Interview with Orlando Menes @ West Branch Wired

WB: You often write about food, frequently in relation to the divine. For example, in the poem "Bacalao," you use the image "nailed to the larder's crucifix / long cords of dried pimento." In "Frogs" you describe a "rosary / of garlic bulbs." Do you see an underlying connection between food and the sacred?

OM: As a Roman Catholic, how can I not? The very Host, this thin wafer I was taught to let dissolve in my mouth and never chew, is the transubstantiated body of Christ, not a symbol, not an idea, but His very flesh. This kind of concreteness is compelling to me as a poet, and thus pervades just about anything that I write creatively, my use of language to connect body and mind, earth and spirit, the ordinary and the miraculous. I cannot bear any type of disassociation, division, fragmentation. I have a passion for amalgamation, not just as a trope but as a way of thinking, a style of living. No wonder my attraction to the Baroque, besides my ongoing interest, perhaps fascination, with Santería, a syncretic Afro-Cuban religion in which food plays a substantial role in ritual, divination, and in the very lives of the orishas, Yoruba deities who must be fed their favorite foods, whether fresh fruits, spirits like rum and aguardiente, animal flesh and blood. Physical sustenance, apart from prayer, is a vital component of this and other ancient spiritualities. Such ritualized feeding is the essential, inviolable component in the bond between the human and the divine; otherwise, the believer will incur the wrath of his or her orisha (Yemayá, Oshún, Shangó, etc.). The sacred exists in the realms of earth, fire, water, and air, which I find more inspiring than any notion of transcendence. To feed a god means to love a god. Aren't words too the food of poets-what sustains our imagination? Those fertile tropes that stave off what we fear most: writer's block, the famine of creativity? As Wallace Stevens writes in Esthétique du Mal, "the greatest poverty is not to live / In a physical world . . . ."

About Orlando Menes:

Orlando Ricardo Menes’s poems have appeared in several prominent anthologies and in such magazines as Ploughshares, Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Chelsea, and Green Mountains Review. He has also published translations of such poets as the Argentine Alfonsina Storni and the Cuban José Kozer. His third poetry collection, Furia, was published in 2005 by Milkweed Editions. Menes is also the author of Rumba atop the Stones, published in 2001 by Peepal Tree Press (Leeds, England), and has edited the anthologies Renaming Ecstasy: Latino Writings on the Sacred(Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2004) and the forthcoming The Open Light: Poets from Notre Dame, 1991-2008 (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010). He is an associated professor of English at Notre Dame. Poetry by Menes appeared in West Branch 66, Spring/Summer 2010.

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