Newly Tenured Faculty: Dennis Nurkse, Writing

Dennis NurkseDiscipline
Writing (poetry)

First-Year Studies: Explorations in the Poetic Voice, Western and Non-Western, Traditional and Experimental

Favorite poet
Among thousands, Federico Garcia Lorca

Favorite thing in your office
Pen and paper

Technology you can’t live without
Mint dental floss

Best trip
To Bolivia, to collect life histories of street children

Worst job
Pulling the heads off shrimp on a conveyor belt in Iceland

Best event at SLC
The annual, student-run Poetry Festival

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.