History, Coincidence, and Mystery: How the Pocket Poets Got Their Look

We all knew it was coming. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the man who made City Lights Bookstore and Allen Ginsberg famous, has died at the age of 101, just a month short of his 102nd birthday.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know about Ferlinghetti’s connection to the Beats, his role in defending free speech, and expanding access to art and ideas for as many people as possible. You probably also remember what the cover of Ginsberg’s Howl looks like, that bold, stark design that is featured on the majority of the titles in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series.

What you may not know is how that look came about, and how the vagaries of life could have taken it in just about any other direction.

It happened like this:

In 1944, the third year of World War II, an eighteen-year-old kid named Bill Shank decided that he could not support the war and so registered as a conscientious objector. Coming from New Jersey, he was sent to a work camp in rural upstate New York, where he met some likeminded CO’s and heard about another camp in Oregon where they were accepting people interested in contributing to a fine arts collective — writers, artists, actors, and musicians. Bill Shank didn’t know if he was an artist, but he was interested in art. And he also knew a real poet from his hometown — Kenneth Patchen, who had already made a name for himself in the avant garde circles of New York. Patchen was also vehemently against war, and although he was not drafted because of a physical disability, that didn’t stop him from speaking out.

Shank asked Patchen to write him a letter of recommendation for the fine arts group in Oregon, and that got him accepted into the camp just south of Waldport on the Oregon Coast, where he met Bill Everson, Adrian Wilson, Clayton James, and others in what was called the Fine Arts Group at Waldport. They had acquired an old printing press, and ran a publishing effort they called the Untide Press, producing booklets of poetry in hand-set type and high-quality paper — even back then considered “fine press editions.”

Not long after Shank arrived, he suggested that the Untide Press might reach out to Patchen and see if he had anything for them to publish. It turned out that Patchen was interested, and he sent a collection of his antiwar poems, saying that they could be published under one condition: If any money was actually made, all profits must be invested back into the publishing operation to support other antiwar books.

They got to work, and Patchen communicated through letters from afar on questions concerning the book, titled An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air. The book design was a collaboration with Kemper Nomland, who had designed a few of the earlier books done by the Untide Press. Nomland was an architect, and his designs often used solid blocks of color as a main feature. Maybe it was his idea, or maybe it was Patchen’s, but the final product was an incredibly simple design. The heavy card-stock cover was black, folded at the spine with two staples attaching it to the text block, the same as can be found on many thin pamphlets — what the trade calls “saddle stitched.”

But this one was a little different. After the book was stapled, they added a block of white paper that was uniformly a couple inches smaller than the booklet’s cover. They folded it the same as the cover, then glued it onto the black card stock, covering the staples on the spine and creating a contrasting smaller block on both the front and back of the book. The title and author had been already printed on the white sheet, so when it was attached to the book, it served to hide the staples and showcase the title against a bold contrasting background. Like most brilliant inventions, it was simple and utilitarian.

Brilliant as it was, we probably would never have heard of it if a few key people had not converged on the same city after the war. Bill Everson and a number of other CO’s headed south to San Francisco, where they met Kenneth Rexroth and contributed to the early ferment of what would come to be known as the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1950s. Ferlinghetti arrived in 1951, and two years later opened the City Lights Pocket Bookshop. Patchen came west about that time, and at some point gave Ferlinghetti a copy of his book published by the Untide Press.

Ferlinghetti liked the design so much that he adopted it in 1955 for his new line of poetry booklets, the Pocket Poets Series. Each title featured the same block-on-block design, and the earlier ones used the same style of wraparound sheet glued on to cover the staples.

The first title, Ferlinghetti’s own Pictures of the Gone World, was yellow on black. Number Two, Kenneth Rexroth’s translations of Thirty Spanish Poems of Love and Exile, was gold on red. Number Three, Patchen’s Poems of Humor & Protest, was white on blue.

Then came Number Four. After the infamous Six Gallery reading that uncorked Alan Ginsberg’s Howl, Ferlinghetti published it in the Pocket Poets, with the stark white-on-black design now instantly recognized throughout the world.

