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Professor’s poem collection wins book prize

Christian Myers | Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Not everyone understands poetry, but one Notre Dame professor uses poetry to understand everything else in his life.

Orlando Menes, associate English professor and director of the Creative Writing Program, won the 2012 Prairie Schooner Book Prize for his book ‘Fetish,’ a collection of poems. “Prairie Schooner” is a literary magazine based on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, according to the magazine’s website. 2012 was the tenth year of the annual Prairie Schooner Book Prize Contest.

Menes said he views poetry as a type of thought process and a means to understand the world around him.

“For me, writing poetry is a way of thinking about the world. I understand the world through writing about the world,” he said.

Menes said he submitted the manuscript of ‘Fetish’ to the Prairie Schooner Magazine’s Book Prize contest in early 2012.

His poetry focuses on Cuba, the birthplace of his parents; Peru, the country of his birth and where he spent the first ten years of his life and Miami, where he spent his childhood in the 1970s.

‘Fetish’ incorporates all these places from his life, as well as several important themes, he said.

“In ‘Fetish’ the poems are about displacement, immigration, the struggle over poverty, leading a life of faith and holding onto faith,” Menes said.

The editor-in-chief of the “Prarie Schooner,” Kwame Dawes, said ‘Fetish’ captures the idea of the Americas.

“Menes is an accomplished poet who has managed to evolve a language that seems determined to encapsulate the broadest and most compelling notion of America that embraces both the northern and southern continents,” Dawes said on the magazine’s website. “His poems reveal a formal dexterity that is awe inspiring, and his poems are rich with delight and full fascination with the human experience. His is a bold and inventive imagination. Our readers, we believe, will share our enthusiasm for ‘Fetish’.”

Menes’ earlier work is reflected in ‘Fetish,’ but a significant difference is his poems are no longer primarily written in free verse.

“Fetish is a continuation of my earlier work for the most part, especially my previous book ‘Furia’. This time around I wrote in traditional forms in addition to free verse,” he said. “Many of my poems [in ‘Fetish’] are in traditional forms, not all but many are.”

Menes said writing ‘Fetish’ in a more traditional poetic form required more discipline than writing free verse poetry.

“When someone writes in free verse, he or she is making up his or her own rules. When you write in traditional forms you’re playing by set rules,” he said.

Another feature of ‘Fetish’ different from Menes’ earlier work is more writing about fatherhood. He said writing poetry about family members is one of the most difficult aspects of his work.

“I also wrote about being a father and not just a son. Writing poetry about one’s parents or about one’s children is difficult,” he said. “Writing poems about the people one loves is difficult. Because we love them, we have an emotional attachment and can’t be as objective; poetry does require some objectivity.”

Menes said he has already begun work on another collection of poems. His new poems express his views on the sacred.

“[The collection] explores sacredness and the relationship human beings have to sacredness, as well as where sacredness can be found,” he said.

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