Psyche of Mirrors: A Promenade of Portraits
A medley of prose, poetry, fables, myths, and paintings created over a 25-year period, representing Carolyn in the most complete way. It reflects the many prisms of a kaleidoscopic way of perceiving things.
Psyche of Mirrors ranges from psychological and philosophical explorations of the shadow side of human nature and reflections on the polarities in life, to lyrical love poems and journeys of whimsical fancy. Full-color paintings enrich these themes. The late Laura Archera Huxley says, “In Psyche of Mirrors, we find ourselves traveling through portraits that open the gates to our experiential understanding and offer surprising paths to our complex and fantastic inner worlds.”
Carolyn Mary Kleefeld
Preface by Peter Thabit Jones
Introduction by Vince Clemente
Foreword by Deanna McKinstry Edwards
224 pages (8 x 10.5″)
16 color images
Merrick, New York
and The Seventh Quarry Press Swansea, Wales, 2012
Psyche of Mirrors is an amazing accomplishment and a fantastic body of art, poetry and literature. The words make the worlds of the cosmic, the mystical and the spiritual all visible. The emotions are palpable. The divine and the mundane are not at odds or opposites. And nature unfolds in an infinite array of colors echoed in the expressive and imaginative artwork. It is a glimpse into a world made possible by a traveler whose journey is personal, revealing and without pretense.
I’ve been absolutely loving Carolyn Mary Kleefeld’s marvelous and magical new book, Psyche of Mirrors: A Promenade of Portraits. This illustrated collection of delightfully engaging mythological fables, short stories, poetry, and short essays is her eleventh book, and I think that it is her magnum opus. I’ve been gleefully spending many hours at a time, sublimely immersed in the mythical worlds that emerge between its two covers. The writings and artwork in this masterful collection are stellar, gathered together over many illuminated years of revelation, inspiration and insight. The book is organized by theme, ranging from chapters such as ‘Orphic Lovers’ to ‘Paradoxical Poses,’ to ‘Quintessential Creators.’ Psyche of Mirrors awakens the slumbering mind, and liberates the confined spirit–so that one can easily commune with a deeper source of inner wisdom—and it helps to provide an important shift in one’s perspective, when our minds become trapped by the crippling limits of the mundane world. The book includes a preface by publisher and poet Peter Thabit Jones, an introduction by English professor Vince Clemente, and a foreword by actress and vocalist. Deanna McKinstry-Edwards. I think that Psyche of Mirrors will be especially appealing to people interested in archetypal mythology, transpersonal and Jungian psychology, personal transformation, mystical poetry, visionary art, self-help, and creative inspiration. I would highly recommend this extraordinary book to anyone who appreciates a fruitful imagination, and seeks to explore the unlimited potential of the human spirit.
I’m hesitant to call Carolyn Mary Kleefeld’s new work a collection of poetry, even though it contains several poems. I’m hesitant as well to call it a collection of poems and short stories, though several of the pieces certainly qualify as poetically rendered prose tales or flash fiction. Rather, Psyche of Mirrors is a collection of philosophical musings on art, silence, nature, paradoxes, and the complex trajectories of the human heart.
I know. The distinction is so subtle as to seem nonexistent. Bear with me.
While poems and stories of a philosophical bent certainly exist, they tend to skim over subject matter like a water strider, frequently not moving into the murk below. Kleefeld’s work, on the other hand, often plunges like an osprey’s talon or leaps like a rainbow trout. Her (sparsely) footnoted pieces include allusions and call-outs to Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoism), Nietzsche, Herman Hesse, Albert Camus, and one of the greatest of twentieth century philosopher-poets, Leonard Cohen. The results are sometimes frustrating and sometimes murky, but always arresting and capable of beckoning the reader, siren-like, into deep meditation.
Of her many meditations, I was struck most profoundly by Kleefeld’s ruminations on silence in the section “Homage to Silence.” As many can well attest, quietude is often necessary for the production of great art, and something that modern US society does not typically afford. For Kleefeld, it is the state in which the universe and the soul are best accessed and understood. “The Monks at the Bowerbird Nest” envisions a chorus of imaginary monks inhabiting this “remote cabin high above the sea and the village of Big Sur” (one of Kleefeld’s favorite places to write about) and teaching visitors to look, listen, breathe, and “move in harmony with the elemental rhythms….” “Heaven’s Mist” is a stunning poem (one of the strongest pieces in the collection) about the descent of mist and fog upon a lagoon.
In “A Realm Birthed in Silence” (here reproduced in full), Kleefeld shows us that silence and communion are achievable even within a home, historically one of the noisiest and most harried places on the planet, despite Victorian sentimentalism.
