Church Ladies
Fernwood Press, June 2023


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


The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants
Belle Point Press, January 2023


The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants invites us to consider the difficulty of caring for living things. At the heart of such reflections lies an undercurrent of grief over the loss of a child and the trouble in finding ways to keep living. From neglected office plants or parking lot shrubs to roadside grass and backyard blooms, Renee Emerson evokes the sacramental through the most ephemerally permanent materials around us.

Threshing Floor
Jacar Press, September 2016


Threshing Floor is a serious book of poems in series.  These retellings of the Biblical Naomi are compelling and soulful.”
— Denise Duhamel

Threshing Floor tells the story of three women, their vulnerability and displacement; it will grip and hold women.  But, please God, may the book also be read by men—lots of men—because these poems are models of empathy in a world that sorely needs it.”

— Jeanne Murray Walker, author of Helping the Morning: New and Selected Poems

Keeping Me Still
Winter Goose Publishing, April 2014


Keeping Me Still is a collection of poems like keepsakes of what is lost and gained as we move on, grow, and reach for something bigger-always with hope. Renee Emerson’s debut collection of free-verse poetry delves into the spaces between people and the land, moving through the lush landscapes of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia while exploring the complex relationships between mother and daughter, sisters, and husband and wife.

Keeping Me Still, a finalist in the Jacar Press Julie Suk Award for Best Poetry Book Published by an Independent Press in 2014

 Praise for Keeping Me Still:

“In her poems ornamented with quotidian glimpses of fallen Southern beauty–morning glory vines, signs in front of roadside churches, chiggers in the grass–Renee Emerson sees the South anew.  These are stories of love and grace, laced with the leavening mystery of lyric and unflinching in their reaching after the knife-like truths of our living.”
– Bobby C. Rogers, author of Paper Anniversary Winner of the 2009 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize

“With a watchful, urgent eye, Renee Emerson has taken in the world as daughter, sister, wife, mother.  Here the daily becomes mythic–pregnancies and church services, sibling rivalries and the utterances of other women who judge.  Because her landscape is the South, the Bible, with all its portents, layers the poems in this quietly stunning debut.  In Emerson’s hands, faith is given the freedom to be complex and difficult, to be human in its failings and its consolations. Apprehension and restlessness trail the speaker in this collection, and with honest, unflinching reflection, she offers her readers neither solutions nor salvation but instead mesmerizing stories set to a music that might help us endure these everyday burdens.”
-Todd Davis, author of In the Kingdom of the Ditch and The Least of These

“Reading Keeping Me Still  resembles the pleasure of watching a gifted athlete. Emerson is a swift, muscular noticer: The coyote’s voice resembling a baby’s; Satan with his pitchfork on a country church marquee; A snakes’ coil like a diacritical mark; The moon ‘a mimosa-colored omen . . . God’s thumbnail.’ And the noticing is fierce, ardent rather than ornamental. The book’s central perception guides these images to a central focus: ‘there is something in love/ that calls for blood.’”
-Robert Pinsky, author of  Singing School

Review:Keeping Me Still by Renee Emerson,” by Christopher Frost, Neon Magazine


Why Silas Miller Must Learn to Ride a Bike
Winter Goose Publishing, November 2022silas_flat-1

After four years of watching his mother slowly die, Silas Miller knows a lot about sitting in hospital rooms and being alone. What mystifies him is making friends and talking to his grieving dad. The first summer without his mother, his dad agrees to house sit for his grandparents. The rural neighborhood offers as much adventure as it does trouble, and forces Silas to finally face what he doesn’t understand, and fears, including how to ride a bike.

“Why Silas Miller Must Learn to Ride a Bike captures the mystery and misadventures of a child’s summer while shadowed by grief. While getting into mischief with new friends, twelve-year-old Silas obsesses over his inability to ride a bike. His worries are only compounded by the recent death of his mother and the distance of his grieving father. Emerson perfectly captures the nature of loss in light of new possibilities and promises. Her novel never shies away from melancholy realities but still manages to provide plenty of levity and joy.”
– Megan Foster, writer for The Drizzle Review

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