It is almost as if writer Dayna Patterson woke up one morning and said, “I’m going to write a book tailor-made for Jake.” Her new poetry collection O Lady, Speak Again masterfully blends Mormon and Shakespearean elements. For a person who earned his English degree within the shadows of the everlasting hills, what could be better?

My personal qualifications to review Patterson’s work include the afore mentioned degree, being born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having served a full-time mission, and having both read and seen all 38 plays attributed to Shakespeare.[1] Oh, one other qualification, or bias rather: I’ve previously read Dayna’s collection If Mother Braids a Water Fall, so I already know I like her poetry. She also helped compile Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. Dayna Patterson is a master poet and a powerful voice within Mormon literature.

O lady, speak again. Replace end with and. Amend, upend, augment, reinvent, retell, unveil, expound, expatiate, chide, upbraid. Sound off and sound deep. Hail and hold. Spout and spiel and speak.”

Excerpt from the poem “Dramatis Personae”

If you are wary of poetry—speaking as one who is both wary of it and guilty of it—Patterson may be the poet who wins you over. She blends nimble wordsmithing with an unflinching treatment of real-world experience. The lofty lyricizing is there, along with the mysterious metaphors, but the subjects are relevant and thought-provoking: problematic mother-daughter relationships, oppressive patriarchy, and marriage (or as I like to call it, the undiscovered country).

O Lady, Speak Again is divided into five acts, just like the text of Shakespeare’s plays. Though, like stage directors do, readers should feel free to dispense with those divisions and read it however you want. I went in page order, but I could have skipped around, zeroing in on poems which reference favorite characters like Titania, Viola, and Gertrude. Sometimes you don’t even need to read left to right. Patterson’s most inventive pieces utilize contrapuntal (multi-column) layouts, with the potential to read the poem several ways and have it all still work.

“And Why Not Change the Story?

Shakespeare certainly did.
In his sources, Juliet was 16.
He made her 13,
just shy of a sonnet.”

There is tension in Patterson’s double-toil-and-trouble approach to the material, and much of that tension is dramatically desirable. Having a poem adapt the feminine angst in King Lear to a polygamous marriage is a great idea. Likewise, by invoking the comedy Twelfth Night, Dayna is able to explore gender fluidity. The resulting poetry is powerfully relevant to a 21st century religion being pulled apart by the struggle between staunch doctrinal approaches to gender and the call for LGBTQ+ inclusion. And in summoning Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dayna gifts us an updated portrait of an outspoken goddess who clearly enjoys sex and is not the least bit sorry about that.

The interplay of Shakespeare and Mormonism is neither effortless nor guaranteed to succeed. Some poems brand themselves Shakespearean by way of a quick character reference, but soon drop all pretense and dive into being wholly Mormon. Other poems may sport a Mormon prop or label, but otherwise delve wholly into Shakespeare’s world. The marriage sometimes feels uneven.

I wondered while reading O Lady, Speak Again. Is this collection a comedy, which is to say a story where the initially awkward lovers (Mormonism and Shakespeare) ultimately achieve a successful marriage? Or will this be a tragedy, where the star-crossed pair end up poisoning each other? Either way, this book is a tumultuous marriage of two literary worlds—the courtship of which we know goes back at least as far as the Book of Mormon’s transcription.[2]

“One by one within a month, four siblings bring their grievances before / Father, ruler of our domain. The laws of the home are too strict, they / complain, no gum in the house—let alone sex or booze… A three-hour dose of church Sunday morning, / an hour of seminary each day. …They hyperbolize to shock, say they’ve tried heroin, crack, watch / Father crumble to new resolve, his whiplash no longer lax. …

I cloister myself in my room, like a Mormon nun,
except there’s no such thing. …”

Excerpts from “Self-Portrait of Isabella as Mormon Middle Child”

The resulting union is never more powerful than in the poem “Juliet Ode.” With a title like that, the poem could easily have been the book’s most obvious and belabored adaptation. Instead, Patterson intermingles the angst of mother, daughter, and even fangirl, producing a showstopping speech worthy of performance on the Globe Theatre’s stage. We witness the heartbroken yet defiant spirit of a person who has, through tragedy, developed a testimony of her own worth. The tragedy? Realizing perhaps too late to ever heal, how that worth has been subjugated and abused by patriarchal religion (be it in a Mormon chapel, on an Elizabethan stage, or via the reckless artistry of the boy’s club that was 1960s cinema).[3]

My reading of O Lady, Speak Again also came with some undesirable tension. Various pieces display showy poetics. I earlier mentioned the use of two-columned poems. This, and other forced devices like extra spacing between words and extravagant lists of object nouns, with no pause to explore their meaning, grew a bit tiresome for me. It is no different than walking up to a Picasso painting and saying, “Yeah, this one just isn’t doing anything for me.” That’s more a statement of preference than a technical criticism.

In her Signature Books podcast interview, Dayna revealed how this collection started as an MFA capstone project. It bears the sometimes off-putting mark of what Mary Oliver referred to as poets tap dancing with words at the expense of their message[4]. Though, if one incorporates Shakespearean voice into contemporary poetry, a little tap dancing is both appropriate and necessary. The Bard never passed up a chance to halt the story’s action for the sake of landing a heroic couplet.

Ultimately, O Lady, Speak Again won me over by virtue of Patterson’s clear love of the dual subject, her mastery of word choice, and her commitment to rendering real life with meaning and passion. Late in the collection, she gives readers an aside, the classic stage device where a Shakespearean character turns to the audience and speaks directly to them. Waiting till late in the book to do this allows the moment to be earned:

“Weary of I, I disguised myself in manifold faces, prayed
to the goddess of in-between to help me spin these makings.

…I perform for the mind a quiet drama,

addicted to happy endings, when reality loops and spirals, serial
tragicomedies jumbled to something in between—ah Hecate…”

Excerpts from “Anagnorisis—on the Playhouse Mainstage”

O Lady, Speak Again has the potential to engage both Mormon and non-Mormon readers, both poetry lovers and poetry skeptics. If my review has failed to convince you this book is worth ordering, I suggest listening to Dayna’s interview on a recent Signature Books podcast, available for free wherever you get your podcasts. You will hear an engaging discussion on many topics relevant to contemporary Mormons, and you will also get to hear Dayna read a sampling of her poems, including the powerful “Juliet Ode.” Highly recommended!

Questions for Discussion

Thank you for reading! Have you read O Lady, Speak Again? If so, what were your impressions? What are your thoughts on the excerpts I included above? More generally, what elements of Mormonism do you find most Shakespearean, or vice versa? Comments welcome below.


[1] Going with the total of 38, based on my trusty old copy of The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed., published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

[2] Much is rightly made of Father Lehi paraphrasing Hamlet in 2 Nephi 1:14. But to my mind, the prophet Jacob uttering the word “adieu” in Jacob 7:7 is just as likely to have come from the author and proprietor’s exposure to Shakespeare.

[3] The stars of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film Romeo and Juliet have recently sued over the circumstances surrounding their appearing nude in the film. Both were teenagers at the time.

[4] See