Read the Submission Guidelines and actually follow them. Poetry editors don’t set up guidelines just for kicks: there are specific reasons for each guideline. We receive a lot of submissions and having them formatted a certain way or delivered a certain way means less time making sense of things and more time reading your work. There’s a lot of great poets out there all trying to get published. Why blow your chances of being considered one of them by failing to take some simple steps that are clearly laid out for you? The guidelines are there to help you: use them!
Use standard formatting. Basically this means Times New Roman 12pt. Font (maybe you can get away with Arial or Courier, but why test me?). You can put the title in 14 pt. and/or bold if you like. Single space your poem with one blank space between stanzas. And for gods’ sake, don’t center it!
Proofread, proofread, proofread. Have your friend proofread. Have your mom proofread. Have strangers on the bus proofread. Have your dog proofread! Typos tell an editor one thing (whether or not it’s justified): you don’t take your work very seriously. If you don’t, why should anyone else? A couple techniques that might help: Read your work backwards. This will help you actually see each word rather than seeing what you think is there. Put your poem in a ridiculously big font. Previously hidden typos will jump out at you. (Just be sure to restore it to 12pt. before you send it.)
that you think looks “poetic.”
This goes for using colors as well.
Don’t tell me to Google you so I can be amazed with your online publishing credits. (Yes, someone did this.) I ask for a short bio. That’s where you can tell me your credentials. I don’t have time to Google you. I’d rather use my time to read your poem. Wouldn’t you?
Read your poem out loud and have others read it to you. Listen to the music of it. Are there “off notes”? Does it flow when it should flow and jar when it should jar?
Read poetry. Read contemporary poetry. Read the classics. Read past installments of Poets’ Basement. Read other journals. Find poets who are better than you and learn from them. Read my poetry (this won’t help you get published anywhere, but it will help me buy my next beer).
Be specific. Your experience and insight is something that no other poet in the world can give me. Stanislavski wrote, “generality is the enemy of all art,” and he was right. The universal is found in the particular.
Beware of adjectives. They are almost always large, unwieldy children.