Cairns’ writing doesn’t follow a certain theme, and he believes that his own language teaches him something. He trusts in his language to tell the readers what he is trying to say. His poems tend to be free verse, and sometimes he uses a conversational tone.
“I don’t think poets have subject matter except an engagement with the world because you want to make sense of what goes around you, what you see and you development a language on what you see,” said Cairns.
Most of Cairns’ poems are about religion, generally Christianity. The reason Cairns writes about religion is because he has immersed himself with religion by attending church regularly.
Cairns engaged with the audience by telling them that when he raised his eyebrow that would be a signal to laugh. He makes short comments about how we should laugh because his poems go from funny to serious.
Cairns has titled of some poems by just making the first sentence of the poem the title, just like Emily Dickinson. He also named one of his poems “Nothing.”
Cairns became a poet because poetry was around him while growing up. His father was a high school English teacher who liked poetry and sometimes brought poets in to talk to his class. When his father would have the poet come visit the school, the poet would also come over for dinner. Being around poets and poetry early in life, Cairns grew to like poetry. One of his favorite poets was William Stafford, whose beautiful poetry taught Cairns that not all “real” poets are dead.
Cairns’ has been getting his poems published since he was in college. He is currently a professor at the University of Missouri. He teaches many writing courses from general creative writing to courses on poetry.
This was the second appearance Cairns made to the University. The first time he visited the University was in 2008, and has noted the school has changed and grown bigger since he last visited.
“I’ve noticed it’s harder to park and it seems to be a thriving campus,” said Cairns.
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