While researching Here on the Edge, I was able to reach Mr. Ferlinghetti and ask him how he came to choose the design created by conscientious objectors at a backwoods camp in Oregon. Like so many things related to the Beats and San Francisco and much of art in general, in Ferlinghetti’s words, “It just happened.”

I am certainly not saying that Howl became famous solely because of the cover. But the kind of energy that produced that design contributed to the environment that made Howl and other such works possible. And what if Bill Shank had never made it out to Oregon? What if Kemper Nomland had never worked with Patchen? What if that stark design had never been created? What images or words would be burned in our literary memories today?

This of course is pure speculation; some might even say unfounded speculation. Fair enough. But the sequence of events does consist of seemingly coincidental parts that somehow assemble into the whole. And isn’t history in some sense an attempt to bring order to the coincidences that make up our lives? When we ask “Could things have been any other way?” the answer is that we will never know. Perhaps that’s the enduring mystery.

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Vladimir Dupre: The Soul of an Artist

Despite the challenges of the pandemic in 2020, one man marked a milestone. Vladimir Dupre, who kept the Fine Arts at Waldport running as Executive Secretary, celebrated his 100th birthday in September with family at an outdoor socially distanced gathering.

I first met Vlad in 2010, when I was doing research for what would become Here on the Edge. I interviewed him one afternoon at his apartment in northern California, just an hour away from where some of my family lived. We hit it off immediately, and Vlad’s memories of the Waldport group were so rich and detailed that I returned for another talk the next day. We became friends in the years following, and kept in touch through phone calls and occasional visits, as I included a trip to see him whenever I went to California.

A highlight came in October 2014, exactly one year after the book came out, when I did a show at the iconic City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, joined by Vlad and also Chuck Davis, who had been instrumental in launching the printing operations of the Fine Arts. The two of them shared memories of their time in Waldport, and signed books for the appreciative crowd who lined up afterwards to talk with them.

Later that night, I drove Vlad back to his home outside Sacramento, and we talked well into the night, about the show and the book, about war and peace, about family, the world, life and love and just about anything worth talking about. It was one of those times you hold dear in your memory after the one you shared it with has gone.

Vlad Dupre died on November 8, 2020, at the age of 100. He is survived by his six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His papers related to the Fine Arts are in special collections at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

The thing that always struck me about Vlad was his humility. He didn’t talk of his personal accomplishments; it was always about the people he knew: Bayard Rustin, Billie Holliday, S.I. Hayakawa, and more. When he applied in 1944 to come to the Fine Arts at Waldport, he wrote that he had no artistic talent himself, but his fiancee, Ibby, was an accomplished actress — and his proposal was that if they accepted him, she would come along and they would gain an actress for their theater group.

And that’s exactly what happened. Vlad and Ibby got married, came to Oregon, and lived in a beachfront cottage across the highway from Camp Angel. Ibby acted in the classic plays Candida and Ghosts, and Vlad kept the Fine Arts going by handling the paperwork and other behind-the-scenes duties, the stuff that no one sees getting done.

An example was in a letter he wrote to the Brethren Service Committee headquarters on his first day on the job. The Fine Arts Group was doing good work that should be shared across the Civilian Public Service system, he said. They could begin with a portfolio of their theater productions, including notes on direction along with the script and pictures of the set, so that other groups could produce the plays themselves if they liked. These could be sent singularly to other camps, or even made into a catalogue and distributed more widely, he said. “Many more ideas are in the process of formation and as they develop, I shall send them along.”

Vlad’s contributions were not lost on the group’s lead figure, the poet Bill Everson, who had originally handled all administrative work and knew how tedious and time-consuming it could be. Everson recognized the soul of an artist whether or not they produced what we normally call art. Writing to the BSC Director, Everson said that Vlad’s competence and enthusiasm were “a joy to behold.”

Vlad had never seen this letter, which I found in a research library’s special collections. When I read it to him all those years later, he just laughed and shook his head.

