Orlen’s free verse poems often take a textured, expansive approach to narrative. Orlen published six poetry collections during his lifetime, including PEN International Award finalist The Elephant’s Child: New & Selected Poems 1978-2005 (2006), This Particular Eternity (2001), and Permission to Speak (1978). In 2006 Review Revue described The Elephant’s Child as “a deeply felt and expressed collection whose subjects of family, masculinity, childhood, love and lust evoke our own miraculous stories.”
Orlen was awarded Poetry Magazine’s George Dillon Memorial Award, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship, three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and an Arizona Commission on the Arts grant.
He was a professor at the University of Arizona, where he co-founded the creative writing MFA program, and at Warren Wilson College. He lived with his wife, the painter Gail Marcus-Orlen, in Tucson.