Dennis Nurkse

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–

Course Information

Current graduate courses

Poetry 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

Previous courses

First-Year Studies: The Distinctive Voice in Poetry

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, structure, technique, and experiment. We’ll 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’ll read widely and often individualistically, exploring the origins of the contemporary in poets like Elizabeth Bishop and Philip Larkin, poets of today from Anne Carson to Yusef Komunyakaa, and young poets like Eduardo Corral and A. Van Jordan. In translation, we’ll enter the more vast world of poets like Neruda, Lorca, Akhmatova, Aime Cesaire, Zbigniew Herbert, and Pessoa; and we’ll study experimentalists. Though this isn’t primarily an exercise course—students will be encouraged to find their own directions—we’ll study the structure of the sonnet, haiku, ghazal, and prose poem. We’ll look at the blues line and the ballad, poems of political engagement, the dramatic monologue, proverbs, and riddles. This course will examine the poetic sequence: how poets use personae and engage with myth to expand their horizons and reclaim universal ideas. Expect to read voraciously, participate in a peer group of readers, and write your own portfolio of original poems.  

Faculty

The Distinctive Poetic Voice

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

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.