By Krista Schwimmer
In the spring of 2008, I came home one day to find a phone message on my machine from a pleasant sounding woman named Della Franco. Although I had not met her, I knew she was part of the Beachhead Collective. She said she had really enjoyed one of my recent poetry submissions. Would I be interested in helping the Beachhead? I was so excited that someone from this legendary newspaper not only liked my work, but actually wanted me to help, that I did a little dance of elation, witnessed only by my birds. I called back, explaining to her that I would love to help. There was a bit of a catch – I could only come later, after some surgery I was having. She totally understood.
So, in September 2008, I found myself strolling up to a home on Rialto Street, just 5 minutes walking distance from where I live. I located the house easily, one sure clue being the September issues of the Beachhead in a plastic slot on a fence for anyone to take. I walked into a small, patio area with a mix of chairs to one side and an empty square table to another. A thick, Thai door with a Green Man fountain spewing water beside it, welcomed me. Above me, I huge palm loomed. I knocked hesitantly.
The man who answered the door oddly reminded me of Mr. Badger from “Wind in the Willows.” He greeted me warmly, introducing himself as Jim Smith. As I entered the home, I noticed a long, rectangular wooden table that easily fit 8 people. Above the table, a chandelier hung almost touching the table itself. Sitting in a wicker chair, a woman with brown hair hovered over a large sheet of paper, reading intently. A few minutes later, she got into a passionate argument with Jim and stormed out of the house. I watched awkwardly. Karl Abrams introduced himself. His manner immediately put me at ease.
That first night they were proofing the October paper before sending it to press. Most of the work was done. Still, Jim gave me a few pages to proof. He told me to come back in two weeks, as the Collective usually took off the Monday following the printing of the current issue. At the second meeting I attended, not only was I voted in as a member, but I learned the basic organization behind the monthly publishing of the Beachhead.
At the beginning of the month, the members of the Collective meet at Jim’s home. The first task is to review the recently published paper, checking to see how it looks, as well as looking for errors missed in the proofing. Then, people begin looking at ideas for the upcoming paper. Distribution and fundraising are talked about pretty much at every meeting. Submissions are read whenever they come in. The submissions are decided by majority vote – though after working with the collective about six months, I did learn that if a member truly objects to a piece, this piece can be quashed by a veto. In case you are wondering, I don’t recall any vetos since I have been there.
The most challenging part of working on the Collective for me is the monthly fundraising. The paper costs a little over $800 to print each month. Then, there is the mailing to our sustainers and subscribers. Fundraising meant learning to call past sustainers and ask them to renew; looking for advertisers (something I am truly bad at!); and helping organize fundraisers. Each month as we approached the deadline for printing, I would worry out loud about the lack of finances; Don Geagan would invariably say “Don’t worry! The money will come! It always does.” Well, so far, he is largely right!
One of my favorite parts of attending the regular Monday meetings is reading the submissions out loud. Members take turns reading the different submissions. Karl almost invariably reads the Swami submissions as he has the best impersonation of Swami himself. Plus, he can decipher Swami’s handwriting. Collective members usually read their own work. (Though once, Peggy read one of my poems to folks when I announced it was not a very nice poem. She laughed and said, “Let me read it!”)
Anyway, there is something so lovely about reading out loud, as well as being read to. Granted, you may not understand the writing or even sometimes be able to read the submission itself (we are probably one of the only publishers in the entire world that considers handwritten submissions on coffee cups.) In a society filled with “Facebook,” “Twitter,” and other amazing but isolating technologies, there is something soulful about adults sitting around a big, wooden table, reading out loud to each other.
Besides the weekly Monday meetings, collective members meet at the end of each month to proof and then, to distribute the 8,000 plus papers. Delivering the paper can be fun itself. People are often excited to see the new paper, commenting on articles they had read in the last one. It can also be a history lesson if you ride around with someone like Jim. One Saturday, when delivering on Ocean Front Walk, he showed me the building where my favorite Venetian poet, Philomene Long, once resided.
Although I have only joined the Beachhead recently, I already have vivid memories of meetings. Like the time the Beachhead was helping the fight against the overnight parking districts. Despite the fact that we were all on the same side, some meetings around this issue found members sparing with each other. Still, the Beachhead successfully published stories about this fight and helped win that round for the homeless. Or the time, when somehow I got the job of organizing the International Women’s Day Beachhead Event at Beyond Baroque without really knowing much about it myself. Nothing like dipping a somewhat politically ignorant card-reading woman into the cauldron of seasoned feminists. Which woman did I not annoy somehow??? Needless to say, the event went fairly well; more importantly, I lived to conjure another poem.
When I see the latest edition of the Beachhead fresh from the press, I still get a thrill! I like to peruse it on my front porch amidst the squirrels and wild birds I feed daily. Never mind that by the time I hold the hardcopy, I have already read most stories, poems, and exclamations 2 or 3 times. Still, I read the entire paper, cover to cover. I look to see what little last minute graphics Jim may have added that are either humorous or thoughtful (like the little cars at the end of the book review on rising gas prices); or what reprint from an old Beachhead I may have missed. Of course, I look at the poetry page, one of my favorite parts of the Beachhead. It was the poetry section that first drew me to the Beachhead. There, I discovered the Venice Beat Legends, as well as current poets such as Hilary Kaye.
Working with the Beachhead has opened me up to parts of the Venice community I knew nothing about – like Oakwood or the Lincoln Place Apartments – as well as the people who fight for the rights of others in those areas. That’s not, however, what keeps me returning to the Monday meetings. What keeps me going is the experience of collectively creating a new paper each month: an effort that involves both the community outside of the Monday night meetings as well as the people who take the time to meet together, around the long table. The Beachhead Collective may not be the Inklings; but we sure give it all we have. From politics to poetry and back again, the conversation continues. Let’s keep it that way!