November 2000

Daniela Gioseffi


Daniela Gioseffi is an American Book Award-winning author of twelve books. She has edited two prize-winning compendiums of world literature, and reviewed poetry for many prominent publications, including American Book Review, The Hungry Mind Review, and Independent Publisher. Gioseffi edits Skylands Writers & Artists Association, Inc. and Wise Women's Web, which was nominated for "Best of the Web," 1998. Her latest book of poetry, Going On: Poems (Via Folios, 23), was published in May of this year.
Leaving Xaia
by D. Nurkse

Four Way Books, 2000
Paper, 77 pages

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In these days of stylishly nonsensical poetry, one seldom meets up with poems as satisfying as Dennis Nurkse's. He has some of the philosophical poetic depth of a Stephen Dunn with a dash of C.K. Williams' narrative observations of life on the streets. Some of Nurkse's poetry embodies a more dreamlike, Kafkaesque quality than either of these renowned poets. Though some of my favorites among Nurkse's works are still to be found in Shadow Wars, a book he published with Hanging Loose Press in 1988, his latest collection from Four Way Books, Leaving Xaia, is in no way disappointing and much stronger than Staggered Lights (Owl Creek Press, 1990). Here again is the emotional depth, tension, vitality, and originality found in Shadow Wars, but the poet has become more sophisticated and cerebral—more Kafkaesque—than in the earlier book with its simpler directness and involvement. The poems of divorce and heartbreak are accessible on a feeling level just as the poems of newly discovered love were felt in his earlier work, but the poems about foreign places are mysteriously entered as if in a dream state or a haunting anxiety tinged with nebulous guilt.

Nurkse's main message is that love gives life all its meaning, and when it fails us, it turns the world into a nightmare of senseless sensation. One of the recurrent notes in his latest book is that of love lost:

My lawyer put his fingers together
and began confiding a strategy
to defend my rights to my child.
As he spoke in a stage whisper,
accenting the names of hostile judges,
my mind went slack and my eyes wandered
to the expensive view:

the park, the wharves,
the cities of Jersey
whose names run together:
Hoboken... Secaucus... Weehawken...

In the afternoon haze, four light planes
were skywriting with exquisite precision
but the wind took their message
and unravelled it like a skein:
a politician angling for votes?
A lover trying to reach a lost one? .... 

"Final Separation," p.28

If "That love is all there is/Is all we know of love," as Dickinson tells us, then Nurkse explains that it's nearly impossible to make sense of anything without love embodied in our lives in the presence of a significant other: a lover, a spouse, a beloved child. We need a cherished someone to set life vibrating—a true and universal theme.

What I liked about loving you
was being no one,

looking out the window afterwards,
showing you the laundry, the flag,
little ruled streets
where someone once met you,

adored you, persuaded you
to climb the narrow steps.... 

"The Unlit Room," p.29

Nurkse's other main themes deal with the surreal quality of suffering, war, cruelty, scourge, and famine on this teeming planet so full of strange injustices, senseless wars of greed, meaningless boundaries, and conflicts that destroy and bear no fruit for the living or the dead whom they steal from themselves and us, sapping our human powers, leaving us with an eternal, if nebulous, sense of collective guilt.

Before the first air strike
the protests were so huge
we could not find our way to the edge
desperate to find someone to convince,
the witnesses more fervent than the marchers....
Now the bombing has lasted three weeks,
ground war is inevitable and we're alone
behind a card table on Fifth and Prospect
with a petition demanding the Geneva Convention
be respected and evacuation corridors
established for women and children.
No one signs and we would no longer know
where to send it.... 

"The Twenty-Four Hour War," p. 33

Having just returned from a decade in the country away from Brooklyn Heights, my old city home of thirty years, I was glad to reacquaint myself with the poet who currently serves as Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. A fan of Dennis Nurkse's earlier work, particularly Shadow Wars, I wanted to see what he was up to. Nurkse brings these city streets to life for me like no other poet I've read. He is painterly in his portrayal of everyday scenes. His imagery arrests and beguiles, sometimes surprisingly with surrealistic leaps. 

Leaving Xaia is a book one can wholeheartedly recommend for its engagement with worldly themes, its accessibility cloaked in a vivid poetic imagination and swabbed with plenty of wise and acute observation. He is part Stephen Dunn and part C.K. Williams—two of the finest, truest poets of our time rolled together—but he is characteristically and particularly Nurkse, himself, and no other.

I took my place among the other tourists;
in the porthole the night roads
slipped and faded,
either to open sea
or to a city without light. 

"Leaving Xaia," p.73



Daniela Gioseffi: Book Review
Copyright 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 14The Cortland Review