If you have a submission that is pending a response from a journal, don’t send more pieces until you receive a reply. If the stated response time has passed (for Poets’ Basement this is one month), it’s appropriate to send a polite note to inquire as to its status. As far as stated response times, give them some leeway: they may be swamped with more submissions than usual or your poems may be “on deck” for a later publication. But if it’s been a month or two after what’s listed, by all means send a query. If you don’t hear back from them after this, I would write them off as being unprofessional jerks and send my work elsewhere (but still send a still polite note letting them know you’re pulling your work from their consideration).
Don’t send me your first draft. Don’t send me your second draft. Or your third, fourth, or fifth. Send me your final draft.
Separate revision from editing. Editing is technical: proofread; make specific and meaningful decisions about punctuation, line breaks, capitalization, tense and style; cut the superfluous; etc. But revision should be literally “Re-Visioning.” See the work again from that original mind. Return to the heart of your creative spark and make sure that every word serves that vision.
Find and read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Pig Notes & Dumb Music by William Heyen. Re-read them both many times.
Don’t resubmit a piece to a journal that’s already rejected it, even if you think current events make the piece more timely, or you’ve made a couple of minor changes. If the editors wanted it, they would have taken it the first time. If you’ve made a complete revision you might try sending it with an explanatory note, although this may merely give the editors the idea that you should have done the revisions before asking them to consider it the first time.
Make good use of rejection notices. Most editors don’t have the time to send a personal note with your rejections, but when one does, take any comments or advice to heart. They wouldn’t spend the time unless they liked your writing and you were getting close. Honestly ask yourself if their suggestions could help your poem. If the answer is “possibly” or above, go back to work. See #13.
Regarding political or “agenda-driven” verse: If your poem only exists to carry your message, it most likely will fail as a poem. You may be making the most vital and revolutionary point ever made, but that doesn’t in any way excuse a bad poem. Your poem must not be merely a subservient vehicle to your message, it must stand on its own. “No ideas but in things,” said W.C. Williams. Make sure your “thing” is authentic, vibrant and compelling, and then your idea will have the impact it deserves.
If your poem includes an intentional misspelling or similar choice that could easily be considered a typo, include a note specifying your intent.
In his book on directing, Creating Life on Stage, Marshall Mason quotes Jeff Daniels on how he views auditions: “The way I see it, the director has a problem, and I’m there to see if I can help him solve it.” Well, poetry editors have a problem. They need to find and publish the work that best matches their publication’s artistic vision. Help them out by first asking yourself if your work fits that vision, and then by sending them (in the required format) work that is at its best.
Notice in that last tip I said, “work that is at its best” rather than “your best work.” Many journals will tell you to, “send us your best work,” which always bothers me because it implies that your less-than-best poems should be sent somewhere else. It’s not a question of a poem being your best, but its best. Until a poem has been crafted, revised, meditated on, listened to, etc. to the point that you’re sincerely positive (don’t lie to yourself here) that it has reached its full authenticity and music, you shouldn’t send it anywhere.