--Back to Main Page--   


From the Editor's Desk
  Kate Bernadette Benedict


Editorial Policies, and All That

I’ve often wondered, over the years, why literary journals were so adamant about certain of their policies. “No simultaneous submissions” is one such policy. It seemed downright hostile to me, especially since few journals make quick turnaround a priority. Many a submitting poet has waited six months to a year before receiving a plain vanilla pre-printed rejection notice; in that interim, their work has been tied up. In my experience, online journals tend to reply more swiftly but not always. For example, The Cortland Review requires exclusives and states outright that it replies in 6-12 months; recently, they kept a submission of my own for 9 ½.

With Umbrella, I wanted to do some things differently, and one was to be open to simultaneous submissions. So I’ve surprised myself by reneging on that promise and changing back to a more “business as usual” stance. Why? Those “I withdraw one poem from the batch” letters became hard to manage, for one. For the other, I lost one poem because another journal accepted first, and not because I was slow in responding but because that poem had been submitted elsewhere months prior. So, No Simul-Subs it is!—though I’ve tweaked the usual policy in a way that I hope will quell disappointment. If writers don’t receive a yea or nay from Umbrella within eight weeks, then our expectation of an “exclusive” expires, and we try to respond even faster than that.  


Editorial Callousness and All That

Reader, I have been cursed out, I have been excoriated. “Thanks for rejecting my work,” someone, a teacher, wrote. “It gives me great pleasure knowing I am not included in some pathetic world you created.” There have been other salvos; “F you” letters are inevitable in any enterprise that rejects more than it welcomes.

As a poet myself, I've endured an onslaught of rejections. Big fat files, separated by the decades, bulge with them:  Rejections 1970’s; Rejections 1980’s; Rejections 1990’s; Rejections Two Thousand Aughts. I’ve experienced a whole zoo of emotions over the years, from crestfallen disappointment to miffed annoyance to full-blown rage to shrugging bemusement. Writing well is the best revenge.

Or is it? Are rejections from the better journals piling up in your files too? Do you feel spurned by the poetry establishment, burned by jealousy? Then click immediately to CE Chaffin’s essay My Struggle With Literary Narcissism.   Chaffin fesses up to his jealous rage even as he acknowledges the pettiness of such emotions. Writing well, being content with one’s artistic efforts alone, is, for him, a proper and “Parnassian” view but one he can’t “wholly embrace.”


Puking Horizons and All That

Surely the peskiest point of contention in Umbrella’s guidelines is your editor’s proviso against pathetic fallacy, or the attribution of human qualities to nature and things. Why take a stance against a kind of trope that poets have used throughout the ages? For one thing, we live in a more exacting age now. We know that a bird has a nature quite distinct from that of humans, that the sun’s “rising” is an illusion, and that we humans are subject to erroneous illusions of our own—in particular, that “man is the measure of all things,” a being with total dominion over nature. The way I look at it, it’s downright imperialistic to listen to birdsong and attribute to it a human aspect such as joy or sorrow or sighing. The fact is, we don’t know what a wren feels emotionally, or even if it feels emotionally in a way even slightly comparable to what we feel. To describe a sunset as angry or a rock as weeping is more imperialistic still.

It’s also silly. In earlier days, I was as guilty as anyone of indulging in pathetic fallacy; indeed, I was responsible for the extremely silly image in the section header, above! Then one day a mental switch turned on and I purged my work of this type of trope. I simply do not think that pathetic fallacy brings a reader deeper into experience or sheds light on the human predicament, which I would argue is the raison d’être of poetry.

