Monday, September 28, 2009

You're Under Syntactical Arrest

In this rejection, an anonymous poet had been once rejected by Kate Bernadette Benedict at Umbrella Journal, but invited to send in more work.  The poet wrote to ask about the next reading period for submissions, and received this snippy bit of business: "Well, the guidelines answer that question, of course, but more importantly that's where our editorial needs are spelled out in great detail.  If the first poem is representative of your style, then it might not work out.   Just a fair warning.  --katebb"

Anonymous Poet also included this cut and paste from the journal's mission statement, so we could all see what goes on in certain little journals (yellow highlighting belongs to the exasperated poet):

What is an Umbrella poem also like?

  • It’s probably short, no more than a page or two.
  • It probably isn’t a prose poem (i.e., a poem written in paragraphs), though there have been exceptions.
  • No matter what the overt subject matter, its real subject is the human condition.
  • It has momentum.
  • It has a distinguishing style which radiates freshness and deep imagination.
  • If written in form, the form fits the subject matter; no one would call the poet’s choice of form arbitrary.
  • If written in free verse, it is disciplined, with its own sonics and structure; no one would call it “prosy.”
  • It employs Standard English punctuation, orthography and sentence structure. In general we are unmoved by punctuational oddity.  We expect to see periods, commas and capital letters at the start of sentences.  (Initial caps at the beginning of lines are not particularly loved but certainly optional.)
  • It has an umbrella idea!
What is an Umbrella poem not like?
Previously this section was very detailed; on reflection, your editor concluded that it sounded fussy.  Very complicated formatting is usually not feasible here for technical reasons.  The main bugaboos are pathetic fallacy (the attribution of human traits to nature or things) and a common syntactical oddity in which conjunctions and participles are jettisoned in favor of clipped phrases separated by a comma (more atsyntactical arrest).  We feel this is a radical stand and we are proud of it; poems exhibiting even one line of syntactical arrest (a term coined by your ed. and meant to elicit chuckles of recognition) have no chance of acceptance unless the author agrees to an edit.  Otherwise, we are pretty much open to any technique or turn of phrase that fits the poem and its umbrella idea.  


guidelines helpful, tape fridge, read later i write poem, send umbrella said...


wow, guidelines that actually tell you what the editors want. three cheers for katebb & co. at umbrella.

hear that? all you other editors who "don't really know what they want" but "want to be delighted." the way you get submissions that are appropriate for your journal is to tell authors what is appropriate for your journal.

heynonnynonymous said...


The Rejection Queen said...

all I have to say is that life sucks.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the editor's requirements (killing the very spirit of what poetry is) sounded "fussy"? No kidding.

gimme said...

Can't help but wonder why the "anonymous poet" bothered to submit there, given that ridiculous mission statement. A good example of how it actually DOES pay to read the guidelines before submitting...

Anonymous said...

It's all very well to pick on a publication, but to name an individual is a bit snarky. Particularly when Kate is a lovely person and an excellent editor.

Yes, Umbrella's guidelines are heavy handed... and if a poet needs to be told that poems about birds has been, um, done to death, or that re-workings of fairy tales are generally fucking terrible, then they probably shouldn't be submitting in the first place. But come of -- have you ever edited an online publication like this? Have you any idea how much total dross you have to wade through? This detailed-guidelines-method not only sorts the wheat from the chaff somewhat... it also discourages some of the chaff from submitting in the first place.

ee cummings said...

My favorite part of this editorial charade after so much fuss is the final sentence, starting with the word "otherwise." Otherwise, we are pretty much open to any technique or turn of phrase that fits the poem...but seriously, what's left?

heynonnynonymous said...

Did she just call me chaff?

Anonymous said...

The response from Kate doesn't sound "lovely." Just a fair warning.

Angry said...

Huh? What the hell is an umbrella poem anyway? I'm waiting for someone to please compose and post an original umbrella poem with arrested syntax, so I can figure out what the hell she's talking about?

v^v^v^v said...

I can't believe all this snark about how restrictive and fussy these guidelines are. Gees, are there only 3 poets who read this blog? Maybe people who primarily write fiction would feel choked by a list of this sort, but for poetry, it still leaves a lot of room variety.

Hell, they could be even more narrow. Why don't you read an issue for yourself and see how much or how little the guidelines are stifling contributors. (No, I don't work for Umbrella and I don't know the editors.)

gimme said...