Vlad Dupre working at the Untide Press, ca. 1944.

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True to Type

Charles E. Davis, Jr.
February 4, 1923 – July 1, 2020

When Here On the Edge first made its way into the world, I gave talks up and down the West Coast, sharing this incredible story with all who cared to know. After nearly every show, I heard the same response again and again. People would come up to me and say, “I had no idea about this story — this is really important!”

Then they would ask, “When is the movie coming out?”

I don’t know when the movie is coming out, but I am confident that one day it will be made. And in that movie, there will be a calm, likeable fellow who sees the radical conscientious objectors cranking out their weekly clandestine newsletter, “The Untide,” on the camp’s office mimeograph machine, and he will tell them that he can teach them how to set type and that he has access to a tabletop printer so that they can make real books.

He sends away for the Kelsey press once used by his father, and it is delivered to the camp. They set it up in one of the dorms, and this calm, likeable fellow, Chuck Davis, teaches the radicals and revolutionaries how to set type.

They put out a book, then another, and another, and send them to other Civilian Public Service camps across the country. The books show up in independent bookstores in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. A couple get reviewed in national publications, and word spreads about these do-it-yourself artists and craftsmen who are creating a message to last beyond the war.

“These are the years of destruction,” they write. “We offer against them the creative act.” Their message is one of peace, and while it doesn’t stop World War II, it does catch the attention of the next generation, who, when facing a war of their own in Vietnam, decide to create a mass movement to end that war. And they do.

History runs on its own clock, and what may seem a marginal footnote to one generation can have profound implications for another. I can’t say for certain what would have happened at Camp Angel if Chuck Davis wasn’t there. But I can tell you that he was there, that he taught the fellows in the Fine Arts Group how to set type and print books, and that the work they did made a difference. And all of us today say thank you to Chuck Davis. Thank you for being there, with your knowledge and your generosity, with your talent and kindness and humor. Thank you for making a difference.

Chuck Davis setting type at Camp Angel, circa 1944.
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75 years ago: a word from the edge

Seventy-five years ago this week, Bill Everson sat down and wrote out the following message and published it in a mimeographed newsletter called The Untide. He was sitting in a cabin on the Oregon Coast, at a work camp for conscientious objectors. It was early 1943, and America, along with much of the world, was fully at war. Everson knew that when the shooting finally stopped, the world would be tired, maybe even tired enough to do something about it. But he knew that would be in the future; no one was listening now. So he spoke to the future, spoke to them from the edge. You can take it literally or metaphorically. I’ll go with both.

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Imagine if this were taught in schools as part of the regular curriculum…

More Than Just a Holiday
A Register-Guard editorial, Sept. 4, 2017

“What does labor want? . . . We want more school houses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures.”
Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, 1893.

abor Day has become synonymous with picnics and barbecues, the end of summer and the start of school. It’s the last hurrah before everyone shifts out of vacation planning more and settles back into the workaday routine.

Other than some labor union stalwarts, few people give much thought to when, how or why the holiday started. They’re just grateful for a three-day weekend. The early history of Labor Day includes elements that are much darker than the current observances, however, and which bear remembering.

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. Many workers took the day off without pay to parade and otherwise mark the holiday, giving them a taste of what it’s like to have what Americans now take for granted — two days off in a row.

The idea of having a day honoring workers continued to gain popularity nationally. In 1887, at the opposite end of the country from New York, Oregon became the first state to pass a bill creating a Labor Day holiday. Seven years later, — during a time of social, economic and political upheaval — Labor Day became a national holiday, albeit under unsavory circumstances.

The country was going through the turmoil of the industrial revolution, a series of recessions and bitter fights over issues such as child labor and the need for a living wage. Unions had become increasingly important for workers as a means to band together and push for change. Strikes had also become common, some leading to bloody confrontations. In 1894, workers at the Pullman rail car company in Illinois went on strike after wages, hours and jobs were slashed.

