Dennis Nurkse

Note: on leave spring semester

BA, Harvard. Author of nine books of poetry (under “D. Nurkse”), including The Border Kingdom, Burnt Island, The Fall, The Rules of Paradise, Leaving Xaia, and Voices over Water; poems have appeared in The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly; recipient of a literature award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Whiting Writers’ award, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships, and two awards from The Poetry Foundation. SLC, 2004–

Undergraduate discipline: Writing
Graduate program: MFA Writing Program

Courses taught in Writing

Courses from previous years

  • The Distinctive Poetic Voice
  • First-Year Studies: The Distinctive Voice in Poetry
  • The Distinctive Poetic Voice

Courses taught in MFA Writing Program

  • Poetry Workshop

Connect with Dennis Nurkse

Dennis Nurkse

Dennis Nurkse

What do you love about teaching at Sarah Lawrence?
The students here view their education as their own artistic creation rather than something they are consuming. At many schools, students use "office hours" to talk to professors about grades. My students come in and say, What was Elizabeth Bishop trying to do in this poem? It makes this a very exciting place to be.

I’m also amazed at the level of student work, and the way students integrate personal information into their writing. I had one student who wrote a whole crown of sonnets—14 sonnets where the last line of one sonnet begins the first line of the next. They were very contemporary, with a jazz context and a speaking voice that shifted from poem to poem. It was a very personal piece of work and a very novel way of producing a series of poems.

What do you hope to teach your students?
To me, the perfect poem is not necessarily an interesting poem. I’m interested in what other teachers might consider mistakes—I think the weaknesses of the poem might be its most original characteristics. So I don’t want students to focus too much on writing perfect poems. I want students to read voraciously, expand their knowledge of poetry, and feel confident in sharing their poetry with other people. I also want to help students develop a humanistic writing process, where writing—even if it is about something painful or horrible—is the part of your life that you most look forward to.