We are looking for a very specific set of characteristics in poems that we publish. You could name a lot of great poets that we’d probably reject on these principles. That’s okay. We’re not trying to publish all the best poetry; we’re trying to embody and develop a definite sensibility.
There’s nothing wrong with perplexing the reader, but we prefer poems that keep pretty close to the syntax of prose or everyday speech. That is not to say the structure need be simplistic. We simply want to be able to tell what you’re literally talking about. We generally avoid impressionistic syntax, such as fragments, nouns acting as verbs, and verbs acting as nouns. Take Rita Dove and Anthony Hecht for example, as opposed to, say, Robert Creeley or E. E. Cummings.
We have a strong prejudice for iambs as the primary metrical unit (though we dally with other feet at times), judiciously enjambed lines, and varied placement of the caesura. If you don’t know what these words mean, study up! Good models to follow would be John Milton and Elizabeth Bishop.
We prefer poems that imitate a movement of the soul, as though the audience were overhearing a thought or feeling in its development towards an insight or decision. This does not mean, however, that the poetry should be introspective. On the contrary, we should infer the action of the soul from the tone. Examples: Richard Wilbur and John Donne.
A poem can do a lot of different things: it can tell a story, express an attitude, shock, amuse, articulate an idea, or present a moral example. None of these are bad things to do with a poem, but we want poems that draw and develop a concrete image. An image is something you can imagine. It has a real or realistic position in the world. It is a mixture of a thing and the act of perceiving the thing. It is primarily itself, not a token of a thought (although it is or may be related to a thought). Examples: Robert Frost, H.D., and Basho.