that silence between us.

D. Nurkse, SHADOW WARS (Hanging Loose Press, 1988), ISOLATION IN ACTION (State Street Press, 1988), Staggered Lights (Owl Creek Press, 1990); VOICES OVER WATER (Four Way Books 1998); LEAVING XAIA (Four Way Books, 2000), THE RULES OF PARADISE (Four Way Books, 2001); THE FALL: POEMS (Knopf, September 2002).



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