[Review Exchange] Review of Titania in Yellow by Dayna Patterson

Cover of "Titania in Yellow" by Dayna Patterson: a pink butterfly hanging upside-down from a bare branch, against a pale yellow background.
Review of Titania in Yellow by Dayna Patterson
Porkbelly Press, 2019
44 pages, $10, paper

Review by Trish Hopkinson

I was immediately taken by the lush, lyrical language and imagery within Titania in Yellow, the third chapbook by Dayan Patterson, published shortly before her most recent full-length collection If Mother Braids a Waterfall (Signature Books, 2020). The cover features beautiful artwork of moths on a golden background by Kathleen Piercefield, artfully incasing poems of faeries, changelings, magic potions, motherhood, and all that is feminine. 

This collection is in response to several works by Shakespeare, with most poems focusing on characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Themes throughout are often expressed via the personas or self-portraits of Titania, Bottom, and Rosalind, with engaging variety and just the right amount of white space. Because I am not well-read in Shakespeare, it was a pleasure to take my time with each poem—a first read, a little research on characters, some quick translation, and then a second read, now better informed by this poet’s intriguing approach with the use of Latin phrases and other languages. That said, even without knowing the background of the characters, the poems sit beautifully within their own lyrical phrasing.

In the first poem, readers are introduced to the love-potion longing of Titania and her intense desire for Bottom (whose head has been turned into the head of an ass by Puck) followed by several poems from Titania’s narrative. Patterson displays her masterful capability of word choice and sonic splendor throughout the collection. I specifically enjoyed the well-purposed alliteration in “Titania in Hypnopompic Bower” and the unexpected shift into the list-like poem of “Titania’s Adoption Papers,” which begins:

         Please list your assets and/or gross family income:

                 All the trees of the forest, all the moss of river

                 stones, every mushroom, toadstool, lichen, all lesser

                 fairies, every moth, cobweb, peaseblossom, mustard

                 seed, every sparking star, every flower’s nectar, all

                nutshells, rainwater, honeycomb, tree blood.

I connected with this unique and modern approach to Titania’s circumstances, while still keeping within such faerie mysticism. The next poem “ab ovo” presents to readers the overarching theme of the collection—from beginning to end—inspired by the Latin phrase ab ovo usque ad mala: from the egg to the apples. 

The poems gracefully continue to tie together modern references, such as Twitter and Thelma and Louise, to the previously mentioned age-old terminology and texts. We catch a glimpse of the poet herself and I was taken with the way the poems resonated with my own poetic identity. Lines like “Milkmouth, warm flesh of poems I need / to write, I apologize in advance for the wounds” from one of my favorite poems in the chapbook “Self-Portrait as Titania with Newborn Animus,” as well as in the poem “Watching The Merry Wives of Windsor with My Girls,” where Patterson leans into feminism and gives us some insight into her relationships with her daughters and with women, admiring the “world-wise women, / watching each other’s back” and “Because we coven of sisters /

fledge in flocks.” There is a kinship in these pages of parenthood and womanhood that I can not resist. 

I too, have feminist leanings in my creative work, and was fortunate enough to have my chapbook Almost Famous published by Yavanika Press around the same time as Patterson’s, so it was truly a pleasure to connect with her and her poetry in this way. One of the things I enjoy about writing reviews is spending time with the words, reading in close, and reflecting on my personal relationship to the art. I discovered many insights as I researched and studied these poems—not only about Shakespeare’s plays, but also about myself. Patterson too, agreed to write a review of my chapbook—making this a rewarding exchange and another mode of support between fellow poets and creative women. 

As I reread these poems this Mother’s Day weekend, rich with descriptions of the feminine—menstruation, birth, the body, and both the beauty and pain of being a mother—I can’t help but to be grateful for my own experience as a mother and how well those complex emotions are represented within the pages of this pleasing and meaningful collection. 

See Dayna’s review of Trish’s chapbook in this month’s issue HERE! 

BIO:Trish Hopkinson is a poet, blogger, and advocate for the literary arts. You can find her online at SelfishPoet.com and provisionally in Utah. Hopkinson will happily answer to labels such as atheist, feminist, and empty nester; and enjoys traveling, live music, wine-tasting, and craft beer.