The strike quickly spread across the country. In response, President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and sent troops in to break it. Violence erupted, and 30 strikers were killed by federal troops.

Shortly thereafter Congress passed — and Cleveland signed — a bill declaring the first Monday in September a day to honor workers, in what many historians saw as either an attempt to appease unions or save face after the deaths at Pullman.

Other bloody incidents since then have marred the history of labor relations in the United States, but there have been far more examples of progress — of doing away with unjust laws or practices and of finding paths and compromises that benefit both workers and employers in ways that add to the prosperity of the country.

Laws now protect against the abuses of child labor. Other laws bar discrimination based on factors such as race, religion, age, gender and sexual orientation.

There are workplace safety laws, and agencies to enforce them. Workers now take for granted the 40-hour workweek, the eight-hour workday, weekends, paid vacation time, sick leave, the right to breaks, collective bargaining, overtime pay and more — much of it due to Samuel Gompers and others who followed him.

America has made progress on many of the dreams that Gompers had when he wrote those words in 1893, although the country isn’t there yet. This Labor Day, in between grilling, relaxing and visiting with friends and family, take a moment to say a silent thank you to Gompers and others like him, for their efforts to make the world of work a better place.

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Ursula Le Guin: The Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water

This message from Ursula Le Guin succinctly articulates the difference between a life driven by war, and a life guided by peace. Because that’s what it’s about, isn’t it. War between ourselves, or peace among ourselves. War against, or peace with. That’s our real choice. 

Ms. Le Guin’s message is so important that I asked permission to reproduce it in its entirety here. It was originally posted on her blog. You can also find it at Book View Cafe, with readers’ comments. Thank you to Ms. Le Guin for generously granting reprint permission. The following is copyright © 2016 Ursula K. Le Guin.

The Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water
By Ursula K. Le Guin
November 21, 2016

Americans have voted for a politics of fear, anger, and hatred, and those of us who oppose this politics are now trying to figure out how we can oppose it usefully. I want to defend my country, my republic. In the atmosphere of fear, anger, and hatred, opposition too easily becomes division, fixed enmity. I’m looking for a place to stand, or a way to go, where the behavior of those I oppose will not control my behavior.

Americans are given to naming enemies and declaring righteous war against them. Indians are the enemy, socialism is the enemy, cancer is the enemy, Jews are the enemy, Muslims are the enemy, sugar is the enemy. We don’t support education, we declare a war on illiteracy. We make war on drugs, war on Viet Nam, war on Iraq, war on obesity, war on terror, war on poverty. We see death, the terms on which we have life, as an enemy that must be defeated at all costs.

Defeat for the enemy, victory for us, aggression as the means to that end: this obsessive metaphor is used even by those who know that aggressive war offers no solution, and has no end but desolation.

The election of 2016 was one of the battles of the American Civil War. The Trump voters knew it, if we didn’t, and they won it. Their victory helps me see where my own thinking has been at fault.

I will try never to use the metaphor of war where it doesn’t belong, because I think it has come to shape our thinking and dominate our minds so that we tend to see the destructive force of aggression as the only way to meet any challenge. I want to find a better way.

My song for many years was We Shall Overcome. I will always love that song, what it says and the people who have sung it, with whom I marched singing. But I can’t march now, and I can’t sing it any longer.

My song is Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.

Though we’ve had some great scholars of peace, such as Martin Luther King, studying it is something Americans have done very little of.

The way of the warrior admits no positive alternatives to fighting, only negatives — inertia, passivity, surrender. Talk of “waging peace” is mere glibness, you can’t be aggressively peaceful. Reducing positive action to fighting against or fighting for, we have not looked at the possibility of other forms of action.

Like the people who marched to Selma, the people who are standing their ground at Standing Rock study, learn, and teach us the hard lessons of peace. They are not making war. They are resolutely non-violent. They are seeking a way out of the traps of anger, hatred, enmity. They are actively trying to get free, to be free, and by their freedom, free others as well.

Studying peace means in the first place unlearning the vocabulary of war, and that’s very difficult indeed. Isn’t it right to fight against injustice? Isn’t that what Selma and Standing Rock are — brave battles for justice?

