Saturday, December 6, 2014

Small Presses I Have Known and Loved (a personal account) The Bunny and the Crocodile Press & The Washington Writers’ Publishing House

The Bunny and the Crocodile Press was started in 1976, by Grace Cavalieri and daughter Cindy Flynn; and then that same year I joined our friend John McNally in establishing the Washington Writers’ Publishing House.

The name
"Bunny & Crocodile" came from a New Yorker cartoon David Bristol sent me with a huge crocodile mouth and two bunnies inside the open jaws, hugging, unaware of any danger. This surely was poetry in the world. People always attributed the Press’s name to Ken and me but truly it was just an imprint we thought perfect.

The small press movement is time-honored in America. In the 1960’s and 70’s, the movement gained momentum, taking on the mission of publishing good poets who the big houses ignored. Big publishers were owned by ATT and Westinghouse, corporate American. But small presses did not have a bottom line, or even a line, and all kinds of books were produced – sometimes even mimeographs were published in poets’ basement.  

The Bunny/Crocodile depended on an established poet finding his/her own grant to sustain publication. Most of our poets were in academia and at that time, their colleges supported and subsidized publications.  Of course my household had to provide more funding than anticipated because of incidentals that we—an illusioned entity— could not foresee. When it came to finances, “The Bunny” was always outside chewing grass and “The Crocodile” sleeping in the sun.  Also we did not have the strength to do bookkeeping so the authors received 100% of their books and sales money. What did we have? We had the great good pleasure of making a book, making something that did not exist before— call it collaboration with God, but there was something wonderful about packaging a poet’s words and sending them out into the world like a letter of love.

The reason our press was not a vanity press (i.e. writers pay to be printed) is because of one word:  selection. We received many manuscripts, and we chose carefully among those poets who were excellent, who had tried traditional houses first, were deserving in the community and— and, well, sometimes were our friends.

My daughter Cindy was with me from the beginning of production with “The Bunny.” She was in college (studying with Michael Glaser) when we began, and Cindy was an accomplished artist who designed the books and created the covers. We found a printer in southern Maryland who made books that were reasonably priced with good textbook paper. The largest portion of our publishing lives was helped along by George Klear’s Printing Press, Leonardtown Maryland. After he died, his son Kerry worked for us. George was an angel in the rough, and was amazed at the idea that anyone would print poetry instead of VFW news or fishing calendars. He always gave a great price and once, when covers for the WPFW anthology were injured, George reprinted 500 books free – without us even asking (“that’s what giving is,“ my husband always said).

From 1976 to 2014 we did books sporadically, one or two a year. We had other interests, and publishing was on the margin of our lives. During the last 10 active years of publishing we accepted novels and finally we decided to close the press in 2013. Thirty six years of work with no revenue was a drain. The energy we received from shining light on other writers called for more batteries than we had left.

The most sweeping success of any of our books was The WPFW Anthology where the Bunny and Crocodile published the first 300 poets to appear on my radio series “The Poet and the Poem from WPFW-FM.” Some poets had never been in print. Others were Poets Laureate, some had never been on radio before, and everyone gave us the beauty of a poem. We were able - I cannot believe the 100s of grants I’d written - we were able to distribute the anthology to every library and every public school in the District of Columbia.

These were the books George Klear replaced because someone in his shop moved the covers before he varnish was dry. So I still have a box of extras in my closet, and I am saving them for the most special of all occasions, although I cannot imagine what day that will be. I hope I am in it, at any rate.
In 1986, Robert Sargent, my constant friend and companion and Bunny Board member had just retired his career from the Pentagon, and he put his clerical skills to work by helping me file for an IRS tax free status, incorporated in the District of Columbia. Now we could do more work. An entity can be incorporated in every state so when I moved to West Virginia in 1988, I added Forest Woods Media as a moniker as we were doing more poetry distribution in media than in print.

At the time of the Bunny’s inception, I met John McNally. He was a wonderful energetic person, who worked with my husband in the Bureau of Naval Personnel in DC. Ken was his “superior officer,” Commander, and John was a Lieutenant so when Ken brought him home, John was naturally called Ken’s inferior officer. He’d seen horrible action in Vet Nam in a river boat with dead bodies falling on him. But he never spoke of it. He was sweet and handsome and on his way to Law School and he loved poetry and was an excellent poet.

It was John’s idea to start a publishing House that was not quite as jejune as The Bunny and Crocodile and he had a grand vision. This was the time of cooperatives and collectives.  John thought we should start a collective because he knew a great graphics artist in DC who would design elegant small chapbooks. The idea was to start with three poets, then those published poets would become workers for the press, selecting three more, then we’d have six and it was an inverted pyramid which would become a small press empire.

The first three books were slender, about 26 pages: Deirdra Baldwin, (I think Terence Winch) and my own. Nice satiny covers and good paper. Not like paper in other books at the time. E Ethelbert Miller was among our next three, and John McNally’s idea flourished.

