Thursday, November 19, 2009
Big Sur poet and artist Carolyn Mary Kleefeld can often be found on the cliffs of Big Sur reading poetry to a resident condor.
“Art is where I gamble,” she says. “It’s Taoistic and intuitive.”
Cosmically, the gamble is paying off. Already a Big Sur icon, her international profile as a literary and artistic force continues to grow with the recent publication of her 10th book of poetry, Vagabond Dawns, the adoption of her work into the curriculum of a Welsh university, and a new series of Romanian translations.
Vagabond Dawns is a 100-poem volume filled with work that spans the last 20 years of Kleefeld’s creative life. The poems address a broad range of universal themes, such as human nature, the cycles of life, love and intimacy, spiritual transformation and a pantheistic relationship to the natural world.
“The themes of my poems are in continual flux, as my living is,” Kleefeld says. “Over time I think I have become more involved with the music and rhythm of poetry and the lyrical aspect of my poems has become more developed.”
And more widely taught. A year and a half ago, Kleefeld met Professor Peter Thabit Jones of Swansea University in Wales and the late Aeronway Thomas, the daughter of Dylan Thomas, as they passed through Big Sur on a book tour. After that meeting, Jones decided to include Kleefeld’s work in a course he was designing for the university. Entitled “The Other Half of the Sky: Eight Women Writers,” the course explores the poetry and prose of eight women authors, including Kleefeld, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maya Angelou and Aeronway Thomas.
“The course will consider my writings and the other seven poets in the context of the historical development of women’s writing and its growing cultural and social importance,” Kleefeld says.
In addition, Gabi Stanescu of Romania, an associate of Professor Thabit Jones, plans to have a selection of Kleefeld’s poems translated into Romanian and included in International Notebooks of Poetry, a bilingual journal to be launched this year at the Gaudeamus Book Fair in Romania.
Yet, despite these brushes with literary canonization, Kleefeld doesn’t align herself with any particular school of poetic thought.
“If I must define myself, I would say I’m a spiritual philosopher,” she says. “I’m drawn to lyricism, cosmic dimensions, imagistic metaphors and profound and revealing wisdoms or insights.”
Born in England, Kleefeld grew up in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. After high school, she moved to Malibu before settling in Big Sur in 1980.
“It makes all the difference to live on the mountain cliffs of Big Sur,” Kleefeld says. “To paraphrase Rumi, ‘The fish is the sea,’ so in this sense we are one with our environment. Big Sur’s wild and enigmatic climate infuses my inner being and my artwork.”
Kleefeld is also a critically acclaimed visual artist. Since 1981, she has created an extensive and diverse body of paintings and drawings, ranging in style from romantic figurative to abstract. In addition to being featured in art magazines and textbooks, her art can be found on book covers, and in the personal collections of Ted Turner, the late Laura Archer Huxley, and many others, as well as at the United Nations, and in hospitals, galleries and museums throughout the world.
Despite the fact that Vagabond Dreams was published just last month, Kleefeld already has a new manuscript ready for publication titled Psyche of Mirrors: Promenade of Portraits.
“It is a collection of poetic prose pieces, short stories and fables written between the mid-’80s and 2008,” Kleefeld says. “Like my other books, these experimental writings began in journal forms and exorcisms, revealing insights from my psyche’s journeys. I have perhaps five or six other manuscripts including one of art-inspired prose and nature-inspired prose.”
Listening to all the new work should keep the resident condor busy for a while.