John Dewey, in his 1934 Art as Experience writes, “Works of art are means by which we enter, through imagination and the emotions they evoke, into other forms of relationship and participation than our own." Works of art include painting, memoir and poetry. The Alchemy of Possibility by Carolyn Mary Kleefeld combines all three artistic genres into a highly recommendable, artistic and lovely book worth experiencing. The 7 1/4" x 9 3/8" quality softbound narrative includes fifty-eight full color images. Its fifty-six chapters are headed with quotations from Tarot and the I Ching, and include poetry and prose narratives reflecting what the author humorously refers to as the essential nature of her soul’s experience throughout “I Change.” The expression is lovely and operates like a soul guide which leaves me a sense that I remain connected to her story of belonging, assures me her metamorphic and immortal aspect re-mains a poetic expression throughout these pages and creates pockets of new insight for me as she shares her artistic reflections pinned to the eternal story remembering radiant throughout and within the seasons of the author’s own mortal life.
Of note is the care given concerning how to read The Alchemy of Possibility. To this end there is a foreward, an introduction, a letter to the reader and a section of suggestions for exploring the work. The author has designed the book to emphasize interactive oracular and recombinant possibilities for meaning through the ever-shifting dialogue between content and reader response. Since many people will enjoy holding a question in mind, then opening the book intuitively to see what psyche may make of it through the combination of prose, poetry and images, this is one way to interact with the work.
A primary suggestion for how to explore between the pages of this text also comes from Laura Huxley who shares a memory regarding the intimate last moments between herself and her husband, Aldous Huxley. “Three days before he died,” she writes, he begins talking about “a new kind of literature.” Laura Huxley’s deep sense for verticality presenced throughout The Alchemy of Possibility is that it aspires to this new order in artistic expression. “Carolyn Mary Kleefeld,” she writes, “aspires to bring it all in.”
I must digress here and share with you how I came to review this book. A colleague of mine, Dr Deanna McKinstry-Edwards wrote to me suggesting Kleefeld’s work reminded her of my own. The reference to my own work honors a certain kind of poetic eye. Mine is a cyber poetic approach to poetic discourse. This is a kind of dialogic jointing in mythic and poetic imagery through many artistic modes of expression such as paintings, drawings and sculpture along with newspaper and magazine prose images, cinematic images as well as natural, cultural and historical images of the imagination. Such poetic expression attempts to open in-space, or tries, where many dimensions of meaning possibilities reappear en poieses and together gather momentum through recombinant links to many visuals and sounds resurfaced in writing poetry. It is a kind of co creative effort honoring the images in imagination’s space and the space too that speaks within and through this ‘self.’ Such movements in mythopoeia tolerate ambiguity well and virtual reality is well suited to this type of expression. I have often felt like a pioneer into a new kind of poieses happening, one in which the poem serves a kind of cherishing force. This force, what poetry speaks, may well be what poetry is.
I am not alone in my acknowledgement of poetic and artistic thought neither with regards a poetic basis of mind nor in the potent revaluation of the authority expressed from within this psychic space. The poet Mary Oliver, in A Poetry Handbook also contends, “Poetry is a life-cherishing force.” Little wonder is it Laura Huxley reconsiders this now. Her forward affirms the poet’s tendency to apply the Golden Rule of care not just to endangered creatures and places nor just to endangered peoples but into the endangered in identity —that essential in-space that is our deepest being so. The poem is you, is me. And so, as writes Huxley, “The poem, is you, is me says it all.”
We are the skin
of all peoples
The spirit of all animals, birds
trees, plants and flowers
We are the earth itself
walking about -is you, is me
I am beginning this review with one of the profoundest poetic statements, one but in no way the only one Kleefeld makes. I’d like to suggest to you there are many others —too many for one short review to present neither for consideration now nor for this reviewer’s mind to articulate well in so short a space. It is my hope this, my small reverie in reviewing Kleefeld’s book, will entice you to experience more of her stunning work.
The poem “is you, is me” appears in chapter twenty four and contemplates the interconnectedness of all life as if it were a story in belonging. The ‘story in belonging’ suggests one’s own way of belonging to the story changes as life changes. One can come to say of the story, “It is not my story. It does not belong to me. I belong to it.” In such a manner one can suddenly recognize the story in belonging belongs to us all.
This interconnectedness is a reference to a waken (sacred) nature Chief Seattle, chief in 1854 of the Suquamash Tribe, refers to in his famous speech when the US government sends word to him it wishes to buy his people’s land. He experiences a terrible suffering in this moment. “We belong to the earth,” he says, “The earth does not belong to us.”
In this the remarkable man recognizes he is up against another very different way of seeing reality than his own. To sell this land, which he does, he has to extend compassion in a deep way to include this difference in seeing. Such a way in seeing that allows even the impossible impossibilities to participate in the story in belonging, extends the imaginal ground in belonging to include difference itself.
A creative understanding, and creative here means honoring the way images function as co creative entities in themselves, extends hospitality to all in belonging together. “To all my relations,” says such a story.
To understand such a space one has to extend the kindness in space of space through the primacy of the governing ambition in space itself which is spiritual or wakan. Just as the trees belong to this space by wild nature and the birds also belong by wild nature, so too, white and red as differing kinds, belong. The human kind no more makes this space in belonging as did the tree and bird. What each one will impact is how they belong together in this belonging space through the way each sees and comes to knowledge of reality from within it.
Kleefeld’s artistry in mythopoeia reveals over and over awareness of such space in belonging-together. As I am experiencing her artistic and poetic expressions it seems she likens the story in belonging to a coming to presence in our own belonging throughout all creation. Indeed, this window to the soul may be the opening image and “the Zen moment” of chapter one.
What we do here, we will have done to ourselves. What we come to know here, we will have known not only by way of the wild nature of birds and trees but by way of our spiritual ambition which is ours through reflective powers in understanding. “I realize our interdependency in a new way,” Kleefeld writes. “If we censor or eliminate our receptivity to any facet of humanity, we censor ourselves.” As a result of my encounter with Kleefeld’s art I realize our interdependency is this new way.
Understanding how to belong more beautifully together is a spiritual ambition like a Sufi Dance. Our environment is a multilayer of sounds, like fabrics that float. We, too, are of such air, in our own breathing, a light and colorful dance. And it is with such imagery Kleefeld layers together in belonging a space for belonging –not here, but coming to presence here through her mythopoetic re-visioning. In coming too, we begin to notice the presence not here and begin to recognize our interdependent and coexistent co creative sense for be-ing at home here in this life-cherishing space.
Kleefeld provides a lovely painting of this secret, green life-cherishing space. She calls this space an infinite symphony and “The Secret Forest of Nabis.” Nabis refers to a group of 20thC artists who are the first to pave the way into nonrepresentational art expression. Nabis art acknowledges the inspiring force of the work proceeds from No Mind (Zen) or the I-don’t-know as not here but belonging here in what I am coming to know. Everything that gives light requires such an absence-space within presence whereby its own breath, color and light lights up interiority in self-woven grace. The companion I Ching: Li calls it The Clinging, Fire. Kleefeld calls it an infinite symphony. I call it a taste in what you may come to expect where you will have opened this book and yourself to The Alchemy of Possibility.
Chief Seattle’s Speech, 1854. http://www.suquamish.nsn.us/. January 30, 2006.
Dewey, John. Art As Expression p 333. New York: Perigree, 1934.
Oliver, Mary. A Poetry Handbook, p112. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994.