Josh Brewer


Comfortably ensconced in a breakfast nook, poet D. Nurkse discussed the architecture of Butler’s Efromyson Center for Creative Writing (one way of talking about the relationship between labor and form), literary tradition, falling snow (visible through the window), and his parents leaving Europe as it disintegrated into World War II. We also discussed his use of baseball in poetry. Wizened and soft-spoken, he sipped coffee and reflected upon several decades of work. Nurkse’s career could have been different.

A Harvard graduate and son of an esteemed economist, he turned down an opportunity to pursue an international academic career. Instead, he went to work in factories, painting houses, and tending bar. He also became a human rights advocate, and his activism consistently supports children, the poor, and the traumatized.

His ten books of poetry reflect this resistance to elitism and embrace of democracy, craft, and workmanship: Nurkse initially published in distinguished journals and small presses, with strong books such as Shadow Wars. Subsequent titles include The Fall, Burnt Island, Border Kingdom, and most recently from Knopf, Night in Brooklyn. Along the way, he won a Whiting Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, two NEA fellowships, and a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was the poet in residence at Butler University in the 2014 spring semester. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence.

Cover Page Footnote

"A Conversation with D. Nurkse" was originally published at Booth.