A select group of poets and critics convened at the University of Notre Dame for "Latinx Poetics, a One-Day Gathering", as part of a marquee spring event for Letras Latinas, the literary arm of the Institute for Latino Studies.
The event, held on the second floor of McKenna Hall, was composed of an afternoon session and an evening session, with a reception scheduled in-between. Poets ire’ne lara silva, Sheryl Luna, and Adela Najarro headlined the first portion, with graduate students in Notre Dame’s MFA in Creative Writing program introducing each poet. The coming together was inspired by the anthology Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry, edited by poet and critic Ruben Quesada and published last year by the University of Mexico Press. Creative Writing was a sponsor of the event.
In addition, each poet participated in an oral history interview for Letras Latinas, and both sessions were taped and uploaded to Youtube.
The evening session put Jose Limón, a professor emeritus in English both at Notre Dame and at the University of Texas at Austin, in conversation with poet Orlando Ricardo Menes, of Notre Dame's Department of English.
Around 70 people attended over the course of both sessions. Many of the students present were from Aragon’s “Latinx Poetry Now” course, as well as from Professor Marisel Moreno’s “Borders and Bridges.”
“What I found especially remarkable about our afternoon session, especially in light of the fact that our three visiting poets were, in essence, meeting one another in person for the very first time, was how they meaningfully bonded right before our very eyes,” said Francisco Aragón, director of Letras Latinas and professor of the practice at ILS. “Some of the credit, I think, goes to graduate student Kristyn Garza for the way she selected the essay excerpts each poet read, as well as her carefully crafted questions.”
Topics spanned the gamut, from the diversity of contemporary Latina identity to life on the U.S-Mexican border, to the intricacies of diabetes and the mourning of loved ones who have passed, to the tedium of low-paying service jobs.
“…I touch everyone’s dirty dollars. Maslow’s got everything on me. Fourteen hours on my feet. No breaks. No smokes or lunch. Blank-eyed movement: trash bags, coffee burner, fingers numb. I am hourly protestations and false smiles,” read Sheryl Luna from her poem, “Lowering Your Standards for Food Stamps.”
In her collection, Volcanic Interruptions, poet Adela Najarro, a Nicaraguan-American, imagined herself dying by volcanic explosion in her family’s native land, which lies in Central America’s Ring of Fire.
“Momotombo will simmer its vengeful breath, rumbling and roaring in the background,” she read. “It will be a simple matter, by then, to stand at the edge of a world gone mad, since all the secrets will have been released into the rainforest canopy…”
ire’ne lara silva, for her part, shared poetic themes related to indigeneity and ancestral connection from her Cuicacalli/House of Song collection.
“I touch my face, and the hand touching my face, is a hundred hands deep,” she read from a poem inspired, she said, by looking up at the night sky at a bus stop in Austin.
In the evening, Orlando Menes, who is a faculty fellow for the Institute for Latino Studies, spoke to Jose Limón about his poetry. Menes has published five collections, his most recent being The Gospel of Wildflowers & Weeds (2022).
“The aim of our evening session was to give our audience an insightful overview of Orlando’s oeuvre through the lens of one our distinguished scholars. In this regard, José’s illuminating remarks on Orlando’s work, as well their meaty dialogue following Orlando’s reading, was a pleasure to behold,” said Aragón.
Limón is a former director of the ILS, having served from 2012 to 2015. During his talk, he signaled that he was working on publishing an article on Menes’ oeuvre. As a prelude to Menes’ reading, Limón shared his own work-in-progress, which weaved together analysis of poems from Orlando’s first four collections, especially focusing on themes of the sacred and religiosity. Other subjects included the Cuban Revolution and Menes childhood in Peru after his parents left the island following the communist takeover.
“There is a struggle, there is an agonistic relationship between the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the earthly, the ideal and the everyday,” he said in response to a question from Limon about his creative process. “And it’s that contradiction, that tension, that keeps me interested."
“The act of writing for me, is the act of thinking, the act of believing, the act of prayer.”