Titania in Yellow – A Review

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Review by William Shaw

Titania in Yellow. Dayna Patterson. (Pork Belly Press, 2020) 44 pages. $10 at https://porkbellypress.com/poetry

Titania in Yellow by Dayna Patterson offers a rich and playful exploration of sex, parenthood, age, and death, through the lens of Shakespeare’s most magical heroines.

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream to As You Like It via The Merry Wives of Windsor, there is much in this chapbook which will please a Shakespeare geek. The first few poems focus on the titular fairy queen as she is first seduced by Bottom and then adopts and/or gives birth. The writing is subtle and intoxicating, and poetic conceits are consistently strong. In the prose poem “Titania’s Adoption Papers,” the banal question, “If you are granted adoption privileges, how will you raise your adoptive child? ” is answered:

With wolf howl and loon lullaby. Among birds and maidenhair fens. With bastions of banyan roots and shining beetle carapaces, grounded clouds and new lava. Among sprites, genii, phantoms, kirin, fairy folk. Fortressed in fences of trees and walls of air.

Themes of parenthood are frequently tied to the act of writing. The wonderful “Self-Portrait as Titania with Newborn Animus” concludes:

Milkmouth, warm flesh of poems I need
to write, I apologize in advance for the wounds.

All my words call for bandages.

This takes more playful form in the non-Titania poems, such as the delightful “How to Give Birth to Words” (“Follow neolexical twitterfeeds,/ and mimic those ab-brief-iating tweens”). The idea of raising children with Shakespeare is explored in “Watching The Merry Wives of Windsor with My Girls,” a feminist reading of one of Shakespeare’s more maligned plays. The poetic voice states that she watches Shakespeare with her daughters, “Because of Juliet and Ophelia,/ yes, but also Anne Page” and “Because a clever mother and clever daughter/ grow into — and out of — each other.”

From here the chapbook explores the notion of growing old alongside your children, most memorably in the heart-stopping “usque ad mala.” But the collection ends with perhaps its strongest poem, “Self-Portrait as Rosalind with Topophilia and Heresy.” Patterson captures the clumsy but earnest seduction of the heroine of As You Like It, and again the democratic attitude to writing leaps out:

I could fall for your
crouch and grapple
amateur verse inked
by your finger’s stylus
in the hollow of my left thigh


blue fruit we’ll scoop
into open mouths

and pails, treebreath loop
our hands stained with

It is the perfect ending to this warm and generous collection. 

William Shaw is a writer and poet from Sheffield, England. His writing has appeared in Star*Line, Space & Time, Imperica, and Doctor Who Magazine. His first book, The Black Archive #42: The Rings of Akhaten, is available from Obverse Books. You can find him on Twitter @Will_S_7 

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