Oyster River Pages: Who are the writers who have made you who you are?
Dayna Patterson: I’m fairly new to the world of creative nonfiction. I recently completed a hybrid MFA at Western Washington University and was privileged to take courses from Susanne Antonetta and Brenda Miller. We read heaps from brilliant essayists like Annie Dillard, Judith Kitchen, Nick Flynn, Carole Maso, Michael Ondjatee, and more. My home is poetry, though. I’ve studied under Star Coulbrooke, Christine Butterworth-McDermott, Oliver de la Paz, and Bruce Beasley. I adore Shakespeare.
ORP: What are the lenses that shape your worldview?
DP: At an early age, I was instilled with a reverence for wildness. Raised in a family that loved camping and hiking, my summers were filled with trips up Logan Canyon, or north to Yellowstone, or south to red rock country and Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon. We spent a week as a family backpacking in the Uintahs, swimming in the cold lakes and hoisting our food up into the trees at night to deter bears.
I was also raised Mormon, and even though I no longer hold to that faith, the influence of thirty years of indoctrination still carries weight. I was taught in my youth that everything on earth has a spirit—animals, trees, rocks—and that the earth itself has a spirit. It was ingrained in me that the earth and its inhabitants, therefore, are worthy of respect and care. That hasn’t stopped me from being a horrible arachnophobe, but I’ve gotten better at catch-and-release rather than squash-on-site.
ORP: What’s the most important thing you’ve read/seen lately?
DP: A few nights ago I watched the film The Promise, and I’m still reeling. We hear about 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, but I’d never heard of the Armenian genocide of 1.5 million people in the Ottoman Empire during WWI, a genocide Turkey has yet to acknowledge.
As for reading, yesterday, I absorbed a book on Lewis Hine and his crusade to end child labor. I’m haunted by Hine’s photographs of sooty children, barefoot and unsmiling. Five-year-olds peeling the shells off iced shrimp at the cannery. Little boys with bleeding fingers picking slate from coal. Small girls in the noisy spinning rooms of cotton mills.
ORP: What’s your least favorite word? Why?
DP: Hate. War. Any overused word that doesn’t spark or serve a purpose.
ORP: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve created? (line, image, story, etc.)
DP: My collection of poetry, O Lady, Speak Again, in which I creatively reimagine female characters from Shakespeare. Many of the poems are self-portraits as different characters, such as Juliet’s Nurse or Lady Macbeth. I’m currently shopping it around for a publisher.
ORP: What do you want to read more of in the world?
DP: I think we still need more women’s voices, more voices of minorities and the underrepresented. The neurodiverse and gender nonconforming. The more we make space for marginalized voices, hopefully our acceptance of difference and our capacity for empathy will increase.
ORP: How do you pay it forward?
DP: As a writer, I know how frustrating it can be to handle a mass of rejections, and conversely how wonderful it is to have editors fall in love with your work. That’s why, for me, it is almost a spiritual practice to be an editor. Several years ago, I began a small online poetry blog which has grown into an online literary journal, Psaltery & Lyre. We publish poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and hybrid work that engages with the sacred and/or profane, that explores the spectrum of belief and doubt. I love working with writers to showcase their pieces, turning the limelight toward their brilliance. It is humbling and deeply satisfying.
ORP: What is the space that has shaped you the most?
DP: Even though I’ve settled in the lush, rainy Pacific Northwest, my consciousness will be forever imprinted with the landscape and climate of my hometown, Logan, Utah. It sits nestled in Cache Valley between the Wasatch and Bear River mountain ranges. Cold and snowy in winter, dry and hot in summer, it is a place of extremes. It is steeped in Mormon religious tradition, founded by Mormon pioneers with Logan Temple, only the fourth LDS temple ever built, crowning a hilltop, floodlit at night like a giant beacon. It’s a place where coffee and liquor have the status of contraband, and you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant open on the Sabbath. The people are generous and kind-hearted to a fault, but also sheltered, literally by the mountains, figuratively by the peculiarities of faith and small-town life.
ORP: You’ve just written your autobiography. What’s the title?
DP: Titles are hard. Maybe Mormon Girl: In the Green Time. Or A Feast of Apostrophes. Or I Wrote Rhyming Hate Notes in Fourth Grade.