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.

Everyone 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 Sargent, Jean Nordhaus, Anne Becker, Ilona Popper, Avideh Shashaani, and Jane Flanders.

Robert 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

1977

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.

1999

Mostly at Capitol Hill. I pick him up in my car.

1984

I make him chicken in my new condo, 16th and Swann.
Served on a fancy plate.

1981

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.

1979

He makes me lunch at his apartment in Roslyn.
We use real linen napkins.

1982

National Endowment for the Humanities,
the Shorham Building, 15th and H, we eat across the street,
it's always crowded.

1986

The Justice Department Cafeteria each week,
gossiping about poets, we work on manuscripts.

1995

Hamburger Hamlet, Bethesda,
monthly lunches now since I moved away.

1988

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.

June 2000

I plan to meet him, drive up to his place,
go to Bread and Chocolates,
share our latest poems. Hope he can make it.

1970

He leaves a note on the windshield of my car in Baltimore
after attending my play. It says,"Let's have lunch sometime."

 

Grace Cavalieri

 

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This 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.

Jean 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.

This 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.

The 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.

 

Grace Cavalieri
Publisher
The Bunny and the Crocodile Press (Forest Woods Media Productions, Inc.)

 

To read more by this author:
Grace Cavalieri
Cavalieri on Roland Flint: Memorial Issue
Grace Cavalieri: Whitman Issue

Grace Cavalieri: Wartime Issue
Cavalieri on Louise Gluck: Profiles Issue

Grace Cavalieri: Evolving City Issue
Grace Cavalieri: Split This Rock Issue
Cavalieri on Ann Darr: Forebears Issue
Grace Cavalieri on Joseph Brodsky: US Poets Laureate Issue
Grace Cavalieri: Tenth Anniversary Issue

Grace Cavalieri on "The Poet & The Poem": Literary Organizations Issue
Grace Cavalieri on Ahmos Zu-Bolton II: Poetic Ancestors Issue