Prize-winning poet and Lawrenceville alumnus Dennis Nurkse ’66 returned to campus recently as the 2018-19 Merrill Poet. During his residency on campus, Nurkse was a guest lecturer in English classes, led a poetry master class with students and alumni, and read from his works during an event in the Edith Memorial Chapel.
Nurkse is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including The Rules of Paradise (2001), The Fall (2003), The Border Kingdom (2008), and Love in the Last Days: After Tristan and Iseult (2017). His parents escaped Nazi Europe during World War II—his Estonian father worked for the League of Nations in Vienna, his mother was an artist—and moved to New York. Nurkse lives in New York and has been named poet laureate of Brooklyn.
In free-verse, lyric poems, Nurkse explores subjects both intimate and political: children, families, love, and the effects of war. The poems in his collection The Fall explore distinct stages of the narrator’s life: childhood, early marriage, and middle age and illness.
Nurkse has received a Whiting Award, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Tanne Foundation Award. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine, Rikers Island Correctional Facility, and served as a Guggenheim Fellow. He has also worked for human rights organizations, writing on human rights issues, and was elected to the board of directors of Amnesty International USA.
Lawrenceville's Merrill Poetry Seminar commemorates Pulitzer Prize-winning alumnus and poet James Merrill '43. The program invites notable poets to spend time on campus teaching classes, lecturing, and reading from their work. Former participants have included Billy Collins, Louise Glück, Robert Hass, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Simic, and Mark Strand.
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