D. Nurkse’s “Letter from Solange”

I had the lucky fortune of hearing D. Nurkse read this weekend with Matthea Harvey. (Both teach together at Sarah Lawrence College, and were reading as part of the jubilat/Jones Library reading series in Amherst, Massachusetts.) Nurkse’s poem “Letter from Solange,” appears in the Fall issue of the Kenyon Review. It is a five-part mediation on the correspondence between two lovers, in an omniscient voice. It’s also a haunted poem; it remembers attraction, but more clearly the forces that warp attraction–the unattached memories that cloud the specifics of a wanted remembrance, the clipped stories that behave badly when left to interpretation and the stakes are high. In the second section Nurkse writes of these stories that “have come between us”:

They are fragments that suppose a whole
They have strange confidence in their resolutions,
in that throat-clearing word, “arc.”
They console us, though they are a labyrinth,
a stinging fatigue, a lifelong burden.
But there is no author.

Nurkse hints to a failure of narrative here that suggests a failure of expectation. In light of the lovers depicted in the poem, the failure of expectation, of some grander significance, rattles the connection between them to the core. The stanza finishes this way, and the “one” are the problem story/fragments again:

In the hush of early afternoon,
before the street fills with children,
when the sun curls like a starfish
on the scalloped wallpaper,
you might glimpse one making itself up.

The fragments begin to sound dangerous, capable of purposeless reproduction; the presupposed order is turned on its head. Up starts to feel like down, down feels like up. Nurkse reinforces this confusion in the next section: “The weapons destroyed each other. / The election voted against itself,” and “We lured our enemy into our house.” There’s a sense of looming regret, of willful distraction and disillusionment. The world is strange and the players in the poem seem complicit. It’s not clear what an acceptable course of action is; what stands in then, feels ultimately damning.

In the fourth stanza the voice in the poem writes of the void beside them that was once filled by the lover, that she now “smoothes flat”–an erasing gesture, a gesture that negates the mark of what preceded it. It’s clear at this moment that something is irrevocably lost in the world of the poem; even the act of writing in the fifth stanza cannot staunch the fallout from that loss.

It’s interesting then that the closing gesture of the poem, of children and their carefree nonchalance, whose youth presupposes innocence, become the symbol of what is lost. Nurkse references a line here from earlier in the poem. In the third stanza he writes “When I wrote ‘the middle distance’ / I meant: we gave up that refuge.” The “giving up” is a willful act, and suggests culpability. Here, in the poem’s closure, he notes the flopping schoolbags of children, whose school papers “flutter in the middle distance.” It is a distance that cannot be recovered in the poem, and a place where Nurkse notes the acquisition of age, the place where “you and I grew old”–a mirror image of irrevocable loss.

Find this poem, and other gems (like Deborah Digges’ work) in the fall issue of the Kenyon Review. (Out soon! check your bookstores!)

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The Kenyon Review Associates Program provides Kenyon students with valuable experience in literary editing, publishing, and programming. KR Associates work closely with Kenyon Review staff, gaining valuable experience in a number of editing, publishing, and programming areas including manuscript evaluation, publicity and marketing, copy editing, developing web site and social media content, outreach programming, event planning and promotion, and other creative and editorial projects

KR Associates attend regular seminars conducted by Kenyon Review editorial staff, visiting readers, and publishing industry professionals. These seminars cover a wide range of topics including editorial philosophy, evaluation of submissions, print and electronic production, marketing, and design.

KR Associates enjoy also enjoy exclusive access to visiting writers and speakers, free issues of The Kenyon Review, and valuable work experience and employment references.

This program is made possible through an initiative of the Kenyon Review, part of the mission of which is to contribute to the enrichment of the academic, cultural, and artistic life of the Kenyon College community.

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  • Submission Evaluation: All Associates are required to read and evaluate eight Kenyon Review submissions per week. Associates who are not able to complete their weekly submission assignments for more than two weeks in a row may not be allowed to continue in the program.
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Application Details

The application deadline for the 2023-24 program has passed. Applications for the 2024-25 program will open in the fall of 2024. Please check back then for more details.

Questions? Please contact Tory Weber for more information.