Forward Prize for Poetry Shortlist: Voices Over Water

Forward Prize for Poetry Shortlist: Voices Over Water
D. Nurske
Reviewed by Rachel Beckwith
CB Editions
Thu, 25/11/2010

Voices Over Water is a powerful example of narrative poetry that holds the quietest yet most dramatic voice among this year’s shortlist for the Forward Poetry Prize.

Part one – Leaving Estonia – follows two narrators as they pack up their belongings and leave war-torn Europe. Between them, the married couple witness the changing political climate and the growing threat of exile in their community. When they escape to High Canada in part two, the male voice takes over the story. The vast landscape of the new world is evoked in the precise language of Nurkse: “In this country there’s a thousand miles/ between one milestone and the next./ The wells are so deep you drop a bucket/ and lace your boots before it hits water.”

The female voice – a singer since childhood – narrates her life as an old woman in the final part Easter Snow. Here, many poems explore her love of music and religion. The final two poems bring a remarkable fusion of old world culture with shifting images that pull the story into the present day.

This poetry collection treads the line between truth and fiction with extreme care. The strength of the characters – so close to the poet’s own family – make for a compulsive story. It would be a pleasant surprise for Nurkse to win this year’s Forward Best Collection, although Voices Over Water would certainly be an unusual choice for the judges.

Poetry, drama

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