Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tom Killion - Walking Tamalpais: Poetry, History, and Prints

Kepler's resident wordsmith, Terry Meagher, hosted local author Tom Killion on May 28th who discussed his new book, Walking Tamalpais: Poetry, History, and Prints. Poet Gary Snyder collaborated on the book. Here's Terry's report:




Tom delved into his presentation with an extensive history of Mount Tamalpais (“tamal” meaning western mountain, “pais”, high place). This wonder of nature served as a recreational refuge for San Francisco residents during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and as the inspiration for many poems, snippets of which Tom recited (though Gary once asked Tom: why is so much of that poetry so bad?!). Even plays paying homage to the mountain were conducted in one of the peak’s naturally grassy amphitheaters.

In the early 1900’s, Mt. Tam was threatened by logging interests and concerned citizens, anxious to preserve their cherished “culture of walking” began - through thousands of small donations - buying up the mountain from the Kent family (wealthy, progressive Republicans - back when Republicans were progressive). Recall that this was the era of the conservationist, Teddy Roosevelt.

Of course, with the unstoppable suburbanization post World War II, the era of walking the trails of Tamalpais ended. Indeed it wasn’t until the 1960’s, thanks to counter cultural types like Gary Snyder - a practicing Buddhist - resurrected interest in walking and hiking. Tom spoke fondly of Gary, particularly his inaugurating what the poet calls his “circumambulations”: long meditative walks, punctuated by eight “stations”, around the entire circumference of Mt. Tam, a group practice that continues to this day.

At one point, Tom raised a red flag noting that given the dire fiscal state of the state, there is talk of closing some State Parks; he implored the audience to contact their congressperson.

Q & A was brief, as Tom promised to share with the audience a portfolio of his prints. So the small group - like TV audience members called to the stage to watch a cooking demonstration - gathered around the signing table where intricately carved woodcut plates were displayed. Influenced by Japanese master printer Hokusai of Mt. Fuji fame, Tom’s own printing process is elaborate, with up to 15 color plates involved, a single print taking up to 300 hours start to finish, but well worth it - the final images strikingly rich and luminous.

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