04 Mar Press of the Week – Untide Press
“Here on the edge we look east to the West, west to the East, and cannot resolve them. We can only watch; watch and prepare; and bide on the time when what we are, and that for which we have taken this stand, can be tangent again to the world.” — William Everson
What libraries hold within their rare book collections are material memories that allow us to recall history through a network of writers, printers, publishers, and readers. In more puzzling cases, we can put together pieces from former owners, from marginalia or ephemera left in the pages of such books.
This is the case with the donation of books to the University of Utah by former English professor Brewster Ghiselin. Professor Ghiselin made a significant impression in and outside the University of Utah as both an educator and poet; but by the time his personal collection of books had reached the University’s library shelves in 2016, few students and professors could recall his name or legacy. Like his own ephemeral status, many of the books that were received with his donation no longer held the same kind prestige. Among them were a handful of poetry chapbooks.
From Ghiselin’s donation, three of these poetry chapbooks had been written by William Everson and published by the Untide Press in the mid-1940s. Between 1941 and 1946, the Untide Press published nine books of poetry from four separate authors but, more importantly, it was a press set up by a group of conscientious objectors held in a Civilian Public Service camp in Waldport, Oregon during World War II.
Waldport, Oregon: Untide Press, 1944
PS3501 N77 W35 1944
The press had lasted only five years, and the limited runs that were printed had been lost among the CO camps across the country, soon to be forgotten. Yet, the existence of the COs and their publications now reemerges with these books, a material memory which allows us to recall the history not only of the Untide Press, but also of conscription in the United States during World War II, along with the influence of anti-war poetry on twentieth-century American literature.
The history of the Untide Press begins in Waldport, Oregon on October 24, 1942, when the Civilian Public Service Camp #56, or Camp Angel, officially opened. When it first opened its doors, Camp Angel held ninety-six members; however, over the course of four years, more would transfer in, some would transfer out, while others would simply walk out and be declared absent without official leave, or AWOL.
While religion was a common thread among the men, the Selective Service established at least eleven other different types of objectors: moral, ethical, political, sociological, philosophical, and personal. William Everson, at the time thirty years old and just one year shy of being old enough that he didn’t have to enlist, had declared himself a pantheist when his card came up, arguing that America should “pull out of the war so that ‘men of the future would say: here was finally a people in all the bloody past who loved peace too much to fight for it.’”
Everson was unlike most of the other COs at Camp Angel – he was an intellectual and a poet – so he allied himself with like-minded thinkers, people who were equally inquisitive and creative. Shortly after Everson’s arrival, he was introduced to other poets, artists, actors, and musicians, among them Glen Coffield, Vladimir Dupre, William Eshelman, Clayton James, Larry Siemons, Kemper Nomland, and Kermit Sheets.
Waldport, Oregon: Untide Press, 1943
PS3505 O22 U4 1943
The artists and writers of Camp Angel remained determined to have their voices heard, felt, and experienced, for “introspection, reading, and reflection – and their offspring, creativity – can become not just a choice but also a matter of survival.” They began by working on the official camp publication, the Tide (likely named after their proximity to the ocean), which ran monthly reports and announcements and was distributed among Camp Angel and to other CO camps in the country.
Shortly before Everson arrived at Camp Angel in 1943, Harold Hackett, Glen Coffield and Larry Siemons had started the satirical Untide in protest of the camp’s official publication. It offered “expression to the literary and artistic talents of the campers,” as well as intended to “expose in an impish way the failings of our society, to encourage discussion, to lead in action, to entertain.” Although the Untide Press was still in its early gestation, the creative minds at Waldport were already thinking of the printed page as a sociological and political tool.
Following the Untide, interest in this newsletter among the COs in Waldport and elsewhere allowed for the development of a critical literary journal dubbed The Illiterati, whose monthly publications featured works from Everson and Coffield, as well as Henry Miller – one of the most controversial American writers at the time and Everson’s friend and colleague outside the camp.
The Illiterati, no. 4 (Summer 1945)
Waldport, Oregon: Illiterati [1943-1955]
While the newsletter provided light comedy for the camp members, the literary journal showed artistic promise not only in content but also in design, which often experimented with various colors, shapes, and layouts. Simultaneously, the collaborative work on these early publications helped to develop what would become known as the Fine Arts Group in Waldport. With the little free time that they had, the Fine Arts Group decided to channel their remaining energy into theater, ceramics, weaving, and painting – and, of course, the materialization of the Untide Press.
Over the course of his internment at Waldport and later in another CO camp in Cascade Locks, California, Everson would go on to publish five books, including a reissue of War Elegies as well as The Waldport Poems, The Residual Years, and poems: mcmxlii. Along with Everson’s work, the Untide Press published a total of nine collections of poetry during the war, and even printed a collection of poems from famous anti-war poet, Kenneth Patchen. Patchen’s An Astonished Eye Looks out of the Air was the press’s most problematic printing endeavor, but also the most recognized.
Waldport, Oregon: Untide Press, 1945
PS3509 V65 P5625 1945
An Astonished Eye Looks out of the Air
Waldport, Oregon: Untide Press, 1945
PS3531 A764 A77 1945
Although the Untide Press managed to remain underground and not cause much of a stir with their dissident literature, their books quietly made their rounds among writers who spearheaded counter-culture movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Books can exist far longer than the life of their authors, and while some are lost and others found, the information they hold can inspire generation after generation. Unlike digital media, the physical nature of these books makes them not only a medium for information, but an archival object that embodies presence.
Here on the Edge
Corvallis, OR : Oregon State University Press, 2013
Contributed by Lyuba Basin, with excerpts from her Master’s thesis, titled, “It’s What Matters: The Materiality of the Book in the Twentieth Century” (2018)