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BK, BK, Take Me In: D. Nurkse’s A Night in Brooklyn

Posted on: August 27, 2012

D. Nurkse, A Night in Brooklyn

D. Nurkse, A Night in Brooklyn

New York City has long been a haven and a source of inspiration for writers, musicians, and artists. Young people regularly flock there to draw from its rich culture and history, just as I did almost 10 years ago when I moved to Brooklyn to study writing. D. Nurkse’s new poetry collection, A Night in Brooklyn, offers a glimpse into Brooklyn’s past—a time before Macbooks filled every coffee shop, before there was an Ikea in Red Hook. A Brooklyn native, Nurkse has witnessed the change in his lifetime, but the book doesn’t spend too much time on the transition. Instead, A Night in Brooklyn, Nurkse’s tenth collection, is more introspective, revealing snapshots of his younger self and offering a meditation on time and its fluidity: one moment you can be sitting at the bar, and the next you’re suddenly too young to be served.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section, which shares its title with the book title, is the longest and most focused, making the remaining two sections seem like add-ons or after thoughts. The poems included in the title section are short narratives of living, working, and loving in Brooklyn. There is a strong working class element as Nurkse’s portraits show a man stitching together a living however he can, whether it means cutting wood for shelves, making handbag handles at a factory, or serving drinks at a neighborhood bar. As it is for many young people trying to find their way, the speaker of these poems—Nurkse himself, according to the PR—is uncertain and struggling, but is making his own way.

Despite citing specific places, streets, and neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the poems don’t come across as exclusive to people familiar with the borough—the streets could be any street, the bars any bar, and the ghosts that haunt the collection could belong to any of us. The book captures the mood of someone who is older reflecting back on his life, remembering the arguments and failures alongside of the triumphs. Despite whatever is happening in the larger world, things continue to go on. As Nurkse writes in “A Letter From Home,” where the world is at war and people are being tortured: “Still a window blazes all night. / Still the cars pass.” The notion of the world continuing with or without us is reiterated in “The Dead Reveal Secrets of Brooklyn”:

Remember, death does not last,

not even a breath,

whereas the city goes on forever,

Cypress Hill, Gravesend, Bath Beach,

avenues screened by ginkgos,

vehemence of domino players

hunched over folding tables,

range on range of padlocked factories

that once made twine, hammers, tape

and now make nameless articles

which we use to bind, shatter, or seal,

here there is no self,

no other world, no Brooklyn.

Throughout the collection, the language is concise, and the poems largely communicate a sense of isolation and loneliness, the ultimate irony of living in a large and populous city. In “Flatlands,” Nurkse writes, “We are alone / in a huge city.” And later the poem returns to the idea of what lasts: “Though we are fading / all our actions last forever.” There is a desire for connection and for that connection to be meaningful.

Nurkse’s strong use of imagery reminded me of The Branch Will Not Break­-era James Wright, and his obsession with time and its slipperiness of Tomas Transtromer. The second section of the book, “Elsewhere,” is more playful, offering fragments and riddles, and the third section, “No Time,” explores many of the same themes as the first, though the poems aren’t necessarily grounded in Brooklyn.

Overall this is a solid collection by an established poet. Though frequently unadorned and straightforward, the poems still offer pleasant surprises as they take unexpected twists and occasionally collapse in on themselves.

Gina Myers is a staff writer and the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009). She recently reviewed Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten and has interviewed a series of indie authors, including James Tadd Adcox, Dan Magers, Brian Oliu, and Justin Sirois. She lives in Atlanta.


2 Responses to "BK, BK, Take Me In: D. Nurkse’s A Night in Brooklyn"

[…] writer and the author of A Model Year. She recently reviewed D. Nurkse’s new poetry collection A Night in Brooklyn and Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten. She has also interviewed a series of indie authors, including […]

[…] new album and show in Atlanta, where she lives, and D. Nurkse’s new poetry collection A Night in Brooklyn, where she used to live. She has also interviewed many indie authors, including James Tadd Adcox, […]

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