Orlando Ricardo Menes is an associate professor of English and Faculty Fellow of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Below he writes about his latest book, Fetish, winner the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry.
I have been living in the Midwest for more than twenty years (first Chicago, then Dayton, Ohio, and finally South Bend, Indiana). While I cannot say that I am a Midwesterner by any means (I don’t know many of the trees, except for the ever-present oaks and maples, don’t feel connected to the region’s history, let alone the local histories), this transplantation has created an odd sense of rootedness; mainly because my son Adrian was born at St. Joseph Hospital (the old one in downtown South Bend) and I have lived in the same house for almost fourteen years; the longest stretch in my whole life. Therefore, I, as the uprooted Diaspora’s Son, have found, mainly due to serendipity, a sense of stability and permanence as a university professor and, more importantly, as a father.
Fatherhood is an essential element of Fetish, which I explore primarily through the sonnet form, for the most part the English and Italian varieties but also the 20-line caudated or tailed sonnet (invented by Milton, an influential poet for me). You will also find 18-line heroic sonnets spread out throughout the collection. The sonnets about my father, for example, focus on the craft of upholstery, his primary occupation, and one that has influenced my own poetics, in the sense that I make poems (the word “poet” deriving from the ancient Greek for “maker”), crafting them by a process that combines play and work, a ludic labor that balances, as best as I can, an intense engagement with language and form, alongside ecstatic voyages into the imagination, an imagination that is ultimately transformative, alchemical, magical. Other sonnets delve into my own relationship as a father to my American-born son as well as to my adoptive daughter who was born in Panamá, a beautiful, bright child who suffers from behavioral disorders. As her father, but also as a poet, I sense an enduring obligation to tell her story. The sonnet form allowed me to work through complex emotions, to create a more public voice, a more nuanced sense of the poetic self, a more profound understanding of the poetic “I,” thus freeing me from the limitations of being ORM to embracing the more universal, perhaps impersonal, identity of an “everyman” (I continue to admire Eliot’s idea of the poet as catalyst). Indeed, I took particular pleasure in the dual process of surrendering to and resisting the sonnet form, a tension that allowed me to create new textures of sound and voice.
-Orlando Ricardo Menes