I think not. Brave yes; battles no. Refusing to engage an aggressor on his terms, standing ground, holding firm, is not aggression — though the aggressive opponent will always declare that it is. Refusing to meet violence with violence is a powerful, positive act.

But that is paradoxical. It’s hard to see how not doing something can be more positive than doing something. When all the words we have to use are negative — inaction, nonviolence, refusal, resistance, evasion — it’s hard to see and keep in mind that the outcome of these so-called negatives is positive, while the outcome of the apparently positive act of making war is negative.

We confuse self-defense, the reaction to aggression, with aggression itself. Self-defense is a necessary and morally defensible reaction.

But defending a cause without fighting, without attacking, without aggression, is not a reaction at all. It is an action. It is an expression of power. It takes control.

Reaction is controlled by the power it reacts against. The people who at present claim to be conservatives aren’t conservatives at all, they are radical reactionaries. The position of the reactionary is not that of the agent, but that of the victim. The reactionary tends always toward paranoia, seeing himself as the obsessive object of vast malevolent forces and entities, fearing enemies everywhere, in anyone he doesn’t understand and can’t control, in every foreigner, in his own government.

Many contemporary Republicans have permanently assumed the position of victim, which is why their party has no positive agenda, and why they whine so much.

The choice to act, rather than react, breaks the paralysis of fear and the vicious circle of aggression, frees us go forward, onward.

We have glamorized the way of the warrior for millennia. We have identified it as the supreme test and example of courage, strength, duty, generosity, and manhood. If I turn from the way of the warrior, where am I to seek those qualities? What way have I to go?

Lao Tzu says: the way of water.

The weakest, most yielding thing in the world, as he calls it, water chooses the lowest path, not the high road. It gives way to anything harder than itself, offers no resistance, flows around obstacles, accepts whatever comes to it, lets itself be used and divided and defiled, yet continues to be itself and to go always in the direction it must go. The tides of the oceans obey the moon while the great currents of the open sea keep on their ways beneath. Water deeply at rest is yet always in motion; the stillest lake is constantly, invisibly transformed into vapor, rising in the air. A river can be dammed and diverted, yet its water is incompressible: it will not go where there is not room for it. A river can be so drained for human uses that it never reaches the sea, yet in all those bypaths and usages its water remains itself and pursues its course, flowing down and on, above ground or underground, breathing itself out into the air in evaporation, rising in mist, fog, cloud, returning to earth as rain, refilling the sea. Water doesn’t have only one way. It has infinite ways, it takes whatever way it can, it is utterly opportunistic, and all life on earth depends on this passive, yielding, uncertain, adaptable, changeable element.

The death way or the life way? The high road of the warrior, or the river road?

I know what I want. I want to live with courage, with compassion, in patience, in peace.

The way of the warrior fully admits only the first of these, and wholly denies the last.

The way of the water admits them all.

The flow of a river is a model for me of courage that can keep me going — carry me through the bad places, the bad times. A courage that is compliant by choice and uses force only when compelled, always seeking the best way, the easiest way, but if not finding any easy way still, always, going on.

The cup of water that gives itself to thirst is a model for me of the compassion that gives itself freely. Water is generous, tolerant, does not hold itself apart, lets itself be used by any need. Water goes, as Lao Tzu says, to the lowest places, vile places, accepts contamination, accepts foulness, and yet comes through again always as itself, pure, cleansed, and cleansing.

Running water and the sea are models for me of patience: their easy, steady obedience to necessity, to the pull of the moon in the sea-tides and the pull of the earth always downward; the immense power of that obedience.

I have no model for peace, only glimpses of it, metaphors for it, similes to what I cannot fully grasp and hold. Among them: a bowl of clear water. A boat drifting on a slow river. A lake among hills. The vast depths of the sea. A drop of water at the tip of a leaf. The sound of rain. The sound of a fountain. The bright dance of the water-spray from a garden hose, the scent of wet earth.


