A Night in Brooklyn, D. Nurkse, CB Editions, £8.99
reviewed by Stephen Nelson
The gentle, wistful, reflective poems in Dennis Nurkse’s A Night in Brooklyn have an almost narcotic effect on the reader. One finds oneself caught up in the reverie of someone else’s life. You might say nostalgia has the same effect:
We shared happiness like a piece of Scotch tape
first on my thumb, then yours,
[‘Furnished Room on Pearl Street’]
but there is too much knowing here, too much reflection on “being and becoming”[‘Red Antares in a Blue Mirror’], on the self as “both cause and consequence”[‘The Bars’], for these poems to be merely nostalgic.
The past is full of love, work, and working for love:
I never saw the final product…
– but once
long after midnight in our stifling room
I touched her wrist and described
a rosewood-canvas tote from Macy’s
and she whispered, Yes love.
[‘Fourteen Months in the Handbag Handle Factory’]
The present is something longed for, but never fully realised, because, it seems, the journey towards it is so involved, so intricate, and “all our actions last forever.”[‘Flatlands’]
…someday we might know such things
in our lives, not just in desire.
We are told, only the moment is real,
all that exists exists in the moment,
but who knew how to get there?
What makes us, destroys us, knits us back together, is unknown, “it happens in secret.”[‘The Present’] Yet we can understand “how the universe/ was created”, while a cricket sings “I, I, not furiously,/but with a cool insistence”[Red Antares in a Blue Mirror’].
The poems are a way of remembering, but the truth of who we are in every action, every memory, is “in the night sky hidden/at the center of the last period.”[‘Flatlands’] This suggests that who we are is a mystery, hidden in the making of a life, and that what we become in the world slips away, “beyond our outstretched hands”[‘Damariscotta’].
A little over halfway through, the book changes geographical location, moving from the city to idyllic settings in Europe, including The Dolomites, but the tone remains forever the same, hinting that nothing really changes elsewhere. Even the versions of Andalusian song fragments and the French and Spanish riddles maintain an air of wistful regret, a sense of time passing, love fading, although they have the rejuvenating effect of a cool summer breeze.
The gentle insistence of the collection made me a little weary at times – there are no surprises, no epiphanies, just a constant flow of melancholy lyricism, highlighted at one stage by a list of locales visited by night-time lovers. If anything, the tone becomes a little heavier in the final section, the night sky just a little bit more oppressive, the writing somewhat burdensome. Here, it seems, there is just “no way to face ourselves.”[‘There is no Time, She Writes’]
Perhaps, then, these are poems that can only be written from a certain vantage point – it is, after all, “Night in Brooklyn” – but they can be enjoyed by anybody willing to give themselves to the slow drift of the poet’s meditation.