19 February 2018:
I once worked as a writing tutor for Miami-Dade College. There I met the poet Ricardo Pau-Llosa.
A Cuban-American poet with a laundry list of publications, several books, and a PhD in English from the University of Florida, Pau-Llosa’s first book, Sorting Metaphors, was the winner of the 1983 Anhinga Press Prize for Poetry, chosen by William Stafford. (Yes, the William Stafford.)
Pau-Llosa taught classes at Miami Dade’s Kendall Campus where I worked (he may still today), with his office just down the hall from the Writing Center—that quiet place I spent twenty-five hours each week.
After our introduction, and with his suggestion, I came to campus with a handful of my poems printed out, sat them on his desk and asked him what he thought. I wanted—and needed—a mentor, and though Pau-Llosa may not have seen our brief interactions this way, he certainly helped me in one hard and fast way.
At the time—2014—I had only a couple publications to my name, halfheartedly sending out poems here and there, hoping for the best. At the time, I was sending out poems to a dozen journals, sometimes less.
After he read the first batch of poems I brought to his office, and after he approved them, making a few minor notes, he asked me how often I had been sending them out.
I told him, proudly, I had sent this batch to about twenty different journals.
To that, he responded, That’s it?
I nodded, embarrassed. What did I know? I thought I was doing fairly well, getting them out “here and there.”
No, no, he said. It’s a numbers game. Send these poems everywhere you can.
He told me: “I never have less than fifty journals at a time looking at my poems.”
I was taken aback, even more embarrassed. I realized the pride I had in sending my poems out occasionally was really just the tip of the poetry world’s iceberg. I had to do better, do more. He made me realize I wasn’t giving myself a chance.
That afternoon, he spent an hour with me on his computer, going through a list of nearly every literary journal and magazine out there. He’d find a good one, then say: write it down.
And so the hour went, alphabetically down the list, my notebook filling up with the names of journals I had yet to read: The Cossack Review, Plume, Rattle, Split Rock Review, ad infinitum really.
It’s a numbers game, he said.
I took the advice and ran.
Now, today, I certainly do not have a “laundry list” of publications like Pau-Llosa, nor a book of poetry, and, unfortunately, Anhinga Press hasn’t picked me for anything.
Yet my publication list is growing.
Before I met Pau-Llosa, I had two poems published. Since our meeting, I have thirty-eight poems published, plus a handful of essays.
Things keep happening, things keep moving. Once or twice a week I get a rejection email. But, being a numbers game, once in a while a poem comes back to me with a positive note.
Dear Mr. Truax,
We are happy to inform you that your poem……
I’ll close by saying this is not a post to boast or brag. No, this is a passing-along of sound advice. Take it if you’d like. Share it. Pass it down the line.
Oh, and I used to know the poet Ricardo Pau-Llosa. Did I mention that?