Idiot Psalms: new poems by Scott Cairns
Glimpsing the nature of religion poetically is a calling that Scott Cairns has taken up with vim and vigor. In his new book of poems, Idiot Psalms, he seeks to capture the weight of a psalmist and the feeling of the congregant in his midst. These poems evoke a playful seriousness that keeps the reader coming back for more, or in my case, coming back to read the same poem over and over again. Cairns enters into the natural world of lightning and thunder as well as the perplexing study of theology in his poems, combining the natural with the supernatural which enlivens the imagination of its readers.
Two poems had their red laser pointers on me as I read through this wonderful collection. In First Storm and Thereafter, Cairns writes clearly about the lighting and thunder.
‘What I notice first within
This rough scene fixed
in memory is the rare
quality of its lightning, as if
those bolts were clipped
from a comic book, pasted
on low cloud, or fashioned
with cardboard, daubed
with gilt, then hung overhead
on wire and fine hooks.’ (14)
The juxtaposition of a rough scene that is fixed in memory had my attention at once. The rough scene due to the memory’s emotional cadences of light from the sky and the moaning of the thunder was apparent. And yet, the scene was fixed in memory due to the rarity of the quality of its lightning. Like the rare quality of a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, this type of memory is almost unbelievable. Scott describes the lightning as bolts from a comic book, daubed with gilt, as if the radiance of their appearance is so vivid as from another world. The many storms after this enigmatic one fall to the floor in comparison. Cairns paints the beauty of the natural world here with brush strokes infused with a comedic spirit.
In his poem And Why Theology?, Cairns dives into the depths of the theologians scalpel while illuminating the disturbing mysteries he produces on the page.
“Theology is a distinctly rare, a puzzling
study, given that its practitioners are happiest when the terms
of their discovery fall well short of their projected point; this
is where they likely glimpse their proof. Rare as well
is the theologian’s primary stipulation that all that is explicable
is somewhat less than interesting.” (17)
Cairns points to the inescapable fact that theologians often bite off more than they can chew, digest, and translate to the reader. Yet, it is in this grasping for a discovery of the truth that mystery remains. If we could have mastery over the truth of God’s Word and world, would there be any reason to write of such things? The answer for the great thinkers and philosophers of God would be nay. And, this, for Cairns, leads us back to the point, can theology and its minions of truth bear to hold God together like a master artist beholds a canvas? The subject is not only more expansive than initially thought, but designed to capture one’s attention always.
These poems are a delight to your eyes. I know you won’t be remiss in reading these confounding words.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this book in exchange for review.