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Idiot Psalms: New Poems

Idiot Psalms: New Poems [Kindle Edition]

Scott Cairns

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Product Description

Product Description

A new collection from one of our favorite poets. Fourteen “Idiot Psalms,” surrounded by dozens of other poems, make this his most challenging collection yet.

“Idiot Psalm 1”

O God Belovéd if obliquely so, dimly apprehended in the midst of this, the fraught obscuring fog of my insufficiently capacious ken, Ostensible Lover of our kind—while apparently aloof—allow that I might glimpse once more Your shadow in the land, avail for me, a second time, the sense of dire Presence in the pulsing hollow near the heart. Once more, O Lord, from Your Enormity incline your Face to shine upon Your servant, shy of immolation, if You will.

About the Author

Scott Cairns is the author of five previous collections of poetry: The Theology of Doubt, The Translation of Babel, Figures for the Ghost, Recovered Body, and Philokalia. With W. Scott Olsen, he co-edited The Sacred Place, a collection of prose and verse celebrating the intersections of landscape and ideas of the holy. His poetry and nonfiction have been included in Best American Spiritual Writing and other anthologies. His poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Poetry, Image, and many other periodicals. He is currently Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri. His spiritual memoir, A Short Trip to the Edge, will be published in 2007.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 204 KB
  • Print Length: 94 pages
  • Publisher: Paraclete Press (1 Mar 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00JDTG4B8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #635,040 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A poet of faith and the human heart 27 Feb 2014
By Glynn Young - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I met Scott Cairns once, in 2010, down in the Hill Country of Texas. Laity Lodge was hosting a writer's retreat, and I had signed up for the poetry seminar. Cairns was our seminar teacher. I had previously read two of his books of poetry, which I'd found in the faculty publications section at the University of Missouri at Columbia bookstore.

He taught our seminar like he writes poetry - quiet, reflective, low-key, questioning, gently probing. We sat on a terrace in cool September sunshine, on a bluff above the Frio River. We reads poems written by others, and we read poems we had written as overnight assignments. The experience had something of the liturgical about it, with the words, the coolness, the sunshine resembling more of a worship service than a poetry seminar.

Cairns new collection of poems, "Idiot Psalms: New Poems," has that same sense of the liturgical. But it's more what I'd call "the liturgical in real life." Warm, human, with occasional flashes of dry wit, the poems range from pilgrimages and prayers to theology (Cairns is Greek Orthodox) and even complaints.

Lenten Complaint

The breakfast was adequate, the fast
itself sub-par. We gluttons, having
modified our habits only somewhat
within the looming Lenten dark, failed
quite to shake our thick despair, an air
that clamped the heart, made moot the prayer.
As dim disciples having seen the light,
we supplied to it an unrelenting gloom.

Wipe your chin. I'm dying here
in Omaha, amid the flat, surrounded
by the beefy, land-locked generations,
the river, and the river's rancid shore.

O what I wouldn't give for a lifting,
cool salt breeze, a beach, a Labrador.

A relatively short poem to be sure, but the way he constructs his lines (especially the ending words) adds immediacy and a touch of humor to the poem. The gluttons are so despairing of fasting during Lent that they forget the purpose of the season and the fast and consider the flat Nebraska landscape that surrounds them.

The collection is framed by 14 "idiot psalms." They are the psalms, prayers, and requests that come from the human heart. They express doubt and faith, humor and the desire for mercy, fear and hope. Reading them is an exercise in stillness. They remind me, oddly, of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Prison Poems," which I had read shortly before going to that writer's retreat in Texas. (Either that, or it might be that description of "flat, surrounded" Nebraska in the poem above.)

Some of the psalms are reminiscent of the psalms of David in the Old Testament, especially those believed written as he hid in the wilderness from Saul. Life for many us, and perhaps especially for poets, is a kind of wilderness experience, where we are surrounded by enemies, real and imagined.

Idiot Psalm 4

If I had anything approaching
a new song, surely I would sing.

If I had sufficient vision,
I would see.

If, amid the dim and dissolution
of the January day, new music
might avail to warm what passes
for my heart, surely I would weep.

My enemies are plentiful, and I
surround them, these enemies
camped firmly in my heart, what passes,
lo these dreary ages, for my heart.

O Lord of Hosts, do slay them.

Cairns has been published in numerous publications, including Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, Image and Spiritus, among others, and his poems included in several anthologies. He's received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Denise Levertov Award, and a Pushcart Prize. An English professor at the University of Missouri, he teaches Modern American Poetry, Poetry in Translation, and several poetry and non-fiction writing courses. He's been called on of the most skillful religious poets writing today.

I would add that he's also one the most skillful poets of the human heart writing today.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book 10 April 2014
By Eaglehaslanded - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is not a collection for those who like flashy metaphors spread over the poem like clues to a puzzle no one is smart enough to get. The language is precise, rich, and intellectually subtle. It is also common, funny and at times rough-hewn.

This simple-seeming, unfraught diction reminds me of the rough brown walls of some quartz caves that, when the lights are doused, spring to life as if the night sky had buried itself underground. The result is awe that never quite sheds the knowledge of those brown walls. As in the poem “Somnambulent” such awe is an “intermittent waking” from the walking sleep of our intellectual striving.
Wonder is chastened by the commonplace, which in turn evokes, seemingly out of nowhere, greater wonder perhaps because the failures of passion and intellect lead to prayer.

Everything in this book, from cantankerousness to intimacy, becomes prayer, a turning toward life and love and yearning for God. Prayer that is less song than invocation—open yet irascible in its need for something beyond the ordinary, and for that reason reminds me a little of Buechner’s Godric. Prayer that finds its fulfillment more in that turning toward than in any “result.”

This is, finally, a book of beauty and power and intellectual complexity—one that a carpenter and a theologian could appreciate equally and therefore a quintessentially Christian book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Idiot Psalms 5 Mar 2014
By Sheep23 - Published on
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense but deep 24 Jun 2014
By James Beyer - Published on
In typical scott cairns style his poetry is probing and dense. You may need to keep a dictionary close by but it's great stuff.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult work 8 May 2014
By Davey Jones - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Cairn's work is difficult to access. It reads like a personal diary, beautiful in form, but a better hint of potential than an example of it.
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