The pull of lineage

By Beibhinn Byrne

Pictured: A selection of Rowley’s Poetry collections titles. Photo: JR@N4.

These collections shine with Rowley’s interests of psychology, ecology, mythology, philosophy feminism and of course literature itself and its music.
There is a high literary ability and real erudition on display, as well as, a sustained commitment to form throughout the many lyrical forms both formal and informal that Rowley employs in her various collections.

Form reaches a zenith in Flight into Reality where it is showcased as an impressive, epic tour de force. Written entirely in terza rima (a three line interlocking rhyme scheme for verse stanza that follows the a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c, pattern) the form first used and made famous by Dante Alighieri in his towering work The Divine Comedy.
Fittingly, her first canto of the poem opens with a quote from his work as a dedication to that master. The poem deploys the ancient Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris, mystical sister-brother, husband and wife. Seth tricks, kills and disperses Osiris’ body. Isis searches for and finds all the parts to bring him back to life save one the organ of regeneration.

This also represents the anxiety of fruitfulness of the land around the desert landscape and the wholeness Isis must try seek within herself without him. It also addresses the socio-historical fact of our cultural spiritual disinheritance.

When the Greeks conquered Egypt and later Julius Caesar set fire to the great library at Alexandria, we lost much esoteric and inner knowledge. Rowley cleverly uses this myth and history to explore our civilisation’s issue of inner lack and especially the individual’s search for wholeness and the soul’s completion. Especially, any modern Isis, who well knows the battle she has on her hands to be complete by herself in our society’s eyes.

Dante’s rhyme scheme is also synonymous with spiritual inquiry and the journey of the soul and seeking guidance. It is no surprise that Rowley’s poem is the longest poem in terza rima in the English language and that she has won the Epic Award in the Scottish International Poetry Competition four times.
In Ireland’s Legendary Women, the poet’s seventh collection published last year, we move into more womanist terrority and stay firmly rooted in legends and myths. This time the emphasis is on a more Celtic tradition of bardic song, exploring myths and legends from Irish history concerning women, including the wooing of Etain, the sorrows of Deirdre, the Women Bards of Connaught, Ireland’s Fairy Queens, the Mother, and the elopement of Diarmuid and Grainne.

They are sensual retellings and conjure up richly coloured weavings of these tales depicted in jewel-like details, colour featuring prominently in verses, they have a visual quality and measured flow.

Girls of The Globe plumbs the rich vein of literary appreciation and apprenticeship that all writers carry within. Knowledge and precedent, both imaginative and real are homaged.
It opens with the appropriate form of sonnet to the pantheon of female heroines from Shakespeare’s plays and ends with An Overdue Letter to Lord Byron. In To Seamus Heaney on his 70th Birthday she describes him as, ‘Being there, knee-deep in the river, and far / Into the grass, to follow the track of horse and hare.’

But included are poems grounded in harrowing social realities such as Goldenbridge Orphanage and global, historical tragedies such as Blame It all On Dallas. More personal material shows through in There Is No Art… as well as in the poems in the collection Sea of Affliction.

Rowley is a thought provoking and erudite poet and these collections represent the work of a custodian of knowledge both inner and outer with a deep interest in people and their expression that she catalogues, depicts, transforms and transfigures through a direct personal expression, delicate beauty and rigorous craft.