Grace Cavalieri, Guest Editor
Introduction to the Spring 2004 Issue
(Volume 5, Number 2)
The Bunny and the Crocodile Press
The Press published its first volumes of poetry in 1979.
Among the original editions were books by two lawyers who were poets,
Washington's David Bristol
(Paradise and Cash) and Baltimore's Devy Bendit (Selling Parsley).
As publisher, I had recently launched the Washington Writer's Publishing
House (1976) with John McNally, and frankly, I was hot to publish other
poets I loved. The WWPH was set up so that each year three (then four)
small volumes were issued and those poets, by mandate, became part of
the editorial team. The true spirit of the 70's:The cooperative, the
commune, and the collaborative mentality. But that meant it would be
years before my other favorite poets would see print. So the Bunny was
born. We found, early on, that a two-woman operation could not field
the dozens of submissions that started coming in. To this day the press
operates on an invitational basis - dependent on grants, donations,
and erratic funding.
asks, before any other question, where this small press got such an
outrageous moniker. David Bristol had seen a cartoon in the New Yorker
with two little bunnies hugging blissfully, unaware that they were
standing in the large open mouth of a crocodile. It seemed such a
fitting picture of "poetry." We are always about to be devoured in the
jaws of this world that did not ask for us, did not want us, and
certainly provided no stall in the marketplace. We would provide our
own stall. Thirty-six titles have been issued since our origination, in
lots of 500, and because we are a staff of two, one book a year was all
that could be managed, and you can see we exceeded this in the past 25
years. Several of our titles have gone into more than one printing.
Cindy Comitz is the mainstay of our little press. I work with the
authors on manuscripts, and the guts of the book, but Cindy (my artist
daughter) does the typesetting, book production, and cover designs. Let
me say this is the least of her tasks -- for liaison with printers,
binders, shippers, make for a life destined to receive eternal
blessings (earthly ones being in short supply). Her Bunny production
must of course be done weekends and at midnight after her other jobs.
And each "Bunny and Crocodile" book is a work of art.
Beltway's April edition is kindly featuring
DC area "Bunny" poets. Several of our poets have been in Beltway
before, so this selection showcases six poets who are premiering in
this magazine for the first time. I selected six voices each richly
different, one from the other: Robert
Shashaani, and Jane Flanders.
Sargent is a 92 year old poet who has published with us
five times: Fish Galore (1989,) The Cartographer (1994,)
Stealthy Days (1998,) Altered in the Telling: The Biblical
Poems (2001), and 99 After 80 (2003.) Of course the latest
volume presents 99 poems written after the age of 80 years. Robert took
over the Washington Writers Publishing House as President, after my
inaugural term (in the early 1980's). He helped distribute books for
both presses with the famous "drop and split method" of distribution.
This means simply that he double-parked his car outside a bookstore,
I ran in and left books on the shelf, and hopped back in the car to
speed away to safety. Our books got sold, our books got read; we didn't
see the money but the books found a readership! I want to stop here
for a moment to offer this poem called "Lunch with Robert"
which names the places we met weekly in the 70's, and then less frequently
over the years, to the present. This is about creating a poetry world
with my pal, Robert:
LUNCH WITH ROBERT
for Robert Sargent's 88th birthday, May 23, 2000
We eat across the street from WPFW right after it goes on-air.
We find the only grassy spot near 18th and U. I have Slimfast.
He brings a sandwich. He writes a review of my first book.
Mostly at Capitol Hill. I pick him up in my car.
I make him chicken in my new condo, 16th and Swann.
Served on a fancy plate.
At PBS every Wednesday, we eat at L'Enfant Plaza,
grilled ham and cheese, every week the same,
sharing one plate of fries. We don't worry who'll get the last one.
We work on the poetry press.
He makes me lunch at his apartment in Roslyn.
We use real linen napkins.
National Endowment for the Humanities,
the Shorham Building, 15th and H, we eat across the street,
it's always crowded.
The Justice Department Cafeteria each week,
gossiping about poets, we work on manuscripts.
Hamburger Hamlet, Bethesda,
monthly lunches now since I moved away.
At 11th and Pennsylvania,
I like to think of him sitting outside the Pavilion,
reading a book, waiting for my lunch hour,
sun warming his bench.
He's looking at a yellow pad of all we'll talk about.
I plan to meet him, drive up to his place,
go to Bread and Chocolates,
share our latest poems. Hope he can make it.
He leaves a note on the windshield of my car in Baltimore
after attending my play. It says,"Let's have lunch sometime."
poem to Robert shows our long and loving relationship, based upon
literary activities in Washington DC through the years. The poems he
publishes here in Beltway demonstrate his intellectual
life, but more than anything his philosophical understanding of growing
older. The press is proud to honor the poems of this wonderful man who
has enriched Washington DC's art for the past 30 years.
Nordhaus is also represented in this edition of Beltway.
She succeeded Robert as President of the Washington Writers Publishing
House, and remained for several years in that position -- long enough
to carry the house to national prominence. When she gathered poets from
her monthly "workshop" to create an anthology, the Bunny and
the Crocodile Press (aka Forest Woods Media productions, Inc.) rushed
at the chance to publish the group. In 1996 we printed The Other
Side Of the Hill, an anthology of nine DC writers. Jean is another
pillar of Washington's literary world, and her own work is luminescent
and haunting. The poems here reflect Jean's exquisite sensibilities.
