Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Poetry Friday: Scott Cairns

Since today is Good Friday, I'd like to introduce you to a religious poet whose work I find both beautiful and challenging. Scott Cairns is Professor of English and the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri. Scott is a good friend of a poetry professor I had at Columbus State University (GA), and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak and read a few years back. He's delightful.

A couple of quotes about the poet:
“Cairn’s warm, calm, personal tones win him respect in many quarters, but his core audience comes from his subject matter: the mysteries, consolations and consequences of Christian belief . . . . Cairns seeks compassionate ways to apply the lessons of theologians or of Christ to his own life; one does not need to be Christian, or even religious, to profit from what he finds.” –Publishers Weekly
“Scott Cairns is one of the best poets alive.” –Annie Dillard

The More Earnest Prayer of Christ

and being in an agony he prayed more earnestly… Luke 22:44

His last prayer in the garden began, as most
of his prayers began – in earnest, certainly,
but not without distinction, an habitual…what?

Distance? Well, yes, a sort of distance, or a mute
remove from the genuine distress he witnessed
in the endlessly grasping hands of multitudes

and often enough, in his own embarrassing
circle of intimates. Even now, he could see
these where they slept, sprawled upon their robes or wrapped

among the arching olive trees. Still, something new,
unlikely, uncanny was commencing as he spoke.
As the divine in him contracted to an ache,

A throbbing in the throat, his vision blurred, his voice
grew thick and unfamiliar, his prayer – just before
it fell to silence – became uniquely earnest.

And in the moment – perhaps because it was so
new – he saw something, had his first taste of what
he would become, first pure taste of the body, and the blood.

-- Scott Cairns

Read here an article about Scott and his poetic journey.

This excerpt is from an interview in the Mars Hill Review:

MHR: As a teacher of creative writing, do you have any specific goals for your students?
SC: Yes. I want them to see themselves, and what they create, as part of an ongoing, vital tradition. I want them to turn away from the modernist, personal mode and its taste for ennui. I want them to find in poetry a means of consoling their losses, a way of witnessing grace, and an access to living, even now, in what we still might call the Kingdom of God. I want us all to be free of petty passions, and freed into serving enormous passions. I know that's pretty big talk, but I think poetry has the power to effect just such pleasures. I think the writer of John's gospel was onto something when he chose Logos as a metaphor for the Christ. I like also the Hebrew notion of word, davhar, a word which is also a thing, a power, an agent instigating other, subsequent words.
If you happen to live near Los Angeles, Scott will be presenting at Biola University on April 26.

There is lots more Poetry Friday rolling around in the kidslitosphere today and Robyn is hosting the roundup over at Read, Write, Howl.

And don't forget to follow the progressive poem celebrating National Poetry Month. Mary Lee has today's new line at A Year of Reading.

And... One more thing. Stop by Think Kid, Think! and celebrate the winner of  the March Madness Poetry Tournament. 


  1. So much, drawn from the placement of that one word "more" in front of earnestly. Thank you for finding Scott Cairns for me.

  2. Yes, thank you for this introduction, Doraine! You always find such profound stuff to share. This line stopped me: "As the divine in him contracted to an ache," - any woman who's given birth would likely feel that line, and yet this describes a time of impending death (and then, rebirth).

  3. Wow. This is beautiful. The line that Robyn quoted is the one that shattered me, too.

  4. I am taken with the idea of poetry as a way to witness grace an as an access to living. Poetry can be so many things! And ditto what Robyn said about how you always find such profound stuff to share. Thank you. xo