A Meditation

The river that runs in the valley
makes the valley that holds it.

This is the doorway:
the valley of the river.


What wears away the hard stone,
the high mountain?

The wind. The dust on the wind.
The rain. The rain on the wind.

What wears the hardness of hate away?
Breath, tears.


Courage, compassion, patience
holding to their way:
the path to the doorway.


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Not My Commander in Chief

I’ve been lying low this political season, watching from a safe distance. But, after hearing the office of president referred to time and again as our “commander in chief,” I finally had to speak out. Here is my piece published on July 27 in my local newspaper, the Eugene Register-Guard.

U.S. civilians don’t have a commander in chief

By Steve McQuiddy
For The Register-Guard
July 27, 2016

Donald Trump will not be my commander in chief. Neither will Hillary Clinton.

Our nation does not have a commander in chief. It never has; hopefully it never will. Our nation does have a commander in chief of the armed forces. This person, as outlined in Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of our Constitution, is the president of the United States.

The president does not “command” any civilians, except as an employer who oversees the work of people in his or her administration.

This may seem like hair-splitting to some. But I submit that it is one of the most important distinctions in our president’s job description — so important that it delineates the difference between democracy and dictatorship.

The use of “commander in chief” as a synonym for “president” or “chief executive” has permeated our national discourse so completely in the last 15 years that it now appears regularly in otherwise competently presented news stories.

A simple Internet search for “commander in chief” reveals its regular use as shorthand when referring to the president.

The Dallas Morning News reported that at the Democratic National Convention, “two Democratic presidents will eagerly serve as cheerleaders: Hillary Clinton’s husband, the 42nd president, and the current commander in chief, Obama.”

The Hill, which covers Washington, D.C., politics, quoted Darryl Glenn, a candidate for Senate in Colorado, at the Republican National Convention, “This president ran to be commander in chief. Unfortunately, his rhetoric has made him divider in chief.”

Even our local newspaper recently ran a story from the Tribune News Service that spoke of American voters having difficulty visualizing Donald Trump as “the nation’s commander in chief.”

To be fair, most news organizations generally use the term in context of military-related topics. But overuse blurs the distinction between the president’s role as commander of the military, and his or her political job of carrying out the will of the people.

One recent president recognized that during times of war, the public looks to the president as an authority figure. “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief,” George W. Bush reportedly told his ghostwriter, Mickey Herskowitz, in 1999.

“My father [George H. W. Bush] had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and he wasted it,” Herskowitz recalled the then-governor of Texas saying. “If I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it.”

Bush put those words into action after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, sending American forces to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Chief among the events cementing his identity as a military leader was his flight in a military jet to a landing on an aircraft carrier off the California coastline, where he stepped out wearing a flight suit and carrying a helmet under his arm.

And who can forget then-CBS News anchorman Dan Rather on Late Night with David Letterman, a week after the Sept. 11 attacks. “George Bush is the president,” Rather said, “wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”

By 2004, the melding of chief executive and commander in chief was complete, both in word and picture. “I’m a war president,” Bush told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that year. “The American people need to know they got a president who sees the world the way it is.”

The candidates in ensuing elections didn’t do much to disabuse us of this notion.

John Kerry in 2004 based his campaign on his military experience in Vietnam. Hillary Clinton’s oft-quoted “3 a.m. phone call” campaign advertisement in 2008 further supported the idea that a president’s primary job is military.

“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought,” wrote George Orwell in “Politics and the English Language,” his 1946 essay. “A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”

It doesn’t have to be that way, Orwell argued. “If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration.”

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it is a concern for all Americans.

Language is power. If we allow others to dictate the meanings of our words, we allow others to dictate the meanings of our lives.

So, the next time someone asks if you can imagine Candidate X or Candidate Y as your commander in chief, answer them with, “No, I live in a democracy. We don’t have a commander in chief.”

Steve McQuiddy, a writing instructor at Lane Community College, is the author of “Here on the Edge,” a Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist, the story of a group of World War II conscientious objectors on the Oregon Coast.


