Announcing “Lawless Women” by Heather Harris Bergevin

At BCC Press, we are all about breaking rules. And maybe the biggest rule in contemporary publishing  is “nobody reads serious poetry.” We say pshaw! As we found out with our blockbuster international bestseller Mother’s Milk, just about everybody reads serious poetry if it is also REALLY FREAKING GOOD. And just to prove it, we are doing it again.

Lawless Women, Heather Harris Bergevin’s new book, is probably not like any book of poetry you have ever read. It’s better—deeper, funnier, wiser, and, well, cooler. It does things. Lots of things. And you need to read it.

The title of the poem is taken from this enigmatic passage in the journal of Heber C. Kimball:

The Spirit said I should devote my time to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints and I should not be under the Law of Lawless women any more in time as I have fulfilled the Law and am now free from such Spirits.

Now, we are not quite sure what Brother Heber meant, but we are pretty sure that he was suggesting that “lawless women” were a bad thing. He certainly wouldn’t be the first. Men have been saying it for as long as there have been men. Think of Lawless Women as the rebuttal.

The introductory poem in the volume asks a a series of crucial questions:

What lives are lived
in quiet, patient desperation,
where law nor God approves
of your womanhood? What hope
redeems when God Himself abandon(ed/s)
and all is lost?
Does yet she come, that
Shekiniah gift, this
Goddess of trees, whose dead children
he hews to build our homes?
What desecration
sanctification
have we forgotten, we
Lawless women,
redeemed by God, abandoned by
man and men and authority
of men?

What stories have we as a culture lost, in other words, by giving men the authority to define women as “lawless” and then ignoring them? Bergevin asks this question in poem after poem through the eyes of the women that our cultures have defined as “evil” without ever listening to them: Eve, Medea, Vashti, Gothel (usually just called “the witch” in Rapunzel), Clytemnestra, Snow White’s wicked stepmother, Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, and Keats’ belle dam sans merci.

Interspersed with these magnificent poems we find poems about the life of a modern Mormon woman trying to navigate the confines of a world in which she is constantly defined as a part of somebody else’s story. Bergevin never rages at us, but neither does she tap us gently on the shoulder and ask politely for our attention—through the eloquence of her poetry and the moral urgency of her message, she demands it.

You need to read these poems. You need to listen to Heather Harris Bergevin’s voice and learn her stories. It is important:

Colossians
you tell me to speak yet
be silent
to defend, but not
the innocent.
you ask me to find my voice
and say my heart,
but carefully in only the right
tone
and not in classes,
or online,
or in the home,
or community,
so do (but don’t), unless
it’s what we say to say to say.
you tell me my life has meaning
purpose, direction, the right
to agency, to revelation
in my callings, my world, but
only the approved meaning
purpose
direction, agency
you choose and I seem to
begin to see that all
things and people are equal, just some
are still, after all
these years, more
equaller than others, and you say
Speak, Sisters!
And I speak,
and you read to me
Colossians.

Comments

  1. Andrew H. says:

    Heather introduced her poems and wrote about “Fairy Tales and Lawless Women” at the AML blog. http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2017/12/heather-harris-bergevin-fairy-tales-and-lawless-women/

  2. Just ordered mine. So excited!

  3. It’s a really beautiful and strong collection of poems that made me pause, and think, and feel. I’m so grateful I got a sneak peek.

  4. p.s. Thanks for the extremely generous shoutout. :)

  5. After reading the two examples here, you are so right. I need to read these poems. I think I might try going lawless too.