Part 1. Presenting Your Poetry

1. How To Present Your Poetry To Editors

You wouldn’t believe our mail. We aren’t talking volume or quality here. We’re talking diversity… good and bad! We are surprised that we have yet to receive a poem written on the back of White Cloud or on a napkin with golden arches.

For those who are new at submitting, please let us share some wisdom:

  1. Type your poems just as you would like them printed.
  2. Correct your own spelling, typos and smudges.
  3. Either three-fold and put in one #10 size envelope (business size) or do not fold and put in and 8 1/2 x 11 manila envelope.
  4. Enclose SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) with submission or query.
  5. Put sufficient postage on all envelopes. Special handling/delivery is not necessary.  (Save your money to send for sample issues!!)
  6. Put your full name, address and telephone number on back of each poem.
  7. Optional: Send cover letter with questions or info. Send brief biography (list of publications)

2. Yes, Neatness Counts

Our mail is a veritable plethora of compulsions from the obsessively perfect to the obsessively messy. While most submissions arrive folded neatly with SASE in business size envelopes, there are others that boggle the mind. Some poets go to tremendous expense and lengths to have their work read in pristine condition while others seem to revel in dirty, stained, half-sheets, cross-outs, torn “manuscripts” with SASE 1/3 the size necessary to return the work.

We are average folk with average standards for hygiene. All you have to do is fold your poems in three places, attach a SASE and put them into a business size envelope with sufficient postage to receive your work along with our enclosure. Amy Vanderbilt is not on our staff but neither is “Pigpen.”

3. Returning Poems Timely & Tastefully

There are, as we all know, twelve months in any given year. If a poem is submitted to any magazine and held there for between five and seven months (the average holding time for replies from many of the better known presses), this adds up to only one or two chances yearly for any one poem to be selected for publication, unless, of course, you simultaneously submit your poems, which we strongly advise against since this can result in embarrassment for the poet and anger from the magazine which must revamp its next issue to delete the poem published elsewhere.

The Comstock Review, whose editors, themselves, are publishing poets, face this same dilemma. We try to alleviate this problem by having reading periods and quick turn around times. When you are submitting poetry to journals, it is important to assess holding periods.

4. Dear Sirs: How To Offend

When Jenny and Kathleen used to sit down to go over the week’s submissions and letters, it really was annoying to open missive after missive addressed to “Dear Sir.” It certainly made us feel anonymous, if not androgynous. So, if you do not know an editor on Try Number 1, that’s ok. You can solve your dilemma by trying one of these options:

Dear Poet; Dear Editor; Dear Colleague; Dear Reader; Dear Sir/Madam; Dear Staffer; etc, etc, etc.

There is no excuse for archaic appellations in this era.

5. When To Send Again 

Magazines, like prisons, thrive on repeat business. But it is so difficult for a poet to know the difference between tastefully appearing in the post box and overkill. Even Robert Frost would not be welcome on a monthly basis to a magazine that publishes only two issues yearly. He would, however, be so very exciting to read two or three times a year.

We know most magazines do not get into the social amenities that we, at The Comstock Review, believe so crucial to the mental and spiritual well-being of poets… so perhaps you could just keep sending until they or you were silly. But we do write back and try to be more that a rejection/acceptance machine. We love poetry, and by extension or declension, poets. Keep those cards and letters coming but be judicious in the volume of poetry for review.

6. Keeping Records 

Record keeping is one of the most important aspects of submitting your poetry. Very few magazines do re-prints. Thus, it is very important that you select the “Right” magazine for a particular poem and send it for review. You must have, above all things, a SYSTEM… Some method that is easy to use and to keep clear that notifies you instantly of these things:

Name of Poem/Magazine Submitted To/Date Submitted/Date Returned/Accepted/Not Accepted

Whether you use index cards, a copy of the poem itself or a computer file, this is information you need to know. You will be able to quickly re-submit poems to the next appropriate magazine with a SYSTEM. You will not be embarrassed instead of overjoyed by having the poem accepted by two magazines in the same mail.

7. When You Care Enough To Send 

We can always tell when a well-published poet has not seen The Comstock Review. We get a sampling of the poet’s “B” stuff to peruse. As poets who love poetry, we read myriad magazines… we all get different subscriptions and share them. We see the work of numerous outstanding poets whose excellent poetry adorns the pages of magazines throughout the country. Long before they’ve decided to test our journal we have followed them in their hops, skips and jumps through the major circuits.

We’re always delighted when they re-submit after reading a sample copy.

