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chapter8

chapter8

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Published by Angela J. Smith

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Published by: Angela J. Smith on Apr 14, 2011
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04/15/2011

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119
CHAPTER 8: 1955-1980
In his
Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit,
Henry Ward Beecher said,“Genius is a steed too fery or the plow or the cart.” Perhaps he waswriting about himsel, or perhaps his words were unknowingly prophet-ic, or his great-nephew John Newman Beecher lived and worked with apassion that could never be reined in. Troughout his lie, John Beechermade innumerable career decisions with the “uture” in mind, leavingone pursuit or another out o stubbornness, impulsiveness, or specula-tive optimism. When it became clear that he would not be reinstated atSan Francisco State College and his status on the blacklist eliminatedboth his government and teaching position options, he entered a dark personal place. His ranching eort ailed and his employment optionsbecame limited. In 1955, he began a training program through theDominican Priory o St. Albert in Oakland with the goal o becoming arappist monk, but he le the program when he met and married Bar-bara Scholz.
443
She accompanied him throughout the next twenty-fveyears as he reestablished himsel as a socially conscious poet, civil rightsreporter, and teacher.
 
120
John and Barbara met in the summer o 1955 when they lived in adjacent rooms at aboardinghouse in Oakland. She was a 30-year-old graphic artist who worked in a civilianclerical position with the Army. Beecher, 51 years old, had three divorces behind him andall but one o his children grown; he was preparing or a monastic liestyle. Tey shareda bathroom which was situated between the two rooms. As Barbara tells the story, Johnwould orget to unlock the bathroom door on her side when he fnished getting ready toleave in the morning. Tis happened or a week, and one morning, out o rustration, shewaited or him outside the ront door. “Mr. Beecher, I would like to talk with you!” Shethen asked him to remember to unlock the bathroom door; he was making her late orwork. Remembering the incident, she smiles and says this was the beginning o their re-lationship.
444
Tey married a month later. Beecher shared the event in a letter to his atherthe day o their August 16, 1955, marriage:... We drove right on through to Carson City last night, arriving about12:30. Here we put up at a very nice motel –the Crystal Fountain –builtby an ex-seaman and MGM Hollywood cameraman. He took our wed-ding pictures this morning aer the ceremony had been perormed atthe Court House, very simply though slightly oratorical. Te name o the Justice o the Peace was Dan Murphy, a aithul son o Holy MotherChurch no doubt, but a man has to live, n’est pas? Anyhow it was very much OK. Bob [Beecher’s pet name or Barbara] wore a white linendress and fxed her own corsage rom the asters the boys gave her yes-terday. She got ribbons rom the dime store and it looked really impres-sive. She was, is, and will perpetually remain very happy about it all.Ditto or me. We both know it is right, absolutely good, and right.
445
Tey soon moved back to the ranchin Sebastopol and embarked on their lietogether.
John and Barbara Beecher, August 16, 1955
PHOTO COURTESY OF BARBARA BEECHER
 
121
A SMALL PRESS OF THEIR OWN
Shortly aer they married, the couple bought an antique press and began printinghandcraed books o Beecher’s poetry. Barbara, who was an accomplished artist and alsotrained in graphic arts, produced calligraphy and block carvings; Beecher wrote, andmanaged the typesetting and printing. ogether, they were a team, and over the next sevenyears they printed and sold small-run, handcraed books o poetry. In a letter to his oldriend Dorothy Norman, Beecher explained the purchase o their frst press,Te story on the printing is this. I picked up a cast-o and relatively an-tique 10x15 platen press or $175 last December, bought a trade-schooltextbook or printing, second-hand equipment and the fnest types andinks and papers available, and set about being a printer. Te operationis installed in a room in our house. My wie cuts the decorative blocksand counsels me on layout and design, scans my proos with the eye o an avenging angel and detects the least blemish or misalignment. She,in short, supplies the conscience, I being just the brawn. I set the typeby hand, lock up the orms, and turn the wheel o the press by hand.Tough I have a motor attachment, I preer being a Gutenberg.
446
Initially, they considered expanding the operation, but quickly decided they had nodesire to become a commercial printer. Tey wanted only to print fne art works or them-selves and or others with similar sensibilities. Beecher wrote to Dorothy Norman,Our present thinking is along these lines: to bring out books as beauti-ul as we can make them, by hand methods, with perhaps a bigger pressthan we now have so that we can print our pages at a time instead o one or two but still no automatic gadgets. … I get a tremendous satisac-tion out o doing it, which indicates that it must be right and I wouldlike to think that a printing-writing combination is what I am sup-posed to do with the rest o my lie. I just don’t want to make any alseor premature moves. And I want to stick to beautiul stu, or at least asbeautiul as I can make it. I think so oen o Steiglitz and o his unail-ing sense o values, his penetration which exposed the hollowness o allcommercialism and ame. ‘America corrupts her best and puts them tono use.’ How not to be corrupted; how still to be used? It never gets any easier.
447
 As Beecher recovered rom the deep depression he had descended into aer beingfred rom San Francisco State, he began to write poetry again. In 1956, he published andprinted
Land of the Free
, his frst published work o poetry since the early 1940s
.
448
Land of the Free
was a single, long work that he wrote when he was asked to deliver a speechabout the state o civil liberties in the nation.
449
Te couple named their publishing/print-ing venture Morning Star Press; in the all o 1956, they began producing a quarterly edited poetry journal called
 Morning Star Quartos
.
450
 Beecher was not the only poet with a printing press in the Bay area. In the mid-1950s,what would later be called the San Francisco Renaissance was under way with poet, trans-lator and political activist Kenneth Rexroth mapping out the way. San Francisco—and itsneighbors, Berkeley and Oakland—had long been an outpost or many who did not ftinto typical American molds. Te region’s unique culture brought Rexroth rom his native

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