The Washington Writers’ Publishing House is still thriving today with hundreds of titles to its credit. John moved on to study law, I was President of the Washington Writers Publishing House the first two years, Robert Sargent for several years (poor Robert, I left cardboard boxes filled with unfiled papers for him to sort). Jean Nordhaus shouldered the press for many years after that. She’d been Poetry Coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library. We were poets publishing poets. Elisavietta Ritchie is the responsible one now in 2014 and there are bounties of books on shelves with the WWPH imprimatur.

Robert Sargent, my buddy, helped me with poetry distribution for The Bunny books and WWPH books. I was somewhat of a poetry guerrilla in those days employing underground tactics to get poetry out into the world. I would run into a bookstore and place books on the shelves and dash out. Robert would be double parked and we would speed away like Bonnie and Clyde. We got no money from those sales but poetry books were sold and our distribution system worked just fine. Give everything and ask for nothing and you’ll have success. Those are the economics of the arts

An aside about Robert Sargent:
Robert drove me everywhere to do Bunny business and later WPFW business. Also, he took me to my poetry gigs during the day at various colleges. He died at age 94 and was my best friend for 40 years. The Bunny published five of his collections.  When I had 9am-5pm jobs in DC, at PBS and NEH, we met every single Wednesday for lunch. I would come outside my building to find him sitting on a bench in the sun reading a book. He always carried a yellow memo pad, from Pentagon Days, with an agenda of what we’d talk about. As we gossiped or shared poetry acceptances and rejections, telling our secrets, he would cross off the topic with pencil.

Born in Mississippi, Robert was courtly, a southern gentleman and had a deep drawl but he was a devil. He kept a fake journal for Chris his wife to read, and although he adored her, he wanted his other women kept to himself. He sometimes wrote innocent dalliances in his fake journal so she’d believe them true.  

Robert and I had our arguments and they were fierce. He is the only person who could rouse my fury. Politically, we were opposite, and this was a point of contention. But he was my poetry valet. And a loyal partner in poetry crime.

The Bunny and the Crocodile Press Booklist 
(aka Forest Woods Media) 1976- to 2013

Blue denotes poets who are no longer with us

British GI Warbrides  Among The Alien Corn by Joyce Varney Thompson
Do Unto Others by Robert.C.Varney
Looking For Don by Dai Sil Kim Gibson
Schaeffer Brown’s Detective Observations by Candace Katz
My Emerald Green Dress by Alistaire Ramirez-Marquez   (in English and Spanish)
Dandelion Greens by Jane Flanders (Post Humous) edited by Steven Flanders
Dream Catcher by Lynn Kernan 
Schaeffer Brown’s Detective Fundamentals by Candace Katz
Manifesto d’Amore’: Uncollected Poems (1940-2001)  by Jane Flanders (posthumous pub)
Orpheus in the Park by Rose Solari
Being A Father by Michael Glaser
Beached in the Hourglass by Ethan Fischer
Sudden Plenty by Jane Flanders (posthumous pub)      

99 Past 80 by Robert Sargent
The Tao of Mrs. Wei  by Hilary Tham
Epitaph  by Yoko Danna
Break by Ilona Popper
Toad and Other Poems by David Bristol
Fiddledeedee by Shelby Stephenson
Altered in the Telling by Robert Sargent
Rap Goes Deutsch, the Poet and the Poem Special, CD (Goethe International)
Weavings 2000, A Maryland Anthology for Young People edited by Michael Glaser
The Maryland Millennium Anthology edited by Michael Glaser
Baiting the Hook by Sonja James
Looking for Divine Transportation by Karren Alenier
Pinecrest Rest Haven book-on-tape by Grace Cavalieri
Gift of Jade by  Margaret Ward Morland
The Stealthy Days by Robert Sargent
WPFW 89.3 Anthology edited by Grace Cavalieri
The Other Side of the Hill, Capitol Hill Writers Group Anthology edited by Jean Nordhaus
Cycles of the Moonvine by Jean Emerson
House of Change by Stacy Tuthill
Voice As A Bridge, edited by William Gilcher
Tales Too, an Anthology edited by Jeanne Mozier
The Corner Ain’t No Place For Hiding by Jonettta rose Barras

The Transmutation Notebooks by Anne Becker
So What! by Kenneth Carroll
The Cartographer by Robert Sargent
Flying the Zuni Mountains by Ann Darr
Tales from the Springs, an Anthology edited by Jeanne Mozier
Remember Me by Avideh Shashaani
Confessions of a Skewed Romantic by Ann Darr
Fish Galore by Robert Sargent
A Lover’s Eye by Michael Glaser
Paradise and Cash by David Bristol
The Thoughts of Giants by Shirley Scott
The Monk That Made His Momma Happy by David Bristol
Solid Gold by Devy Bendit
Selling Parsley by Devy Bendit 
Body Fluids by Grace Cavalieri  (1976)

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