Needless to say, when they send the “A” material we can publish them.

8. Bios

Many poets do not send their bios until after a poem has been accepted.

They are leery that an editor will think they are trying to influence decisions or they are concerned that they don’t have sufficiently snazzy enough credits. CWG does not care. Nobody has successfully influenced us yet!

We welcome your bios with your poetry. We keep a file (many files actually) of bios and it makes it easy for us to draw on them for publication. It also gives us phone numbers if we need to call you and lets us keep up with which magazines are publishing the same poets we do.

9. Keep Those Cards & Letters Coming 

We love your letters, notes, and postcards. We cannot begin to answer all of them but know they are shared with the Board of Directors and that they mean much to us. We like to know what you enjoyed in CR. We have some wonderful critics who critique each issue and tell us what they liked best and what they would change. Most of all, your communication reminds us that we do not work in a vacuum. Take a few minutes and share your relevant opinions on The Comstock Review.

10. Arrogant Editors

We read a particularly brutal outburst from the editor of a prestigious journal recently. The point of the diatribe was that too many poets of less than exemplary poetic credentials (ability and experience) were jamming their staff with crappola. They wanted to see only the creme de la creme. Well, who wouldn’t! But there are many of us, damn fine poets, who would not like to have our work of twenty or thirty years ago paraded in front of us as what we were capable of writing. We do see some awful verse but we never view the poet as anything less than a novice searching for a voice. It is our joy to lend support, encouragement, and hopefully, suggestions. Of course, we cannot publish such work. We are a magazine of high quality poetry. However, we are also people of quality and we never believe that we or CR will be enhanced by diminishing either the work or the character of any member of our poetry family.

Incidentally, none of us will be jamming this editor with our work!!!!

11. Contributor’s Notes

We are always surprised after accepting a fine poem to receive a bio that is silly, bizarre or inane. It doesn’t happen too often but it does happen enough to question why a poet who obviously has command of the language would send such a biography. Then, we receive a copy of a “poetry” magazine from somewhere in the country and check the contributor pages only to find that scattered throughout are unintelligible, cutesy, dippy “bios.” We are not going to demean our poets, poetry or subscribers by wasting space in such a manner. Rather, we will do what we do… name and hometown. Other poets do not care how many cats you have or that your baby is teething. They want to know your credentials… where can you be read.

12. Recidivism At Its Best

One of the reasons that CWG enjoys CR is that we are getting to know our poets. We really do enjoy building a coterie of excellent writers and giving them a magazine that showcases their talents. We know that there are far too many poets who spend their careers in search of numbers … the number of different magazines that they can get to accept a poem.

That’s OK with us but we’ve found that most of the really solid poets prefer to build an audience for their work. Therefore, we do have many, many fine poets returning “home” with their highest quality work. CWG thinks they have learned the lesson of numbers… publishing in a few fine journals is far preferable to publishing in numerous magazines of dubious distinction.

13. Who Are You? 

Please remember to put your name and address on every poem you send.

There are always too many poems sent to the Summer Contest without identifying info. The contest is judged blind. Envelopes are separated from poems without looking at names so no reader is ever prejudiced.

Thus, until we select the poems, we do not see the back. It is heart-wrenching to find a finalist with no ID. It simply goes back to the circular file. Don’t let this happen to you. Take your time.

14. Ouch, Don’t Let Them Bounce!

Do you know that a bounced check for $2 can cost a journal $14?… the $2 loss and the $12 bank fee. We have a couple of bucks in the treasury but no non-profit organization can handle too much of this stuff. We like to give the unrepentant deadbeats to Mr. Morgan. This is not a pretty picture.

15. What To Do With Your Best Poem

Are you hoarding your best poem? Do you have trouble finding a place or contest worthy of this absolutely marvelous piece? Do you visualize it (along with your photo) on the back of APR? Is it the next winner of the Chester Jones? Is it the centerpiece of your next volume? Is it all and none of the above? Is it just sitting in the bottom drawer?

Trust us. It will always be your best poem in waiting until you send it off. Pick a magazine, pick a contest. Do it today. Because your best poem hasn’t been written yet and it won’t be until you get this albatross off your back. Go on… go find it.

Get out your Poet’s Market. Check Poets & Writers. Better yet–send it to The Comstock Review. It deserves to be read by all our great subscribers. Hope to hear from you soon.

16. You Are An Editor 

Believe it or not, you are an editor. When you send a batch of poems to a magazine, you are, in essence, saying, “I’d publish all of these if it was my magazine.” But, would you, really? Probably not!

