cover image A Country of Strangers: New and Selected Poems

A Country of Strangers: New and Selected Poems

D. Nurkse. Knopf, $35 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-32140-9

Spanning 30-plus years and 11 collections, Nurkse’s poems are as fresh and bizarre as ever, lingering at checkpoints, border crossings, transit areas, and “that uncertain moment/ between false dawn and dawn.” Nurkse’s portraits of travelers—with “their suitcases tied with twine, their sacks made of canvas sewn shut, their boxes”—are skillful sketches of forced displacement, as strangers navigate “the sour box” of a tenement’s elevator. These poems are varied in their subjects, exploring illness, the 9/11 attacks, divorce, the poet’s experiences teaching at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, and biological phenomena. “We know the coming disaster intimately but the present is unknowable,” Nurkse observes, and the present is where his poems are sharpest; a new baby is held “safe on that journey/ away from the body,” and a bee circles a house “diligently, like a toy airplane.” These small moments are among the many gifts this memorable collected edition offers. (Apr.)