Slow Pilgrim (Paperback)

The Collected Poems (Paraclete Poetry)

By Scott Cairns, Richard Howard (Preface by), Gregory Wolfe (Introduction by)

Paraclete Press, 9781612616575, 320pp.

Publication Date: July 1, 2015

List Price: 39.00*
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Scott Cairns has carefully preserved every poem he’s ever published that he cares to preserve. He’s also added previously unpublished work, spanning three decades. A careful introduction by Gregory Wolfe and tribute preface by Richard Howard make this the ultimate collection of Cairns’ work.

About the Author

Scott Cairns was born in Tacoma, Washington. He earned a BA from Western Washington University, an MA from Hollins College, an MFA from Bowling Green State University, and a PhD from the University of Utah. 
Cairns is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Theology of Doubt (1985), The Translation of Babel (1990), Philokalia (2002), Idiot Psalms (2014), and Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (2015)His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Poetry, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in Best Spiritual Writing and Best American Spiritual Writing. Besides writing poetry, Cairns has also written a spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge (2007), and the libretto for the oratorios “The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp” and “A Melancholy Beauty.” Spirituality plays an integral role in Cairns’ writing; in an interview, he said, “I’ve come to think of beauty as how God woos us to himself. One doesn’t so much create it or illuminate it as partake of it. Thereafter, one participates, collaborates, in its endless development.”
Cairns has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was awarded the Denise Levertov Award in 2014. He has taught at numerous universities including University of North Texas, Old Dominion University, Seattle Pacific University, and the University of Missouri. Cairns is the founding director of Writing Workshops in Greece, a program that brings writers to study and engage with literary life in modern Greece.

Praise For Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (Paraclete Poetry)

Scott Cairns collected his poems in a new book entitled Slow Pilgrim, which recollects his pilgrimage as a Christian in many of the poems. Published by Paraclete Press, who kindly sent me a copy to review, the book brings theology and poetry together as often done by poets of the past. In this case, the pilgrimage comes through an embrace of the Orthodox church and apophatic theology, which helps us to know God, not by comparisons or figurative language but by showing us Who and What God is not. However, the poems also connect us to everyday events with a realism lacking in typical “religious verse.” As the Introduction tells us, these “poems address us in our quotidian experience of life: they are best experienced in an armchair, not in church.”
For example, “Archaeology: A Subsequent Lecture,” recalls:
“…the pleasure lies
in fingering loose ends toward likely shape,
actually making something of these bits
of persons, places, things one finds once one
commences late interrogation
of undervalued, overlooked terrain –
what we in the business like to call the dig.”
In addition to digging through our collective or individual past, these poems give us a new take on familiar Bible stories and intimate relationships. The more we read them, the more we begin to glimpse God drawn in the negative spaces of our lives and these highly recommended poems. —Mary Harwell Sayler, Poetry Editor & Poetry

Allowing yourself to be taken along with Cairns in these poems written across four decades is not an endeavor to be undertaken lightly. Cairns is no safe Christian thinker, dispensing tidbits of wisdom and truth to those poor oafs among us who still find faith and life is difficult. He writes the truth as best he can articulate it (as good as all poets do).
What is here gathered is a collection of the honest observations of one particularly awake life. The poetry of the ordinary—a husband who pauses just for a moment merely to observe the spontaneous beauty in his wife’s morning routine—and the poetry of the mystics—a lightening flash in the mind, revealing for a moment the precariousness, the sheer ridiculousness, of there being anything at all—are woven together here into a single tapestry. Cairns’ poetry draws is to direct our thoughts above the everyday and consider the gratuity, the simple givenness, of creation and because of this, to return to the everyday with trembling reverence. There is a thankfulness he seeks to foster in his readers (and, indeed, in himself).
Cairns is well versed in Christian theology, and his poetry will be a joy to those of us who are afflicted with the condition of being theologians. His poems are replete with illusions and inspirations from Greek saints, Christian doctrines and Scripture. The series of poems “Adventures in New Testament Greek” is a particular delight. In it, Cairns takes a single word and contemplates it in such a way that it unlocks, allowing the fullness of the gospel to shine through it.
David Bentley Hart once wrote that “God is no more likely (and probably a good deal less likely) to be found in theology that in poetry or fiction.” This collection stands as a confirmation of this observation. The God who gives life, who is the end and aim of all beauty and good, can be seen poking his wry smile through these pages. This book is a gift, a companion and a joy. Cairns has managed to bequeath to us a collection of poems so alive with Christian truth, and so unreservedly human, that we can do little else but receive it with gratitude and squeak out a meager “thank you”.Stephen Lawson, Englewood Review of Books

This is Cairns’ project—to reach for union, both in the self and with the unknowable heart of the universe. Cairns, a native of Tacoma, is a seasoned Christian—sometimes as a pilgrim, sometimes as a wrestler, sometimes as a lover.  Yet one need not be a Christian to appreciate his work. I imagine that to read Cairns as a non-believer would be like reading Gary Snyder or Jane Hirschfield as a non-Buddhist, or to read an Animist, a Sufi, or a Muslim. The idea of awe, the reach for the holy, is part of the human condition. One does read serious literature best if one is willing to be changed some, to be, in a sense, converted.
Cairns is slowly directional—he has a harbor to sail into.  For him it is the enigmatic Christ’s harbor, though the Cairns’ reader’s heart can sail, in these stormy times, to other ports. Slow Pilgrim is a seeker’s book for a journey begun with all the body—the sexual, the intellectual, the spiritual body all packed up as one. And to see this journey exemplified can do the reader good. His amusing, and sobering poem, “Possible Answers to Prayer,” acknowledges that whatever we ask for is generously re-interpreted to God. To paraphrase St. Paul, we don’t know how to pray as we aught, except the Spirit interprets our deepest moanings.  Such moanings are what one overhears and perhaps what one utters while reading Slow Pilgrim.