I like how she doesn't want "prose poems" but she wants complete sentences and correct punctuation... Someone seems a little confused, yes?:)

Obviously it's up to Kathleen to specify whatever nutty guidelines she chooses... I doubt very much her mag is going to exactly set the world on fire, though... call it a hunch...

Anonymous said...

Okay, one of the nuttiest things about this post is not the Umbrella guidelines, but the comments. "Gimme" a break.

I like how she doesn't want "prose poems" but she wants complete sentences and correct punctuation... Someone seems a little confused, yes?:)

Uh...yeah, I think you are confused about what a prose poem is. It is a basically a block of text that reads like prose. Frankly, if I edited a poetry journal, I too would say nuh-uh to prose poems. Most prose poems suck.

You can construct with standard punctuation without it being prosy. There is no contradiction in the guidelines.

I don't really get their stand on "asyntactical arrest" (oy frickin vey) but insisting on prepositions and conjunctions doesn't put that much of a creative strain on a poet. I mean, not nearly so much as if every line had to be a palindrome. (There probably exists such a journal.) Or remember when McSweeney's did sestinas? Those are real constraints. Bottom line, I think people are over-reacting just for the sake of over-reacting.

gimme said...

"You can construct with standard punctuation without it being prosy. There is no contradiction in the guidelines."

Um... I think you missed the funny part somehow, anon. Maybe it'll help you if we put it in the form of multiple choice:

What has correct punctuation and complete sentences?

a) poetry

Get it now?:)

"Bottom line, I think people are over-reacting just for the sake of over-reacting."

Aw, it's "over-reacting" to make fun of some silly woman & her dingbat poetry guidelines? Geez, aren't we allowed to have ANY fun?

hello idiots said...

the correct answers are both a and b. poetry can have prose-like punctuation. jesus h, read "stopping by the woods on a snowy eveining." (i'm assuming you have at least a 5th grade education.)

that's a poem with normal punctuation. the first lines are capitalized, but its sentences are punctuated normally.

gimme said...

Ah yes, an example of perfect punctuation in a poem... from 1922.

HI, if Frost is your idea of poetry, I think I have a journal for you... it's called Umbrella...

oh i don't know... cream cheese? said...

her definition of pathetic fallacy is wrong. "The attribution of human traits to nature or things" is simple personification. Pathetic fallacy is the attribution of human emotions to nature or things. There's a huge pathetic difference between the two.

KateBB said...

My guidelines are extremely detailed and an accusation of fussiness is probably warranted. As a submitting poet, though, I always wished I could have more information about a journal's slant and preferences. "Read the journal" -- the usual advice -- just never seemed useful enough.

When I started a journal, I decided to be more author-friendly and therefore very clear about preferences. Whatever you think of them, I can assure you that the guidelines are there to help you decide whether or not to take the time and effort to submit.

"Syntactical arrest" (does no one see the humor in the phrasing?) really is a bugaboo of mine. If you prefer this boilerplate style, you'll find a thousand publications willing to publish it, so don't worry!

As for standard punctuation, call me crazy -- but don't assume I'm looking for the literary equivalent of weak tea. Most of the nonstandard punctuation that editors see in submitted poems does not serve the poem's purposes (as it does in a cummings poem, say) but is simply ... wrong! Most editors will reject such poems in a heartbeat; at least, with Umbrella and it subsidiary publications, submitters have been warned.

I will have to revisit my definition of pathetic fallacy. I do like personification and use it all the time myself.

My responses to queries and submitted poems is getting less and less personal -- simply because my words, intended for one person, may wind up on a board like this. This is why we usually get form rejections; anything more personal is likely to be used against an editor or foment vicious correspondence.

KateBB said...

By the way, I looked up the correspondence in question and have no record of soliciting work from this poet. She sent me a poem on 3/22/2009 and I responded with a form rejection on 3/27/2009. In September she wrote inquiring about her submission's status, whereupon I sent her another copy of the original rejection note, which she claimed not to have received. That is when she asked about the reading period and received my supposedly snippy reply. If this poet has other information, she should feel free to send me copies of any correspondence and I will retract this statement. In the meantime, I hope readers here will give me the benefit of the doubt. I did not solicit work from someone and then respond in a slipshod way.