I Used to Know the Poet Ricardo Pau-Llosa and This Is What He Told Me

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?

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