I've been making my way through Kenneth Koch's Collected Poems (and what an odd and brilliant way that is) and thought I'd share his rules for knowing when a poem is ready for the wide open world. (Kenny, forgive the scrambled line breaks -- blogger wasn't made for long-lined poems.)
"... Just how good a poem should be
Before one releases it, either into one's own work or then into the purview of others,
May be decided by applying the following rules: ask 1) Is it astonishing?
Am I pleased every time I read it? Does it say something I was unaware of
Before I sat down to write it? and 2) Do I stand up from it a better man
Or a wiser, or both? or can the two not be separated? 3) Is it really by me
Or have I stolen it from somewhere else? (This sometimes happens,
Though it is comparatively rare.) 4) Does it reveal something about me
I never want anyone to know? 5) Is it sufficiently "modern"?
(More about this a little later) 6) Is it in my own "voice"?
Along with, of course, the more obvious questions, such as
7) Is there any unwanted awkwardness, cheap effects, asking illegitimately for attention,
Show-offiness, cuteness, pseudo-profundity, old hat checks,
Unassimilated dream fragments, or other "literary," "kiss-me-I'm-poetical" junk?
Is my poem free of this? 8) Does it move smoothly and swiftly
From excitement to dream and then come flooding reason
With purity and soundness and joy? 9) Is this the kind of poem
I would envy in another if he could write? 10)
Would I be happy to go to Heaven with this pinned on my
Angelic jacket as an entrance show? Oh, would I? And if you can answer to all these Yes
Except for the 4th one, to which the answer should be No,
Then you can release it, at least for the time being.
I would look at it again, though, perhaps in two hours, then after one or two weeks,
And then a month later, at which time you can probably be sure.