Winner of the Association for Mormon Letters Poetry Award, 2020

If-Mother-Braids-a-Waterfall

“If, unlike Dayna Patterson, you didn’t grow up in a bedroom bookstore but still ‘haunt bookstores,’ as the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti advised, you’ll find in If Mother Braids a Waterfall an invocation of individualism that rings with top-shelf singularity, a resplendent reclamation in language that could out-freshen Eden.  Patterson’s vision ranges from atomic to cosmic, delivering satirical-sincere pronouncements that ‘The Mormons Are Coming,’ that ‘The Post-Mormons Are Leaving,’ and, with startling clarity and lyricism, that she is ‘Still Mormon,’ the way ‘scars glisten,’ the way ‘the peach tree drops its one swelling / to the ground,’ and the way a ‘poem is a room / and refuses the period’s lock.’ In these sparkling confluences and cross currents, Patterson saves space for impish irreverence: odes to polygamy, deity in drag, the mercies of ordinary mud, Star Trek or pioneer trek?—you choose. But Patterson’s master mode is an elevated swerve into the sublime, inviting us into exalted audacities and untethered raptures of praise for the women from her history and multiversal theologies, the Ellens and Susannahs in her generational line, mothers and grandmothers and wives of Brigham Young, along with the mystical matriarch ‘Eloher,’ who ‘season[s] everything’ and ‘hurtle[s] millions / of lightyears to be near / us.’ If Mother Braids a Waterfall doubles as revitalizing weave and awakening deluge, mixing voices of devotion and deviation with radiant reveries and, at times, sharp spiritual sunderings. Read and behold a reverberating language revival, a great awakening of verbs: the Mother God that ‘caterpillar[s] across the page / of our thoughts,’ the female seahorse that ‘tendrils her tail around his.’ Like the ‘grandgirl clacking her claws’ in ‘Dear Grandpa,’ these poems pinch back, bringing blood to the surface, dowsing readers in a refreshing roar of awareness. Read and unravel in the torrent.”

—Association for Mormon Letters Poetry Judge, 2020


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“‘I’m Mormon the way stars—rubbed out at noon … still burn’: Dayna Patterson’s bold, linguistically pyrotechnic and terribly moving testament to faith renounced and still omnipresent reclaims matriarchy and mitochondrial inheritance, making a chant from the names of Brigham Young’s polygamous wives, studying hard for belief through intimate epistolaries to ancestors in a past where polygamy is ‘familiar as summer / sweat.’ ‘The Mormons are coming,’ Patterson declares, and she interrogates that ancestral, theological, and gendered onslaught brilliantly through poems of fierce reinvention and homage: ‘Our orthodoxy/changed, etched over, effaced//by our palimpsestuous selves.’”

Bruce Beasley, author of All Soul Parts Returned; recipient of Colorado Prize for Poetry; professor of English at Western Washington University


“Stunning. Just stunning. I want to say Dayna Patterson is our latter-day May Swenson. I want to say this is the book they will read to know where the Mormons went. Thanks to Dayna for the astonishing talent and clear-sighted courage that created these poems. This is a book to be held close and treasured.”

Joanna Brooks, author, The Book of Mormon Girl; Associate Vice President of Faculty Advancement, San Diego State University


“Feeling the warm home of Mormonism turn chill and even deadly is experienced by many. But only a poet of the caliber of Dayna Patterson can bring that death to life, illuminate and stand witness to a loss ever present as a ‘choir that keeps singing after the beautiful organ fails.’ This book will resonate deeply with many post-Mormons and with others who want a front row seat to the drama of what happens to commitment when ‘conscience needles’ and ‘better angels prick.’”

Carol Lynn Pearson, author of Goodbye, I Love You; recipient of the Association for Mormon Letters Lifetime Achievement Award


“Patterson’s first full-length collection of poems is a history, a feminist revolt, and a personal unraveling of Mormonism, ancestors, family, and identity. These poems articulate conflict, secret narratives, homage, and questions to those long past who will never respond. From granddaughter to missionary to mother and poet, Patterson gives us poems that enchant, reveal, and document both myth and truth.”

Trish Hopkinson, author of Footnote; recipient of awards from the Utah State Poetry Society and Utah Arts Festival



“If Mormon art is an oxymoron, perhaps orthodoxy is to blame, an all too sureness in that sense of rightness of one’s glorious opinions and beliefs. Dayna Patterson’s book of poems, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite to such claims and strictures. Hers are heresies, necessary her-say, a collection of her-ms to be sung and passed down through a poly-perverse matrilineal. Whether you are LDS or not, you’ll feel an even deeper danger and courage that spiritual questions and visions demand, a hard-won logos.”


Timothy Liu, author of Of Thee I Sing; recipient of the PEN Open Book Margins Award and the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Faber First Book Award


A Few Reviews of If Mother Braids a Waterfall

Deborah Bacharach, Mom Egg Review.

Rachel Rueckert, Columbia Journal.

Sarah Law, Amethyst Review.

Star Coulbrooke, Sugar House Review.

Nancy Ross, Exponent II Magazine