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The most subversive statement of the year

Christmas, 1942. War raged across Europe and the Pacific, with no indication of when it might end. At an isolated work camp on the Oregon Coast, a small group of conscientious objectors dared to make perhaps the most subversive statement of the year. This message was posted at the head of their dining hall.






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75 years ago today: the first peacetime draft

On September 16, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Selective Training and Service Act, which constituted the first peacetime draft in United States history. It required all American males between the ages of 21 and 36 to register for “training and service in the land and naval forces of the United States.”

It also provided for the first time in American history a clause recognizing conscientious objection. Men whose claim of CO status was recognized could serve in noncombatant roles, or take part in an organization (yet to be formed) that would assign them to do “work of national importance under civilian direction.” Nobody knew it yet, but the seed of Civilian Public Service (CPS) was planted.

Where and how men were granted CO status was a matter of geography — both physical and social. Draft boards were composed of local men, many of them veterans of war themselves, and a young man requesting CO status was entirely at their mercy. In some cities, a CO on one side of the street might be assigned to CPS or excused entirely, and a CO from the other side of the street be sent to prison.

The statement that CO’s submitted ranged from the concretely religious to broadly philosophical. Kermit Sheets told his draft board in central California that he had been raised to follow the Bible, and it told him simply, “Thou shalt not kill.”

William Everson, also from central California, declared himself a pantheist, and wrote that the U.S. should not engage in war so that citizens of the future could look back and say, “Here was finally a people in all the bloody past who loved peace too much to fight for it.”

Both were sent to CPS camps in Oregon, where fate and their own energies would conspire to create something more.


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How to Abolish War without Really Trying

Seventy years ago today, World War II officially ended with the formal signing of surrender documents by Japanese officials on board the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.

The toll of the war was horrendous worldwide, and you would’ve had to look hard to find someone who felt the killing and destruction should continue. How, then, could we stop such a thing from occurring again?

The men at Camp Angel didn’t claim to have an answer, but they tried their best to create an alternative through their words and actions.

They weren’t against the men who fought in the war; they were against war itself, the very idea of war. And they believed that if they could express a way of thinking, a way of viewing the world, that was opposite the view of war, then perhaps they might be able to make a difference. 

The way, they felt, was through art. Through words and pictures and music, through painting and sculpture and drama, through every possible manifestation of making instead of destroying — they felt that if they demonstrated a world of possibility over inevitability, then perhaps a new way of thinking might slowly take root and grow. 

And that’s what they did. They wrote and published and composed, they painted and sculpted and acted, they dreamed and built and made things with their minds and hearts and hands. And they put it out there for the world to see. 

Their focus all along had been not on the current conflict, but on what kind of society might be possible when the shooting  finally stopped. 

If they had a maxim, it could be found buried at the end of a dust jacket blurb in their first printed book, The Horned Moon, by Glen Coffield:

“As for our purpose, it is simple enough. These are the years of destruction; we offer against them the creative act.” 

Horned Moon dj


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Christmas 1944: How Silent are the Things of Heaven

Almost exactly seventy years ago, Bill Shank, an 18-year-old from New Jersey, took up the printer’s stick and set some type, then fired up the Challenge Gordon press in the Fine Arts work room and printed out a special Christmas greeting, featuring a poem by his friend, Kenneth Patchen. After Here on the Edge was published last year, Bill Shank sent me a scan of the poem, now cracked and brittle with age, but whose message rings as true today as it did then. 

Patchen Christmas 1944

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Here on the Edge featured in the Sunday Register-Guard

A nice feature by Randi Bjornstad in the Eugene Register-Guard Sunday edition. She captures the story very well, and even reveals a little of the writer’s own history. (Yes, he really did study architecture and botany before picking up a pen to write books.) Read PDF versions of the first page here, and the second page here.

Catch the last two shows of the year: 11/13 at Tsunami Books in Eugene, and 11/15 at the Nye Beach Writers’ Series in Newport. 

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