Our best advice when submitting poems for publication?
1. Read the guidelines--every time.
2. Stay organized (see "Track Your Submissions," below).
3. Keep submitting. Most editors receive hundreds, if not thousands, of poetry submissions every year. Therefore, they must reject the majority of the submissions they receive. Nobody enjoys rejection, but it is an unavoidable fact of life in the poetry business, and it's not personal. The best way to beat the odds is to submit, submit, submit, brush off the "no" answers when they come, and keep submitting until you find the editor who says "yes."
Every publication venue (journal, magazine, residency application, etc.) that accepts poetry will state submission guidelines; a search should pull these up quickly. It is essential to read submission guidelines for each venue carefully and to follow them to the letter. Submissions that don't follow the stated guidelines generally will not be read.
Submission guidelines usually cover formatting requirements, deadlines, and a policy on simultaneous submissions. Simultaneous submissions happen when you send the same poems to multiple venues for consideration. Many journals accept simultaneous submissions for poetry; some don't. If the venue accepts simultaneous submissions, and you're sending your poems to multiple places, it's important to say so in your cover letter (see the templates linked in step 2, Write a Cover Letter, for more).
Prepare your manuscript, following all posted submission guidelines. Don't cut corners. Make it easy for editors to read your work.
Most literary journals will ask you to send a cover letter with your poems. Cover letters in creative writing are almost always fact-oriented and very short. The templates below will help:
Keep track of your submissions.
This is a key marker of professionalism in creative writing: writers need to know where they've sent work and what the response was. Why? First, if you're sending simultaneous submissions, you need to know which markets are currently considering your work. If one says "yes," you should immediately withdraw that piece from consideration elsewhere. It's virtually impossible to do this accurately if you haven't been tracking submissions. Second, you don't want to submit work to the same editor twice. Third, if you go on to publish a book of poems, it is important to acknowledge journals where poems in the collection first appeared.