Art Beat: Advantages Of Being Evergreen

Apr 18, 2019

Oliver Baez Bendorf
Credit Cate Barry

Oliver Baez Bendorf has written two books of poetry: The Spectral Wilderness and Advantages of Being Evergreen. The first won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. The second will appear in September and won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s Open Book Poetry Competition.

Bendorf was born and raised in Iowa and is an assistant professor of poetry and creative writing at Kalamazoo College. He took a solo cross-country journey that inspired his new poetry collection.

“I put all my things in storage and drove around the country towing a teardrop camper,” Bendorf says. “It’s a beautiful country. I wanted to be in landscapes that I thought I might otherwise start to fear. You know, ‘red states’ and ‘blue states.’”

Bendorf hit the road thinking he would follow rivers. But soon abandoned that idea as he realized that there are rivers everywhere. He thought of rivers as a force moves beyond human boundaries, perhaps thinking that he, as a transgender person, could move beyond traditional social boundaries. Bendorf finished the poetry manuscript after returning home from that journey.

Credit Wyatt Hersey / Cleveland State University Poetry Center

“Some of the poems do directly reference places I’d traveled and experiences I had,” he says. “Others were less explicitly tied to those experiences but were filtered through them.”

Bendorf says he moved beyond his fears during his journey as he discovered that most people were more interested in talking about his camper and his trip than about his being trans. "Red" and "blue" states blended together. Bendorf says he also realized just how big this country really is.

“It was an amazing experience,” he says. “As a queer and trans person, I was afraid of being in certain places. I encountered my own ideas about safety and danger, and realizing that, for the most part, other people are also just trying to live their lives and are curious.”

Bendorf will read from his new collection at the main branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 25. He will appear with with fellow Kalamazoo College professor and writer Andy Mozina, Kalamazoo writer Bonnie Jo Campbell, and novelist Deborah Gang. The event, “Good People, Bad Luck,” is free and open the public.

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