An invitation into the lives of women in the church—prophetesses, wives, saints, mothers, martyrs, daughters, and anyone who has been a tender of a family or community.
Through lush descriptions, startling images, and a lineage of fierce foremothers, this book illuminates the joys, burdens, steadfastness, and grief of women nurturing faith and the faithful across generations. —Molly Spencer, author of If the House and Hinge
Renee Emerson’s ambitious and affecting third collection of poetry, Church Ladies, reads like a Who’s Who of inspiring women from the ages, in particular, Christian “women / growing wild as if sprung up from the dust, / or taken, gently, from a bone.” On these poignant pages, we readers discover the kind of unceasing prayer warriors and quirky Sunday School teachers we may have encountered in our youths, or perhaps, rub shoulders with now, who, like the poet writes of Anne Hutchinson, have gone “into the world / bearing no arms, only God’s truth.” This sensibly orchestrated collection’s rich, diverse voices explore the “terrible / separation” between word and deed, man and woman, God and saint. And so we find Susanna Wesley “pray[ing] in her apron tabernacle”; Mary McLeod Bethune, wide-eyed and wise as a serpent, teaching students as the KKK’s “cross / screamed fire from the front lawn”; and Pandita Ramaba wishing she’d been a mystic but refusing to “pray to be born / exactly what she was not.” Indeed, Emerson “swaddle[s]” her readers in the “soft indent / of …ink” as she likewise declares, “If a stone can cry, why / not a woman?” How delighted we are that like Margery Kempe, Emerson, too, has refused to “take up/quietness like a pat of butter on the tongue.” —Julie L. Moore, author of Full Worm Moon
In the poems of Church Ladies, Renee Emerson creates vibrant voices for religious women ranging from Saint Hildegard of Bingen to Mahalia Jackson. She complements these memorable monologues with a handful of lyric poems that are prayerful but never preachy; this book would make a splendid gift to yourself or for those you love. —A.M. Juster, author of Wonder and Wrath
Renee Emerson’s Church Ladies is an invitation into the lives of women in the church—prophetesses, wives, saints, mothers, martyrs, daughters, and anyone who has been a tender of a family or community: in other words, those who know “the day has no end to its asking.” Through lush descriptions, startling images, and a lineage of fierce foremothers, this book illuminates the joys, burdens, steadfastness, and grief of women nurturing faith and the faithful across generations. The faith of Emerson’s speakers, however, is not an easy one, nor is it sustained by miracles and majesty. Instead, it’s carved out of dailiness and acknowledges the toll of life’s losses. In the end, Church Ladies is a complex and moving praise song to the persistence of anyone who can say, “when I held out my open hand / I didn’t choose what God took from it,” and who—like the women of this book—holds out their open hand again and again anyway. —Molly Spencer, author of If the House and Hinge
From Julian of Norwich to Anne Hutchinson, Mother Teresa, Ruth Graham, and the devoted “church ladies” who pick up small-town kids in their Baptist outreach vans, women are the “roots of spirit sinking down” into the hard soil of church history. With compassion and wit, Emerson illuminates the depths of their devotion, doubt, secrecy, and sacrifice in a way that makes me proud to follow in these flawed and faithful footsteps. —Tania Runyan, author of What Will Soon Take Place
is the author of two previous poetry collections, Keeping Me Still and Threshing Floor, and the middle grade novel Why Silas Miller Must Learn to Ride a Bike. She lives in Missouri with her husband and five children.