Today I received an e-mail from someone asking where he could get his poems published. This is a pretty common question when poets are just starting out, so I took the time to reply, and decided to share it with everyone as an open letter.
My ideas aren't necessarily the best, or complete, so please feel to add your own suggestions to Paul in the comments afterwards. Thanks.
I'm not certain where you came by my e-mail address, but I would be glad to suggest some ways to get your poetry published.
First, find markets that are actually looking for poetry submissions. The easiest way is to Google "calls for poetry submissions" or "calls for poetry manuscripts." This will bring up the names of many 'markets,' which could be either print or online publications seeking poems.
Another way to find markets is to search 'Dutrope Digest'. Google that name; it's an online directory of publishers looking for many types of submissions. Duotrope used to be free, but now they have a subscription fee. They do offer a free trial period though.
Another really good way to find publications for your submissions is to buy or borrow a copy of 'Poet's Market', an annual book that lists everyplace known to accept poetry. The reason this is such a good resource is that they not only tell you the publications, they tell you how to contact them, who the editor is, how many poems they receive each year, how many they actually accept, if they pay or not, and much, much more. For example, they might tell you that 'Ahab's Whale' accepts nautical themed poems only, by e mail only. They might want an attachment in ten point Times New Roman font, or they may want the work in 8 point Arial Font, pasted into the body of the email. They may only accept poems from June to September, or they may take them year round. All that type of info is provided in 'Poet's Market', and it is critical, because many times if you don't follow their guidelines exactly, editors just delete your submission, or throw it in the trash if it's snail mailed in.
There are a few things that are critical if you're going to submit for publication. First, read the publication you are submitting to. If it's online that shouldn't be too hard. If it's in print, check the bookstore shelves or go to the library. It's important you know what kind of work the magazine uses, and that your submissions will fit in. No sense sending that avant-garde poem about domestic violence to Ahab's Whale if they only print nautical work, right? My first submission was to 'Poetry Midwest' and the rejection note came back simply, "We don't publish religious poetry." I didn't think my work was religious, but I got the point, I hadn't read the magazine. I only sent to them because I was from the Midwest. Another critical thing is, don't submit if you're not ready to receive brutal rejection. A friend, who is a very accomplished poet, with many, many publication credits, recently got a note that said, "Fuck this submission." While most editors are kinder, any rejection stings.
When you are first starting out I'd suggest you avoid contests. Especially avoid contests that require a fee. The chances of winning a contest are slim, and it should be obvious that the prizes are paid for by the people who enter and don't win.
I wish you luck and encourage you to jump in, and stick with it. I still remember my first acceptance, and the modest check that came with it! Cheers.