"A Life That Has
The Poetry of Susan Rowland
It was her books
of Jungian literary theory, essays and book reviews, with
which I was familiar. The
as a surprise, and a revelation, because
unlike most poets oriented to the natural world, Rowland
doesn't stand apart when writing about non-human nature. Instead,
it seems as if this poet sends down roots that draw
words up from the moist chthronic depths.
owes its stance to science, which, beginning
in the 19th Century sprouted the seeds planted by English
philosopher and Franciscan
friar, Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1294), taking the gnostic
out of knowledge to create an illusion of distance between observer
The so-called "scientific method" has worked well,
at least for humans, giving us
I-Phone. However, these benefits are packaged with nuclear
weapons and missile-launching drones. Balanced between life-giving
and death-taking, the list of technology's
accomplishments is enormous. But the scientific method also created
a cascade effect.
opening paths to many others, discoveries began
faster than philosophers, or government agencies, could place
them into the complexities of reality's picture, until
what we got was an entanglement of substances and dreams.
On the first day
of the year
I sat under dark trees
That went up forever and became
The sky’s dim vault. (1)
Susan Rowland was
born in London. She graduated,
with honors, from Oxford University; received an MA, with distinction,
from London University, and a Ph.D. from the University
of Newcastle. After teaching for 15 years at The University of
Greenwich, she resigned her position as Professor of
English and Jungian Studies and immigrated to Southern California,
where she is presently Core Faculty in Pacifica Graduate
Depth Psychology and Engaged
Humanities with an Emphasis on Creativity programs.
the trees are green halls for the gods,
And I am a woodland creature.
In her seventh
the "dream of a ghostly child," who appears
in Emily Bronte's novel, Wuthering
Heights, Rowland writes that the apparition "can
be read...as a deforming act of the imagination." She
goes on to say:
'other'. This is the patriarchal perspective. Yet additionally,
to perceive these ghosts
is also to make visible what has been invisible."(2)
laboratory microscope to space-based telescope, making "visible
what has been invisible"
is perhaps technology's greatest triumph; especially because
it is achieved without figuring in that annoying "ghost
to ponder by bench-warming
intellectuals. And although Rowland has written extensively from
a feminist perspective, she makes clear that niches
such as "Earth Mother" and "Sky Father" are
and men need sky father consciousness based upon separation,
earth mother consciousness based upon somatically erotic
connections. Additionally, sky father and earth mother are
models of transcendence and immanence respectively....It is
to remember that earth mother is feminine but not female.
'She' is prior to the separation into genders, prior to the
into those two interpretations." (2)
mode of discernment serves as the seedbed of Rowland's
I come for divination,
My body has tides
Where the planet swims,
Blood is patterned by the stars,
And the earth’s breath is warming. (1)
If Rowland weren't
a literary scholar, her achievement
would be less remarkable, as to live the life of both professor
and poet has always been challenging. Some renounce the
academic life completely. Others become professors late in their
writing career. Still others teach as visiting
professors. For Rowland, teaching is
as much a calling as her need to write, a substance of her very
life-blood. It is in is in her poems that body and mind, woman
and scholar, are unified. Perhaps it is insights such as, "My
body has tides / Where the planet swims, / Blood is patterned
by the stars, And the earth’s breath is warming,"(1) that
have enabled her
to move freely amongst the strictures of syllabi and "that
which is untamed and
Many of Rowland's
poems, that until recently have been sequestered in
journals, take place in London parks: "Here earth’s
wooden breath / Has muscles and a throat /
That roars through stone"(5);
the 5000 acres of Portland Oregon's Forest Park: "Trees
sing in every wind; we hear the breath /
Beneath the beat, and dream only tree-flesh, /
Waking to a mouth full of leaves"(6);
and the shores and mountains of California's coast: "These
mountains shred bones / Into clouds: are the bruises / In the
silence; Their rooks grind out the dark."(7)
There are publications
that ask literary critics to declare what their relationship
is to the writer under review. I think it was an appropriate
concern, especially in the days when there were major poetry
movements. An example of this is the Beat Poets, who
much about, and praised so much, each other. Jack Kerouac made
a career of mythologizing his friends,
just as Allan Ginsberg lionized Kerouac; while Lawrence Felinghetti
published many of them. This sort of exchange is
the way movements build their
in a 1973 interview, Gary Snyder said, "I met a lot of poets
in the fifties, and we nourished each other in a grand way. We
and we became a small, quote, "culture," warm and moist
and nourishing—and we grew out of that..."(8) More
important, I suggest, is to recognize that from where
to poet. In fact, one
of Susan Rowland's central approaches to C.G. Jung's theory of
that the unconscious part of the psyche was intrinsically creative,
and at least in
part could never be known by the rational faculty of the
In this way the psyche could be compared to a wilderness
with its own indigenous wild creatures."(2)
At base of spine
The dark flowers black
In pools of sky,
Leaving a husk, ash and leaf-mold.
