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Scott Cairns

Scott is available to speak on: Poetry, The Gift of an Artist’s Vocation, The Gift of Prayer, “The Orthodox Democrat: Traditionally Progressive”, Mount Athos and more »


“Ask Scott Cairns a question,” says one recent interviewer, “and you’re likely to end up his straight man.” Humor, a keen eye for irony, and what another commentator has called “a deep, bass note of joy” are the central elements of his poetry, his essays, and his conversation.”

Jeff Gundy, writing for The Christian Century, asserts: “From Baptist to Presbyterian to Orthodox — that’s hardly a conventional trajectory for an American Christian, even less usual, perhaps, than claiming to be a Christian poet…” Scott Cairns will be the first to tell you that his journey of faith and the development of his poetry are intimately connected. He says, “the poems—the writing of the poems, learning to lean into the language, learning to trust poetry as my vocation—actually led me to Orthodoxy.”

The titles of his books may even serve to chart the course:

  • §  The Theology of Doubt (1985),
  • §  The Translation of Babel (1990),
  • §  Figures for the Ghost (1994),
  • §  Recovered Body (1998),
  • §  Philokalia (2002),
  • §  Compass of Affection (2006),
  • §  Idiot Psalms (2015),
  • §  Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (2016).

Dr. Cairns’ poems have appeared in numerous anthologies, and a wide range of literary journals, including such esteemed secular venues as The Paris ReviewThe Atlantic MonthlyPoetryThe New Republic, as well as such esteemed religious journals as The Christian CenturyMars Hill Review, SpiritusBooks & Culture, and Image. His work regularly appears in national and international anthologies, including several appearances in Best American Spiritual Writing.

He has twice been interviewed for Mars Hill Audio. In 2007, HarperOne published his spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge, about his journeys to Mount Athos and to a life of prayer. That same year, Paraclete Press published his book of translations, Endless Life: Poems of the Mystics. His book-length essay, The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain, was published by Paraclete Press in 2009. Publishers’ Weekly has named that book among its picks for Best Books of 2009, listing it in the top three in the religion category.

He is also a favorite feature at such conferences as the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, and is a frequent reader/lecturer at colleges and universities, both secular and sectarian; increasingly, in recent years, he has presented his works at churches, both East and West. His readings from new and published works open up the beauty and power of poetry to even the most stubborn of listeners. His readings have been known to make converts — to poetry, if not to Orthodoxy.

Besides offering poetry and nonfiction readings, Cairns is frequently asked to offer lectures and Q&A discussions on the subjects of poetry, sacramental poetics, Mount Athos, and Orthodox spirituality; he is happiest when the interests of his audience allow these various subjects to converge.

His current projects include Becoming God, a book-length essay on théosis, and a new collection of poems whose working–title is Anaphora. He was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2006, and received The Denise Levertov Prize in 2014. He is Professor of English at the University of Missouri, and has recently been named director of the Seattle Pacific University MFA Program in Creative Writing.


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