Before you ship out your “babies,” make sure they don’t embarrass you. Clean them up, trim them down, round them out… Send only what you would publish if it were your magazine. Remember, you love them… they are strangers to us and must make a very good first impression.

17. Copyright 

When you are published in The Comstock Review your copyright reverts back to you. Good taste and the unwritten laws of poetry publishing dictate that:


This is true of most of the poetry journals we know. Please check when in doubt.

18. Problems of Simultaneous Submissions

Boy, it is frustrating waiting for some bozo editor to return poetry sent months ago. The temptation to do simultaneous submissions is often unresistable. The problems this creates are not pretty. What if your poem is accepted at two (or heaven forfend more) places? What to do? You have to write one or more editors and say, “Ooops, I am a jerk. You can’t have the poem I said you could have” and either lie or say why…

Neither of which will make that editor real excited about working with you in the future. Some poets, inexperienced or just plain arrogant, will let them both publish the same poem. Usually such indiscretion comes home to roost. Remember it is not just the editors who read myriad journals. All the other poets in those issues are potential jerk-discoverers. The Comstock Review usually sends a condolence letter because we consider the poet dead and we are always sad to lose a friend.

19. Overweight Envelopes 

At the risk of sounding cheap, we will! We, like other journals, get far too many overweight envelopes. Because we pride ourselves on not being unprofessional, we often accept and pay for them. The staff who pick up the mail are the ones who have to pull out their loose change.

They do not charge the treasury. It’s too much of a pain and they do not want to appear cheap!

Why do some poets understand that a hefty envelope cost two stamps but cannot seem to comprehend that a single stamp on a SASE will not get their poems returned? Not nice. Additionally, if you have a query or need our enclosures that increases the weight of the return. Take a minute on larger envelopes to make certain that the USPS has taxed it to the max.

20. How To Prepare for Submitting

Ok. You are new at submitting your poetry for publication. That’s okay. What isn’t okay is going about it in an unprofessional manner. May we offer a little help to assist novices?

Mini Guide to Submitting Your Poetry

  1. Buy Poetry Markets (about $20) at local large bookstore.
  2.  Read it.
  3.  “X” those magazines that sound like you.
  4. Select your favorite few.
  5. Send for a sample copy and guidelines.
  6. Read the sample.
  7. Decide if you would be proud to be published by this editor.
  8. Select 4-6 poems and send them.
  9. Keep good records of your submissions.
  10. Keep good records on the kind of treatment accorded your work.
  11. If you support the magazine, SUBSCRIBE!

21. Coping With Rejection

There are approximately 1500 small press magazines in circulation at any given time. They may range from the sloppy to the artistically perfect, from Xerox to typeset, from foldovers to saddle-stitched to perfect-bound. There is a market for everyone. Some magazines make an earnest effort to print at least one poem from everone who sends… others print only well-known names… and others, like The Comstock Review, print ONLY high quality poetry regardless of the name of the poet.

We send back hundreds of good poems every year. We try to let the poets know that they have talent and are much appreciated by our editors. We look forward to the poem that will fit our publication. Excellent poets normally have stacks of rejection letters but they know that the poem and not the poet was rejected. Until you must rent a U-Haul to cart off your letters of “No Thanks” to the recycling station, you have nothing to worry about. Hang in… search for your market… it takes a long time to get into the major journals. We hope to read you soon.

22. This Is Weird… Written In the Wind

We know people who write poetry are often stereotyped as impoverished free spirits who subsist on french bread and marmalade. Bull! There are many fine poets who are affluent or, at the least, middle class. Why, then, do soooo many writers never send for a sample copy of a magazine that they are willing to let publish their work?

We don’t get much time to submit or even write anymore… and we are each considered creditable poets. However, we assure you that when we do send out our own poetry, we know where and to whom the poems are going.

We have received some very bizarre stuff for The Comstock Review. Doggeral, greeting card verse, sexually explicit and obscure poems would never be sent to us if the poet had read a sample of CR and determined which 3-6 poems from his/her unpublished collection were appropriate.

Besides being able to read and enjoy a high quality magazine, our subscribers can determine whether they wish to be “seen” in CR and whether they write the type of poem that is acceptable to the editors. When you submit blindly, your poem could end up in a very trashable magazine, next to a piece that is embarrassing for your child to read, in with junk that is sophomoric or moronic. Spend a few bucks and save a lot of postage, downtime, and heartache. Get a sample before submitting to a magazine that “sounds good.”