The wind hurts and crows carve
Inhuman music from the air.
Spent petals quiver
Until kicked away by bees.(9)
We are embodied
and our body is the earth. There is darkness and depression,
illness and death. Crows circle, singing their riotous caw
Flowers, their colors faded from winter's frost, quiver when
brushed by the tiny legs of bees.
of ancient instructions says that the first temple was,
like a hive, constructed of bees' wax and birds' feathers:
feathers, ye birds, and wax, ye bees.' The temple attendants
were priestesses called melissae, or 'bee maidens.'"(10)
bee is Aphrodite herself, accompanied by transgendered
priests called essenes, drones, and the high priestess,
the Hymen, who presided over marriages and the Honey Moon. But humanity's
will to power has overpowered its imagination. The Old Ways
have become dysfunctional and reactionary.
"We took our
wounds / Into this forest, / Where leaves drip sweat / And the
ground hisses / With coiling pipes, Spraying the grass / To cheat
the eye that burns." (11) So,
Green Man tramps
On bleeding feet; with
He exhales a seed.
With no hedge
between city and wilderness, the Green Man strides
from lush forest
across the city's sere pavement on
naked bleeding feet. His blood paints symbols of "a
different masculinity...more for Dionysus's emotional attunement
to his natural surroundings and to the women
Eros into urbanity's gray matter.
You and I, my love, hold hands
In every oak, beech, holly and silver birch,
From our entangled bodies,
New trees grow. (9)
the world and create technologies; others imagine a world
and create poems. As every technology has its shadow,
every work of art has its ghost.
In her groundbreaking
as a Writer, the first to examine the Swiss psychologist's
work as creative writing, Rowland addresses the perplexing
philosophical issue of being and
deconstruction it is the idea of ghosts, or more properly
as beings that defy the binary logic of being present or
absent, alive or properly dead, that disturbs the rational
systems of modernity."(13)
I am reminded
of the Zen story of the master and his student at a funeral.
The master taps the coffin and asks, "Dead or alive?" The
student has no answer. So the master replies, "Neither dead
nor alive." Then there is Schrödinger's Cat, in which
the physicist conducts a thought experiment that has a cat in
a sealed box. The cat may be dead or alive, depending on
a previous random event.
Copenhagen School of quantum mechanics would have
dead and alive at the same time. The question I would like
to pose is more spectral: Is a ghost neither dead
nor alive, or both dead
that Jung "disputes the binary alternatives false/true when
applied to the existence of spirits. Ghost stories may be a means
to a truth
is not what they purport to describe. Jung asserts that such
tales cannot prove anything about survival after
death. So they are neither 'true' in the sense of being actually
emissaries of the dead, nor 'false' in the sense of having
no 'reality' at all."(13)
Living one's life
as a composite of stories may
sticky philosophical, if not spiritual,
at once real to the psyche and imaginary when projected onto
the physical world. And
if this is how reality is, or at least how we may experience
enthusiastic again, we
can continue the journey our ancestors
began when they dared to become human—
A footprint, a heartprint,
Turning the planet on silent hinges,
A life that has always been:
We creatures of stardust;
Entangled, warm, breathing, sleeping, one new bud
Curled between earth and sea. (14)
References and Notes:
Rowland, S. From, "Openings."
2- Rowland, S. (2012) The Ecocritical
Psyche: Literature, Evolutionary Complexity and Jung. Hove,
3- Olson, C. From, "I Believe in You..."
4- Atchity, K. & Barber, E.J.W. (1987) "Greek
Princes and Aegean Princesses: The Role of Women
in the Homeric Poems." In K. Atchity, et al., Editor, Critical
Essays on Homer. Boston: G.K. Hall. They are addressing
Poseidon, God of the Seas.
5- Rowland, S. From, "Winter Wood, England."
6- Rowland, S. From, "Love in the Rain."
7- Rowland, S. From, "Santa Ynez,"
8- Snyder, G. (1973). "Craft Interview. In, The Real Work: Interviews
& Talks 1964-1979. New York: New Directions Books, 1980.
9- Rowland, S. From, "May Trees Are Heavy and Hot."
10- Hall, N. (1980) The Moon & The Virgin: Reflections on the
Archetypal Feminine. New York: Harper & Row.
Rowland, S. From, "Entering a Dark Wood."
12- Noel, D.C. (2002) "Who is the Green Man? An Ancient Pagan Icon
Offers Visions of a Time We Cannot Remember." In, In A
Wayward Mood: Selected Writing 1969-2002. New
York: iUniverse, 2004.
13- Rowland, S. (2005) Jung as a Writer. Hove, UK: Routledge.
14- Rowland, S. From, "Leaving."