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Visual poet Karl Kempton's new photography book offers unique meditations on the Oceano Dunes

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Nearly two decades after his first poem was published, Oceano resident Karl Kempton envisioned a new way for Central Coast locals to enjoy poetry, without necessarily having to open a single book or crash an intimate, live reading.

"In 1983, I thought the area could and should support an annual open poetry festival. I called a meeting inviting several San Luis Obispo city and county poets to discuss the idea," said Kempton, who co-created the SLO Poetry Festival with Kevin Patrick Sullivan.

"Only Kevin saw and felt what I saw and felt. That is how he and I co-founded the festival," said Kempton, who explained how the festival gradually expanded over the years. "The first year it was in Linnaea's Cafe. It grew each year. Soon we needed to be outside in the street, requiring SLO city approval."

ENGAGING ENIGMAS "A visual poem is a poem composed such that it requires being seen for the full experience," said poet Karl Kempton, whose visual poems use letters, words, symbols, diagrams, and other elements, which he described as becoming "transformed into new forms and abstractions," once combined. - IMAGE COURTESY OF KARL KEMPTON
  • Image Courtesy Of Karl Kempton
  • ENGAGING ENIGMAS "A visual poem is a poem composed such that it requires being seen for the full experience," said poet Karl Kempton, whose visual poems use letters, words, symbols, diagrams, and other elements, which he described as becoming "transformed into new forms and abstractions," once combined.

Linnaea's also became the venue for Kempton and Sullivan's monthly poetry reading series, Corners of the Mouth. While Kempton's traditional poems can be read aloud during this type of event, his visual poems require eyes rather than ears.

"A visual poem is a poem composed such that it requires being seen for the full experience," said Kempton, whose visual poems use letters, words, sentences, symbols, diagrams, hieroglyphs, pictographs, and other elements, which he described as becoming "transformed into new forms and abstractions," once combined.

"By crossing literary and art boundaries, the visual poet works in a field of multimedia, borderblur or intermedia, composing seamless works of fusion," said Kempton, a firm admirer of Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous quote, "Every word was once a poem."

"To explain my visual poetry, I sometimes point to the fact that we are like fish in water; our water is language, especially the written, taken for granted," Kempton added. "Its shapes and forms are assumed and ignored; each letter has its own history of development to this moment."

WAVES TO RAVE ABOUT Over just the past three years, Karl Kempton said he's taken thousands of photographs at the Oceano Dunes. Some of these photos were compiled and included in Sandskrit of the Oceano Dunes, one of Kempton's latest books, published earlier this year. - COURTESY PHOTO BY KARL KEMPTON
  • Courtesy Photo By Karl Kempton
  • WAVES TO RAVE ABOUT Over just the past three years, Karl Kempton said he's taken thousands of photographs at the Oceano Dunes. Some of these photos were compiled and included in Sandskrit of the Oceano Dunes, one of Kempton's latest books, published earlier this year.

When composing his poetry, Kempton often finds inspiration from his surroundings, which often also become muses for his photography pursuits. One of his most treasured subjects isn't too far from his home in Oceano, where he lives with his wife, Ruth. This coastal gem is also one of the couple's favorite places to relax and soak in its serene atmosphere, especially when it's not too crowded.

"The Oceano Dunes, for me and Ruth, provide a place allowing us to remove ourselves to a pristine setting and become transcended by the unspeakable beauty of ever-changing environment," Kempton said. "It was even holier, so to say, during the beach and dune vehicle shutdown caused by the initial phase of COVID. The only sounds were an occasional bird, ocean waves rolling to their roiled ending, a breeze, or slithering sand scooted by the wind."

Over just the past three years, Kempton said he's taken thousands of photographs at the Oceano Dunes. Some of these photos were compiled and included in Sandskrit of the Oceano Dunes, one of Kempton's latest books, published earlier this year.

PROLIFIC AUTHOR Signed copies of Central Coast local Karl Kempton's most recent books, including Sandskrit of the Oceano Dunes (pictured, center), can be found locally at the Place on PCH in Oceano. To date, Kempton's diverse writings and visual poems have been published in more than 60 books and 70 anthologies, and showcased in more than 100 group exhibitions. - PHOTO BY CALEB WISEBLOOD
  • Photo By Caleb Wiseblood
  • PROLIFIC AUTHOR Signed copies of Central Coast local Karl Kempton's most recent books, including Sandskrit of the Oceano Dunes (pictured, center), can be found locally at the Place on PCH in Oceano. To date, Kempton's diverse writings and visual poems have been published in more than 60 books and 70 anthologies, and showcased in more than 100 group exhibitions.

"My photography contains moments of captured, abstract writings," said Kempton, referring to the "wind written" strokes in the sand he sought to capture, being fascinated by their structure that resembled cursive sentences. He described the wavy lines he saw as dazzling, optical sculptures.

Signed copies of Sandskrit of the Oceano Dunes and other books by Kempton can be found locally at the Place on PCH, an art gallery in Oceano. To date, Kempton's diverse works have been published in more than 60 books and 70 anthologies and showcased in more than 100 group exhibitions.

Kempton lived in various cities around the country and outside the U.S. before moving to the Central Coast in 1975, and he considers this region home and hasn't relocated since.

"I live where folks come to visit and vacation," said Kempton, who was seeking a peaceful place to live "outside urban density" when he decided to move here from Sacramento.

"Once here, I stayed," he said. "For me, this is truly home." Δ

Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood is a lifelong Central Coast resident. Send comments to cwiseblood@newtimesslo.com.

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