I get the feeling that these writers are accustomed to being published because of who they are--because they have come to be accepted as good poets--rather than because of the particular poems they have submitted for publication. Everybody knows this happens. Everybody's read a throwaway poem by a good poet in a journal. Fine. I write those too. But I don't want to publish those poems in Absent. I admit it's hard to turn down mediocre work by a poet you're excited to have a submission from at all, but you have to publish the poem, not the poet. Otherwise you end up being, I don't know, Ploughshares. (Sorry to pick on you so much this week, Ploughshares. But you're so namey.) When I scan the TOC in an online journal and it's just the usual suspects, half of me assumes they are half-ass poems, potentially written primarily to keep up with solicitations from online journals.
Here's what I'd like to see more of in submissions: IDEAS. Why don't poems have more ideas? So many poems I read are essentially just descriptions. So you went outside. It was beautiful. Or not. I don't care how creatively you describe it, if it didn't trigger any thoughts beyond "Hells yeah I am going to describe this," it's not a poem. It's just showing off to yourself, or as Matt Rass used to say, "masturbating to language." Ha. I love that phrase. Anyway: ideas. Take this poem by Matt Henricksen from the new Handsome (a journal that has a recognizable aesthetic not wedded to names):
NO DIRECTIONYou'll note, first of all, that MH is guilty of Move #20, "surprise re-framing of an utterance." (I say "guilty" in jest; I don't think moves are don'ts.) Secondly, notice how little of this poem is description. If you take out the description ... oh wait, you can't, because there really is none. This is a poem made of ideas. See? It's possible. Lots of poems I read in the slush, if you took out the description, there'd be nothing left. All facade, no scaffold.
Numbness is where
depression gets the beauty beaten out,
she thought she'd written on the wall
by the sink. Shoot the horse
if you want to, but negative capability
is only possible in the less-than-human,
and Keats meant become of things
to describe a tiny, despicable self.
I know nobody wants to read grouchy editor posts, but I'm writing this as a reader, too. Poems are not supposed to be beautiful (though they can be). They're supposed to be good.
NB: I'm strongly considering a number of poems in the Absent box, so if by chance you happen to have submitted, and not heard back, do not despair, there is every possibility I'm not talking about you.