Interview with Greg Lamer and Robin Sontheimer of Rabbit Catastrophe

Rabbit Catastrophe Review was created by Greg Lamer (fiction and art editor) and Robin Sontheimer (poetry editor) in August of 2010 when they moved from Kansas City, MO to Lexington, KY.   They are a small, independent literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and art.

Lewis DeJong:  What made you guys want to start a journal?

Greg Lamer:  In 2008, I made a chapbook, Gem City / Fountain City, for Phil Estes as a test just to see if I could do it.  I had always been interested in the publishing industry and book craft.  Phil ended up scheduling a reading in Dayton, OH and was able to sell them there.  I only made about 15 copies of it.  He had some examples of other people’s chapbooks at his place.  They were just photocopies stapled together.  I wanted to make something really nice, that looked good.  Phil also was collecting Black Sparrow books at the times, so we modeled it after that look.  At the time, we called it The Piano Man Press because sometimes when Phil would talk he would tap his fingers on the table like he was playing piano.  I figured it would be a one-time thing.  In 2009 Phil, scheduled another reading in Dayton and asked that I publish a second edition with a longer print run that had more work and a new cover.  That’s the one that is currently for sale on the website, and it’s the first thing we made under the imprint Rabbit Catastrophe Press.

Robin Sontheimer:  After that second edition came out, I was applying to doctoral schools, and we didn’t know where we would be or what we would be doing in six months, so we didn’t plan on taking Rabbit Catastrophe Press any further than Phil’s book.  But once we got to Lexington, Greg ended up with more time on his hands.  I joked about starting a journal just to kill time.  I was also afraid that having chosen to go for a literature degree, I would never be involved with creative writing again.  Before we even had a real plan, Greg turned his photography blog into a call for submissions.

GL:  I had been reading interviews with small publishers talking about how difficult it would be, and how most fold after one issue.  I remember kind of worrying that it would never work, but I have never gotten the sense that this is something that we couldn’t do.  It’s been a pretty easy process.  We didn’t really think before we acted. We had a call for submissions up on our blog and on Facebook before we even knew how we were going to put the issue together.  We started soliciting people that we knew, but I was also surprised at how many people became interested around the world, which we owe to being listed on Duotrope.

LDJ:  What makes your journal different?  What is your mission statement?

GL:  There are a lot of great journals out there who aren’t concerned with their print product as much as the writing within it.  We wanted the quality of a finished issue to match the writing that we publish.  We wanted the book itself to be a piece of art.  We chose the paper because it is archival; it doesn’t degrade. It’s cotton and feels good in your hands as you read it.  The physical experience of reading should be enjoyable too.  We also made a choice to perfect bind instead of staple.  This gives it more permanence, more durability, and makes it all feel like one organic piece.

RS:  Every issue is hand torn and bound by us.  Every copy is a little different than the next.  Being a really small press affords us this time to have an acute attention to detail.  We don’t really have a mission statement, except maybe that we believe a good printed product is an underrepresented, but extremely important quality for a journal.

LDJ:  What was issue one like?  Any funny anecdotes?

GL:  We certainly learned a lot about being editors from the first issue.  We were kind of making it up as we went.

RS:  The first time I asked for edits from someone, they straight up said no.  I didn’t know how to respond and got really timid about asking for changes from writers.  But I got over it pretty fast.  I realized that publishing a mediocre version of a poem is worse for a writer than rejecting them.

I don’t think either of us really believed issue #1 would become real, or even that we’d get any submissions, or that they’d be any good.  When we accepted Christine Hamm’s poem, “How to Make a Person Bomb,” we knew we were going to have a better journal than we ever hoped. It set the tone of issue and helped us figure out what we wanted in the journal. We got brave about asking for specific things from people, to make the issue as precise as possible.  We started querying artists and writers who we never thought would submit to us.  That’s how we got Tao Lin to do the cover for issue #2.  We didn’t think he’d do it, but we had nothing to lose by asking.

LDJ:  What are your future plans for the journal?  How do you see that fitting in with the future of print?

RS:  We are starting up a chapbook contest.  It’s going to be called Scrap Chaps because we are making it out of the scraps of paper we have generated from making the journal.  We also have plans for a translation project where multi-lingual writers translate each other’s poems.

GL:  As for the future of print, it is going to be fine.  There is a lot of talk about books becoming obsolete, but it is not going to happen because of a new technology.  The book industry is going through something similar to what the music industry has gone through.  Everybody is just trying to figure out how the internet and technology fits into these forms.  You can still buy the new Animal Collective album on LP even though you can download the MP3.  The industry is just going to adapt to fit in new formats.  Books will be around for a long time for many reasons:  they are accessible to everybody, they are cheap, and the technology for e-readers isn’t that great right now.  The quality of an e-reader is based on how well it mimics a book.  If anything, e-readers might do us the favor of causing publishers to print less mass market paperbacks in the first place which is a good thing, since most of them end up in the trash or recycling bin within months of publication.

LDJ:  Where did the name come from?

RS:  It is the title of a Robert Musil story from his 1936 collection Posthumous Papers of a Living Artist. 

LDJ:  What’s next for you guys?

GL:  Issue #2 (ISSN #2160-9616) comes out in July, and we are always reading submissions.   Go to http://rabbitcatastrophe.blogspot.com/ for more details.

(Photo by Mimi Bates)

Greg Lamer grew up near Kansas City.  He received his BA at Montclair State University and has spent the past eight or so years working in bookstores around the Midwest.  His photography has shown in galleries in Kansas City, Chicago, and New Jersey.  His work has appeared in journals such as The Emerson Review, NOÖ Journal, Hobo Camp Review, and Leaf Garden.  In 2009, a chapbook of his photographs was published by Poptritus Press entitled Species of Spaces.  He lives in Lexington, Kentucky.  You can see his artwork at http://greglamer.carbonmade.com/.   In July he is getting married to Robin.

Robin Sontheimer is a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky where she studies 19th century American literature, linguistics, and poetics.  Her poetry has appeared in Magma, qarrtsiluni, and Number One.  She is probably most well known for that great APA PowerPoint that comes up if you Google her.  In July, she is marrying Greg.