In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

prayer. One moves from physical to spiritual food and drink—‘‘Bananas soaked in milk/Coconuts shaved into/moon-/curls’’—the imagery vivid, arresting, and evocative. This reviewer must, however, quibble: the footnotes are distracting, not always accurate, or provide information available in a good dictionary. Rainer Maria Rilke, though a German-language poet, grew up in Prague in the AustroHungarian Empire, and was not ‘‘German’’ (70); the ‘‘assumption’’ to which Thomas Merton refers is probably not Mary’s, as the note tells us, but instead Christ’s, given the context (24); Lent is not an exclusively Catholic season (23); and so forth. Readers can look up ‘‘palimpsest,’’ ‘‘Advent,’’ ‘‘Pentecost,’’ and the like on their own; an editor can expect readers of imaginative literature to make use of a dictionary when needed. What anthologies might be of interest to those who, like Hankins, hunger for anthologies of poems of devotion? Donald Davie’s New Oxford Book of Christian Verse (2003) remains an immensely useful book, and Jay Hopler’s and Kimberly Johnson’s Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry (Yale, 2013) an excellent addition, both spanning centuries. Hankins focuses his attention on the more recent, and his choices are exciting; one returns to the poems again and again with pleasure, appreciation, and heightened understanding. Hankins, poet and editor, prepared a fine feast. Greg Miller Millsaps College Scott Cairns. Idiot Psalms: New Poems. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2014. Pp. viii + 88. $17.00. ISBN 978-1-61261-515-8. My five-year-old reads with incredulity the cover of the little orange book I have in my hand. ‘‘Dad, why does your book say Idiot?’’ Fair question, kid; it’s not a word we use in our house. Because we want to be honest with him and take him seriously , I try to explain rather than evade. I say the word means ‘‘someone who doesn’t know much,’’ and these poems were about how compared to God we don’t know much. Succinct and direct, I think: parenting win. I proceed to tell a story about Socrates and the oracle, but he has moved on already. Of course, my response greatly simplifies Cairns’s book, but at the same time it—and the whole situation—captures something essential to it. This is a book of an intelligent man searching for the words to describe his experience under conditions in which neither he nor the words are adequate. Whatever he says may from one point of view sound wise but from another must really be foolish, and yet he cannot help but speak, beckoned to language by the presence of another. And these are an intellectual’s poems, poems which offer meat for the lover of paradox and aporia but relatively spare fare for the sampler of dramatic scenes and sumptuous Book Reviews 231 detail. The latter’s attention will wander from the page precisely when the former is just starting to get interested. If you liked Cairns’s earlier work, you will find again the familiar voice that invites you into his world with its casual warmth seasoned with a careful irony. But the poems here are rarified, pushed even further toward the idea than many of his previous collections. Scott Cairns 110 proof. The poems are divided into four sections, with an introductory poem, ‘‘High Plane,’’ which serves well to delineate many of the major themes of the collection in the form of reflections from 35,000 feet. From above, the clouds appear ‘‘as a field of snow, as a field of Arctic ice’’; one thing seems another—the simple and profound structure of metaphor. The metaphorical nature of language is both the problem and the solution for Cairns, the need for poetry (think Shelley) and the opportunity to speak of highest things (Coleridge?). Metaphor reaches beyond the waters that frame us as ocean and cloud to seek the rarer air above the canopy. Reaching that place where the ceiling becomes the floor in ‘‘High Plane,’’ Cairns first finds questions—‘‘What firmament is this? What waters? What/manner of divide?’’—and then, after a sip of whiskey (I couldn’t help noting that...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 231-234
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.