New poetry from Scott Cairns on containing the uncontainable
Often, when speaking of what he has called the poetic operation of language, Scott Cairns has characterized that event as our “glimpsing an indeterminate, inexhaustible enormity within a discrete space.” This is the poet’s continuing fascination with lacunae, those spaces, those openings that offer more within than appearances can register from outside the ostensible covert of their terms. Cairns is here focused upon how an image, a word, or—in the case of the Theotokos—a womb can contain the uncontainable. As Orthodox hymnography avers, she is more spacious than the heavens. So, too, the poet suggests, in its own, modest way, the poem might give birth to more, and more, and yet more than even the poet supposes.
Librettist, essayist, translator, and author of ten poetry collections, Scott Cairns is Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emeritus at University of Missouri. His poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, Image, Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and both have been anthologized in multiple editions of Best American Spiritual Writing. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006, and the Denise Levertov Award in 2014.
“Once more Scott Cairns’s limpid, laconic, beautifully crafted poetry brings us to the brink of language itself, opens us onto the lacunae, the gaps, the spaces left open to God, waiting to be filled with a mystery beyond words. These guide us, in Cairns’s phrase, toward ‘many, fleeting, lit lacunae’, each of which ‘bids the pilgrim enter’ to experience something momentary but also momentous. This is a book to savor slowly and return to often.” —Malcolm Guite, author Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God and other collections
“What I notice first in Scott Cairns’s poetry is always his exquisite sense for the beauty of language, a sonic complexity that draws me down the page. Next comes that feeling for a particular mind at work—a mind rich in thought, observation, theology, and wit—a mind always circling unsolvable problems, here figured around the simultaneous elusiveness and presence of the divine, of memory, and of mortality. Always, in this book, Cairns considers how the enormous might be contained in the everyday, how the divine can be held in the flash of an image, in a memory, in a thought. I have admired Scott Cairns’ brilliant work for many years. He’s in top form here.” —Kevin Prufer, author of The Fears
“These elegantly crafted and spiritually wise poems invite us to change how we see the empty spaces or lacunae we typically fill with distractions. Rather, Scott Cairns suggests, what is hollowed may become hallowed, places of encounter with the mystery that calls us to stand outside ourselves—calls us, that is, to ecstasy.” —Gregory Wolfe, Editor of Slant Books and author of Beauty Will Save the World and Intruding Upon the Timeless
“If you could remix George Herbert with Wallace Stevens, you might get Scott Cairns. Herbert’s theological word play and wit and Stevens’ insatiable mind become a kind of continuous prayer in Cairns’ newest book, Lacunae. For Cairns, language is a form of faith, faith that reaches out towards what is inexhaustible and uncontainable, and faith that trusts words can be a means of coming nearer to what necessarily remains out of reach. Cairns’ language roots itself in paradox: words are both “terminus and new departure”; and fullness draws near only as we become more empty. As in late Stevens, Cairns wants to see “what is” and, for him, what is inheres in immanence not transcendence, our bodies and the world’s body “abundantly here.” Lacunae is the work of a faithful and faith-filled man unafraid of letting his ego be seared, of living in time that continues “ticking in perplexity.”” —Robert Cording, author of In the Unwalled City and other collections
“Scott Cairns is the wisest of poets, a courageous figure who maps the contours and textures of the spiritual life with an exacting eye and ear for the music at the questioning heart of faith. His new book, Lacunae, is not only his most ambitious and formally various to date but also the most affecting. “Every/ word proves every bit as mysterious as/ the Word himself,” he writes, “and every term proves crux—// both terminus and new departure.” Here is a poet who daily finds in the quotidian inventive means of charting our ever-evolving relationship to the divine. This is a book for the ages.” —Christopher Merrill, author of Flares