If you could hear him read, you would understand. You see, the lilt of his voice, the natural pauses, sometimes expectant of your discernment of implied laughter, the gentle inflection upon just the right word-well, if you could hear them, then you would sense the real genius between these covers. But we only have words; which, according to Mr. Cairns, bear some weight: 'Repentance
, you'll observe, / glibly bears the bent / of thought revisited, / and mind's familiar stamp / - a quaint, half-hearted / doubleness that couples / all compunction with a pledge / of recurrent screw-up. / The heart's metanoia
, / on the other hand, turns / without regret, turns not / so much away, as toward, / as if the slow pilgrim / has been surprised to find / that sin is not so bad / as it is a waste of time.' Cairns' poems, in this selection from all his previous collections save Recovered Body
, in addition to new ones never published, remind and inform us of the really important things: Death: 'The thing to remember is how / tentative all of this really is. / You could wake up dead.' And Life: 'What stillness their hearts must know; these bathers / laid out and glistening along the dissolve / of an ancient sea, / their bodies-so late from brief exercise; / so lately thrown down in exhaustion- / already marbled'. And triumph over Death: 'Everything we know as well as everything we don't in all / creation came to be in that brief, abysmal / vacuum The Holy One first opened in Himself. / So it's not so far a stretch from that Divine Excess / to advocate the sacred possibility / that in some final, graceful metanoia
He / will mend that ancient wound completely, and for all.' 161 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
For Scott Cairns, a poem is not so much a means of expression as it is a way of discovery. It is not so much a document of past experience as it is an occasion for new experience, and the construction of a scene in which the collisions of words and their provocative, generative energies bring about new matter and new vision. Spanning thirty years and including selections from four of his previous five collections, Compass of Affection further enacts the poet's longstanding engagement with language as revelation, and his insistence that poetry be understood less as an expression of what is already known, and more as a way of knowing. Observing these further developments, one comes to suspect that Cairns? poems are no longer to be understood as discussions of theology, but as theology performed.