Umbrella
A Journal of poetry and kindred prose










 



Our Erstwhile Mission

Kate Bernadette Benedict, ed.

 

Invariably the poems I love best provide an intense focus. They zero in. It is as if a single aspect of human experience steps forward into a cone of light and speaks its soliloquy. Nothing extraneous interferes. One could speak of this focus in many terms, as distillation or alchemy or integrity; as a process of economizing, particularizing or even husbandry.

My pet term is the “umbrella idea.” I envision a protected zone where a poem’s premise moves forward unimpeded.

Does the term seem strange? The root of the word “umbrella” is “umbra,” Latin for shadow, and this would seem to oppose that other compelling concept, the cone of light. Yet it is vital for a poet to occupy the darker places, the mysterium of the unconscious, the mythic, undertow-like forces that inform our everyday lives. In the shelter of the umbrella idea, a poet may explore these shadowy areas, give them their due, and shine a different kind of light.

Like a parasol or “sunbrella,” the umbrella idea also provides a cone of cooling shade, where no matter how intensely heated the subject matter, one may write from a position of objectivity. One sees clearly, without blinding glare. “Strong emotion recollected in tranquility” is how Wordsworth described the process of writing poetry. The umbrella idea contains that tranquility.

Sometimes, too, the umbrella idea is like a child’s bumbershoot, useful when skipping through puddles. It is not always necessary to be capital S Serious, and it is seldom desirable to write in deadly earnest.

To sum up, Umbrella sought to publish news of the underworld, with its passions, confusions and frights; it also welcomed irony, humor, wryness, outrageousness, crookedness, and unalloyed joy. Its core equation: Idea + Imagination x Craft = Lasting Poetry.


What was an Umbrella poem also like?

  • Probably short, no more than a page or two.
  • It probably was not 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 was the human condition.
  • It had momentum.
  • It had a distinguishing style which radiates freshness and deep imagination.
  • If written in form, the form fitted the subject matter; no one would have called the poet’s choice of form arbitrary.
  • If written in free verse, it was disciplined, with its own sonics and structure; no one would haved called it “prosy.”
  • It employed Standard English punctuation, orthography and sentence structure. In general we were unmoved by punctuational oddity. We expected to see periods, commas and capital letters at the start of sentences.
  • It had an umbrella idea!

What was an Umbrella poem not like?

Previously this section was very detailed; on reflection, your editor concluded that it sounded fussy. Very complicated formatting was usually not feasible for technical reasons. The main bugaboos were pathetic fallacy (the attribution of human emotions 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 at syntactical arrest). We felt this was a radical stand and we were proud of it.  

 



Prose was also a key element of Umbrella’s mission. Enthusiasms, experiences, viewpoints, misgivings, reverence, irreverence were welcome under the umbrella too.



Umbrella was not intended to further academic careers; its mission was to bring a readership to fine poetry from all quarters. Therefore Umbrella was especially open to literary poetry written by poets who did not have MFAs and/or who worked outside of academia. If you were an academic who supported this philosophy, then you too were warmly invited to submit.