Possible Answers to Prayer

By Scott Cairns

Poetry Out Loud: "Possible Answers to Prayer" performed by Courtney Stewart

About Scott Cairns

Scott Clifford Cairns was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1954. He earned a BA at Western Washington University, an MA from Hollins University, an MFA at Bowling Green State University, and a PhD at the University of Utah. Cairns has been the editor of the American Literary Review, and he directs Writing Workshops in Greece. In 2006, Cairns was awarded the Guggenheim Fellow Award, and earlier this year, he was awarded The Denise Levertov Award. He has written several poems, including "Into Hell and Out Again" and "To Himself."

Interpretation of the Poem

In "Possible Answers to Prayer," Scott Cairns is taking on the roll of God. He is saying through these humorous-then-sadly-real lines that he understands where radical religious people are coming from, and that he appreciates their attempts to impress him. However, towards the end, Cairn brings out the all-loving side of God by saying that he isn't at all impressed by their discrimination, their hate, and their superior feelings. He is saying that, although the radical religious people are doing what they are doing in the name of God, even God Himself is disappointed, even embarrassed by how far they go to prove their loyalty to Him. He's saying that so often, people say that God is choosing one race, one sex, one sexual orientation, et cetera to be superior to all others, but in reality, He loves all the ones they hate. Cairns voices this misconception in a powerful way, and uses repetition and strong verbs to describe the sarcastic humor and actual love of his personal version of God. For example, the Westboro Baptist Church, with its extreme homophobic views, is one such group that Cairns' portrayed God would almost laugh at.
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Theme of the Poem

I think the theme of "Possible Answers to Prayer" is something being brought up more and more today, though it's difficult to put into words - don't...hate...people... Despite that extremely vague interpretation of the theme, it's actually extremely simple; it's the whole idea of, it's okay to be religious, but don't use the name of God as an excuse to hate people on extreme levels. People have done this for centuries, this hating someone because "God told me they're scum, so I have to prove my loyalty to Him by making them feel worthless." This isn't new at all, and it doesn't seem to be going away, so that's what this poem is addressing. Cairns is basically saying, "You're using God's name as an excuse to hate an 'inferior' race, sexual orientation, et cetera, but what if he actually loves everyone equally? What if you're just using His name as a sort of universal linkage so you can get others to agree with you? What if that's what started all of this?"
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