A Country of Strangers: New and Selected Poems
In an illuminating collection of selected poems over thirty-five years, one of our most essential American poets casts a clear eye on our politics, our places, and our heart’s hidden stories.
D. Nurkse’s immigrant parents met on a boat out of Europe in 1940; he was a child of the generation whose anxieties were forged in the shadow of Hiroshima and the aftermath of WWII. His poems extend that child’s dignified ignorance into an open encounter with the cataclysms of the latter twentieth century and with family structures.
Whispers of the old country of Estonia provide the backdrop for the boy’s baseballs, thrown in the fading twilight of the 1950s (“Secretly, I was proudest of my skill / at standing alone in the darkness”). The young man explores sexual passion and the arrival of a child in a young marriage (“We showed her daylight in our cupped hands”), while the mature poet writes of loneliness and community in our cities (“but on the streets / there was no one”), and the urgent need for us to keep expressing our will as citizens.
Throughout this matchless career, over eleven books, Nurkse has crafted visceral lines that celebrate the fragility of what simply exists—birdsong, moonrise, illness, water towers—and the complexity of human perception, our stumble forward through it toward understanding.