Dennis Nurkse

BA, Harvard. Author of 10 books of poetry (under “D. Nurkse”), including Love in the Last Days (forthcoming from Knopf in fall 2017), The Border Kingdom, Burnt Island, The Fall, The Rules of Paradise, Leaving Xaia, Voices over Water, and, most recently, A Night in Brooklyn; poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and six editions of the Best American Poetry anthology series. 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; a finalist for the Forward Prize for best poetry book published in the United Kingdom. SLC, 2004–

Graduate Courses

Writing 2017-2018

Poetry Workshop

Workshop—Fall

This course will focus intensively and humanistically on participants’ own work. Roughly a third of the discussion time will be devoted to classics and to work that will never be found in the canon. We’ll pay close attention to the development of the individual voice and examine poetics, prosody, issues of form and tone in contemporary and classical poetics, and the radically experimental text. We’ll focus on the revision process: How do artists push themselves toward new worlds? How do poets achieve spontaneity without sacrificing rigor? How do texts reconcile clarity and unpredictability? Expect to read widely, to approach texts in new ways, and to create many wild drafts and a finished portfolio of six to ... poems. 

Faculty

Previous Courses

The Distinctive Poetic Voice

Open , Seminar—Fall

Contemporary poets face a dazzling range of stylistic options. This course is designed to help you develop not just your own ear and voice but your own sense of craft, intuition, technique, and experiment. We will focus primarily and profoundly humanistically on students’ own work with the knowledge that a mistake in art can be fascinating and the demonstration of competence can be irrelevant. We will also look at poets from Anne Carson to Elizabeth Bishop to Basho. Students will be encouraged to orient themselves and find their own directions in the labyrinth of modern poetic practice. We’ll study prosody, metrics, the lyric and epic voices—but the emphasis will be on students’ own creative projects. Expect to write every week, read voraciously, and create a portfolio of 6-12 poems.

Faculty

Poetry workshop

Workshop—Fall

This course will focus intensively and humanistically on participants' own work. Roughly a third of discussion time will be devoted to classics, and to work that will never be found in the canon. We'll pay close attention to the development of the individual voice, and examine poetics, prosody, issues of form and tone in contemporary and classical poetics, and the radically experimental text. We'll focus on the revision process--how do artists push themselves towards new worlds? How do poets achieve spontaneity without sacrificing rigor? How do texts reconcile clarity and unpredictability? Expect to read widely, to approach texts in new ways, and to create many wild drafts and a finished portfolio of six to ? poems.

Faculty

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.