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Voices Over Water

Authors: D Nurkse

Published by CB Editions

ISBN: 9780956107381

£8.99
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Shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize 2011.

"Nurkse is a world-class poet."
Craig Raine

At twilight a huge man stood in the road with an axe
and when he saw us he whimpered in terror and plunged into the undergrowth
though we were just two peasants, a child, and a deaf horse.


In the early 20th century, a woman and her husband emigrate from Estonia to Canada. Voices Over Water is their own record of this passage, evoking in the fine detail of their experience the larger forces to which their lives are subject: war, the unyielding land, famine, silence, and the irreducible strangeness of the bond between them.

"I can’t praise D. Nurkse’s poems enough. I go to them to hear 'the still sad music of humanity' and to celebrate it. Voices Over Water has haunting cadences; the silences are heart-stopping. The couple’s journey from the Old World to the New is a mesmerising page-turner but I make myself slow down to savour each tender, precise pleasure."
Pascale Petit

"The opening monologues, set in Europe, explore the rhythms of a traditional life disrupted more and more brutally by wider political events. These poems frequently swerve into the frightening and mysterious; in 'The Hidden Fighters' the couple lose their way travelling through heavy forest – 'Then we looked and saw the carcasses of butchered deer / lashed to the treetops and painted chalk white / like clumps of snow.' Nurkse’s remarkable devotion to the particular and sensitivity to place make these poems compelling."
Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian

"D. Nurkse is an American poet who is relatively unknown to British readers. With the publication of Voices Over Water, his second collection, that looks set to change... Voices Over Water attempts to provide a kind of micro-history of human hope and suffering: replacing objective fact with its subjective account of imagined lives... It reaches a satisfying with what is perhaps its best poem, 'Inventing Nations', in which one of the couple‘s grandchildren attempts to understand their inheritance. Here, a 'locket / showing the infant Mozart playing silence' may be damaged, yet still it harbours meaning: a 'voice over water' that, like like Nurkse’s poems, continues to carry, in spite of distortions."
Ben Wilkinson, Times Literary Supplement

"A book-length narrative sequence, [Voices Over Water] tells – elliptically – the story of a married couple’s forced emigration from Estonia to Canada in the early twentieth century. This may sound like a recipe for dour, right-on gruel, but the results in Nurkse’s hands are anything but. The collection comprises delicate, dreamlike lyrics, shifting between two epic, wintry landscapes... These are not poems to puzzle through. They are approachable in a way that much poetry isn’t, committed to providing lucid testimony."
Dai George, Poetry Review

"These poems... work both as discrete, individually imagined lyrics and also as chapters in an ongoing narrative of genuinely engaging lives. There are no sagging makeshifts here. A high proportion of the poems are gems of gravid simplicity, and Nurkse’s rhetorical periods can be breathtaking."
The New Yorker

"From the beginning of the first section, 'Leaving Estonia', the poems set out to be vividly physical, bringing together disparate elements that co-exist in real life but which might be filtered by too much intellectual analysis... startling images and crisp language combining the oblique clarity of R.S. Thomas with Kafka-like paradox... Voices Over Water is one of the most consistently satisfying collections I have read this year."
Michael Bartholomew Biggs, londongrip.co.uk

D. Nurkse lives in Brooklyn, New York. His parents fled Nazi Europe during World War Two. He has published nine books of poetry, most recently Burnt Island (2003) and The Border Kingdom (2008); he has also written on human rights issues and worked with Amnesty International USA.
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