My home luxuriates in silence. I gaze through the myriad open doors, and other realms gaze back. I imagine our planet without human corruption for these moments in darkness, in the timeless. Our world at once becomes an empty canvas from which to create. All the conditioning appears as pollution of our endless projections and prejudice—self-made cages suffocating the inner almond tree in blossom.
For these moments, I bathe in this unconditioned realm of sheer possibility. I cast off the extraneous, ready for liberation, for fresh landscapes. As the numinous silently beams from the darkness, I humbly begin again.
A house truly does feel different at rest than at action, but I had never thought of quiet rooms being other realms. Yet, now that Kleefeld has pointed this out, I cannot “unsee” it. Stillness truly does transport us to “other realms” of perception and thought. However, this is the most basic reading of this meditation. More profoundly, Kleefeld is suggesting that silence is good for its own sake. It is the aestheticism of asceticism.
Kleefeld’s writing is also populated by a cast of charming and complex figures who embody both allegory and contemporary whimsy. “The Schnoozler Pets” with their “spacy [sic] hi-tech music” and pleasure-seeking ways reads like Dr. Seuss injected with 30 CCs of sensuality. “Fearita,” a perpetually terrified being “too small ever to re-enter the present,” flees from her past until she learns to live in the moment. “Intro-Victor, Creature of Many Pockets,” a many-armed, obsessive creature, is driven to distraction and exhaustion by his ceaseless ambition (a situation with which many US readers may sympathize, given the unhealthy premium our mainstream culture places on success). And “The Board of Dogs” debates the future of bestial humans. My favorite of these pieces, however, is the haunting “The Baron,” which reads like an inverted gothic horror story—appropriate, given that Kleefeld dedicated it to Edgar Allan Poe.
In this piece, the impossibly named Baron Ivan von Eickenstein, ventures from his “sumptuous” and byzantine estate to bathe in a nearby pond at midnight. His mind is troubled and fragmented following his murder of “his closest consort, two officers in his army, and a few unnamed opponents.” But it is more than a guilty conscience that troubles him, Kleefeld tells us; rather, the Baron lacks “the awareness to comprehend fully the impact of his mad, savage behavior,” and, like Hamlet and Claudius before him, he is beset by a restless mind.
…You see, the Baron did not live in a one-dimensional, black-or-white reality; he lived in many parallel worlds simultaneously. He moved all at once through the membranes of life’s realities, it’s so-called truths and lies, as if he were peering through a kaleidoscope of illusions. How could his split self grasp the reality of his violent and macabre ways, the murder of those he professed to love?
Here, in the listless, fog-anchored night, he floated alone, seeking salvation, answers to his despair, his irreconcilable differences, the ongoing agonies between his angels and his demons, his visceral war.
And how do we, dear Reader, dwelling in our own wars of polarities, find reconciliation?
The Baron’s salvation comes in the form of a troubadour who shows him not only peace and clarity, but also a complexity of spirit and action that is constructive rather than destructive. The story closes with the troubadour’s advice:
Live alone with your silence-starved soul until you become one with the symphony of creation. Only then will you grow the wings you need to rise above your demons. With your instincts wedded to higher intention, your behavior will no longer cause harm.
Indeed, the bulk of Kleefeld’s work focuses not only on the beauty of art, music, words, and the creative process, but also on the transcendent qualities of each. The pairs of lovers in her short stories are almost always artists, musicians, or writers, and their art is regularly a point of connection for them (and sometimes a source of pain). And, indeed, Kleefeld’s work is further bolstered by her own colorful paintings of beast-women, mutants, landscapes, and even the departure of a beloved friend’s spirit to the stars. The bright colors celebrate life and draw the viewer into meditation, and the abstract figures are as friendly as they are haunting. I was reminded not only of the Primitive American style, Picasso’s earlier abstract art, and (once again!) Dr. Seuss, but also Sumerian idols with their large, lidless eyes, as well as Egyptian tomb paintings and murals, which featured many subjects in profile. Kleefeld’s skillful blend of several styles and colors endows her pictures both with a universal appeal and an appealing warmth.
Although Kleefeld’s subject matter can be heady, it will, I think, appeal to a wide swath of readers and art lovers beyond philosophy students and aficionados of abstract art. Those interested in Taosim and the writing of Lao Tzu (Kleefeld tells us she is a Taoist) should procure this title, as should anyone who wants to integrate a little meditative stillness into his or her life. Fans and collectors of Cross-Cultural Communications’ work should also avail themselves of this gorgeous publication, which might serve nicely as a coffee table book.