She is able to touch, with these few poems, a spectrum of art, history,
family and a "spiritual life." These are poems from her various
books, and she dignifies our lives with these offerings.
In 1996, The Bunny and the Crocodile Press also premiered
a fascinating book by Anne
Becker. The Transmutation Notebooks: Poems in the Voices
of Charles & Emma Darwin. Science and Art. This is what Anne
attributes to her parents (her thanks in the book), and it is what is
evidenced in this magnificent work. Based on fact, actual event, the
history of science and intellectual theory, we get a vibrant set of
poems from characters who live and breathe. The submissions printed
here include samples from The Transmutation Notebooks as well
other pieces, each of which show the intricacy of Anne's thought-forms,
the intensity and precision with which she weaves a poem. Detail and
accuracy are her standards; she is the queen of inlaid gold found between
and within the lines.
I can't believe we produced three books that year, in
1996, but here is Avideh
Shashaani's Remember Me, a book-long Sufi prayer.
This is a beautiful book, physically, partly because of the cover design,
and partly because of the fanciful way the stanzas are rendered, separated
with tiny flowers. Let me tell you how I met Avideh, long before she
became a house author. It was 1986 and I was as working at the National
Endowment for the Humanities. Avideh called and said she knew I was
a poet and she would like me to translate some Persian poetry. Now,
this means of course translate from the literal English. Avideh herself
is one of the foremost translators of Farsi and Persian poetry from
antiquity to modern day. Well, I said "no." I could not. She
asked to meet for lunch. I protested for one hour, and went away with
her sheaf of papers under my arm. Since that time I read her own work
and fell in love with its harmony, beauty, symmetry, and serenity. The
work found in this edition shows her prayerful and compassionate voice.
I'd known Ilona
Popper for many years in Washington DC, and had followed
her work closely. I especially valued the performance poems she read
and the way she possessed stage space with words. When she sent the
manuscript Break, it was a shoo-in. (The press published it in
2002.) I have to admit it was 90% chosen because of the force of the
long poem by that same title in the book, "Break." A woman
learning martial arts is the theme, but beneath and around that is the
rite of passage, the subtle art of surrender, through which victory
is found. But what a journey it is. It is a perfect example of how the
interior world is magnified through the physical world. It is a soul
journey and one of the most masterful poems you will read in many years.
I am so pleased that Ilona agreed to send parts of the book length poem
to represent her in this edition of Beltway. I am pleased
also with the other poems chosen, for they show other personal aspects
of Ilona's writings, among which are relationship poems.
The final poet in this edition, is also our latest publication:
Sudden Plenty (2003), poems by Jane
Flanders. It is a posthumous book and I cannot touch the
book without feelings and emotions that will not subside. Steve Flanders,
Jane's husband, assembled this collection of poems with assiduous craft,
skill, and impeccable love. But I must start this story in about 1974
when I met Jane. I was leaving Antioch College after 5 years of teaching
in Baltimore. Glen Echo Amusement Park was just opening as a center
for creative arts. I formed a writing group "workshop" in
a room near the old swimming pool (just then converted to sculpture
studios.) Writers gathered where birds flew through broken windows.
Our brave group of poets met weekly to map out a life in poetry. Jane
was a brilliant person and, after group sessions, she remained for private
tutorials. She was a mother, I was a mother, she had twins and I had
twins; we had much in common. I loved Jane - her sensible manner belied
her passions - and I immediately saw the originality in her writing.
Her poems were Roman candles, brilliant, unpredictable, sparkling, and
hypnotic. There was all this, and along with it the ability to harness
all those temperaments into beautifully polished form. The work issued
in the book Sudden Plenty, thanks to Steve Flanders, illustrates
the writing she accomplished from 1974-78. The Flanders family moved
after 1978 to New York State, and Jane went on, as many of us know,
to become a nationally-known poet of excellent reputation. I am so happy
that Sudden Plenty exists, and that, for me, and all readers,
Jane Flanders will always exist.
assemblage of six poets makes me proud of the idea and intention of the
small press movement in America. It is a time-honored way to advance
poets in every stage of their career; these books are hand-held from
the poet's hand, through Cindy, to our personal printer George Klear of
Leonardtown, MD. He has made many sacrifices along with us to allow
these poets- along with others- to be seen and heard.
press is now working on its new volume of poems due out this Spring
(2004). Every year at this time, Cindy and I say that we cannot go on.
Every year this time, we go on. Thanks, Kim Roberts, for showing some
pieces from the poets we are proud to represent.
The Bunny and the Crocodile Press (Forest Woods Media Productions, Inc.)
To read more by this author:
Cavalieri on Roland
Flint: Memorial Issue
Cavalieri: Wartime Issue
on Louise Gluck: Profiles Issue
Cavalieri: Evolving City Issue
Cavalieri: Split This Rock Issue
Cavalieri on Ann
Darr: Forebears Issue
Brodsky: US Poets Laureate Issue
Tenth Anniversary Issue
Cavalieri on "The Poet & The Poem": Literary Organizations
Grace Cavalieri on Ahmos Zu-Bolton II: Poetic Ancestors Issue