Now click immediately to “Geishas of Autumn” by Steve Meador. This poem is an extended metaphor in which pathetic fallacy takes center stage. It isn’t haiku but is similar in that it captures an evanescent and seasonal mood via imagery, in this case a patently Japanese imagery of geishas, samurais and ginkgos. I would argue that a poem like this does not, cannot, bring the art forward, but it’s successful in its way. It puts the reader in a state of reverie. The speaker in this poem does not seem to me to be projecting human qualities onto nature but projecting his very being into nature, lifting his own face, along with the geisha-ginkgo faces, in acquiescence to a dying season. If pathetic fallacy is still to have usefulness, then this is what it needs to do.   That bird is not like us, but we are like that bird.  

Here's another, and even more illustrative, example from the new online journal, FutureCyclePoetry, from a poem by Ellen Bass:  Tonight I lie facedown/on our bed, heavy/as a melon on warm dirt,/sun heating its cells, starches/turning to sugar...  The speaker here finds an analog in nature to describe her own feeling of ripening as her partner strokes her back.  She doesn't call a melon languid or sexy.  If I still haven't convinced you that traditional pathetic fallacy is "for the birds," then consider how a majority of the poems that have been gracing Umbrella's in-box resort to it.   Every day, there they are:  the struggling clouds, the envious goldfish, the laughing key, the uncaring evenings, the murmuring painting, the vengeful toaster.   It’s one big "McPoem" (Donald Hall's coinage), written by a hive mind.



Featured Artist: David Chorlton

Applause, please, for David Chorlton, whose paintings are featured on each of our cover pages. David writes “I was born in Austria, grew up in Manchester, England, and went back to live in Vienna during the 1970s. I moved to Phoenix in 1978. Rain was a staple in Manchester, usually the slow drizzle that lasts and lasts. The rainy scenes populated by umbrella-carrying citizens have all been painted in Arizona, the result of looking back at the old world.”

David’s shows have included a one-man exhibition at the Chandler Center for the Arts in 1991 and other shows in galleries in Phoenix and elsewhere. In recent years. David has spent more time on his writing and his paintings appear on the covers of his books such as Return to Waking Life (Main Street Rag Publishing Company 2004) and Waiting for the Quetzal (March Street Press 2006).


Call for Submissions

Fall 2007 (online September 1) will be an all-poetry edition. Both Prose and Bumbershoot are taking the summer off, but poetry is welcome, welcome, welcome. Lots of journals have no reading period in the summer. We do.

Poems on general topics are welcome, and also poems for a planned special section on the subject of working. These could be poems based on your experience in jobs, or persona poems from the POV of working people, or poems of a more philosophical nature. Work is broadly defined: office work, manual labor, arts, crafts, housework, hospitals, classrooms, kitchens, courts.



You may recall that previously I patched together a little poem that made use of one word from each of the spring issue’s poets. This month, I present a celebratory cento, a poem that makes use of one full line from each poet. Hope you enjoy.


A Little Cento for Summer 2007

I never once ever have dreamed I was
thudded into sponge of Florida grass.

I long for days when the olive trees writhed.
The ginger cat streaked past me, leaping like
I climbed the evergreen, I ate the plum.

You could do worse than spend the day
squinting, eyes stabbed with needle-shards of light!

And now, as I sit here in my moonlit room,
herds of severed leaves gallop
through fescue, scramble over
weeds. A slammed door could have spooked
the ancient hound—half St. Bernard.
His knees creak and the stairs creak.

Sometimes I think I see you standing there
in the nude, under a plastic sheet, the dematerialization—
with something more like love upon the skin.
Oh, why do we drone on with tired vain songs?


Final Note

We continue to be grateful for the strong submissions we keep receiving and the wonderful support of our readers and contributors.

Special thanks to Rachel Dacus for curating our "Guest Poet" feature. Lynne Knight’s poetry was new to me and I was simply bowled over by her closely observing, finely crafted and deeply felt work. Rachel’s interview with Lynne is also not to be missed.

Carol Taylor and I had a great time with Bumbershoot, as usual, and Carol’s compiliation of “classic jokes rhymed” will, we hope, give everyone a good chortle. O, some of them are very naughty indeed!

--Back to Main Page--