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Inside the Cover: Piute Creek

This week’s Inside the Cover features the Thomas’ scroll book Piute Creek. The featured poem was written by Gary Snyder, an American poet who began his career in the 1950s. He was a member of the "Beat Generation", and the San Francisco Rennaissance. His work "blends physical reality and precise observations of nature with inner insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism." He was a part of the community of writers that included Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac.[1] Kerouac even based his character, Japhy Ryder, from The Dharma Bums on Snyder. [2]

When Peter and Donna Thomas visited the University of Idaho in October, they talked about how they made their choices in creating this book. Peter said that he had wanted to print this poem for a long time, but had difficulty in finding the right form to present it. Eventually, he settled on a scroll book, as it reminded him of running water like the creek Snyder describes.

The book ends with a quote by Tom Killion, a California print artist, 

"To my thinking ‘Piute Creek’ is Gary Snyder’s greatest poem. It was the centerpiece of Snyder’s first book of poetry, Riprap, which forever changed West Coast American poetry. It was a breakthrough poem, a poem with a new perfect tone, balanced between Snyder’s Zen Buddhist attentiveness to the emptiness of the present moment and the immensity of the wild world outside human control. It was the poem that marked the invention of Snyder’s poetic voice, written in the late 1950s, after working and backpacking for a summer in Yosemite National Park, a time when, as Snyder told me, ‘I began writing all the poems I consider worthwhile.’"

The Thomases use the last page of their book to describe their material choices. 

"Donna cut the illustrations. Antique wood type and Centaur were handset and letterpress printed on Peter’s handmade paper. The paper was stenciled using sprayed pulp. The binding was made using ponderosa pine harvested from Whitlocks, in Mariposa, California, not too far from Piute Creek."

Beyond all the processes they described in their book. Peter and Donna included a hidden feature, which they disclosed in their presentation at our library. If you lift up the scroll, on the board behind there is a hidden surprise referencing Jack Kerouac’s representation of Gary Snyder in his work The Dharma Bums. Unfortunately, we don’t have a picture to show you, but just knowing it is there is pretty cool.



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