River mouths, river beds, every back
forty creek, every crick, made of
trickles, made of synth, river of sound
as vibration, river where we all get free.
Hello! My name is Oliver and I am a poet working on a book about rivers, grief, and queer possibilities for change. I want to drive across the country in a camper, following rivers, to finish my book and talk with friends and strangers alike about grief and togetherness- meanwhile amassing a roving collection and ultimately an archive of zines, poems, and other traces of queerness from all around this country that is still- despite all- beautiful.
“Yes. We need it here for sure…. Park it in front of UNC.”
I’m calling this a “Queer Was Here” tour. The book, which I started on a poetry fellowship at Vermont Studio Center after the election, is currently called Togetherness Dreams.
Queer spawn are going to keep being born under fascism, and I want to go to the crannies of this massive union of states and be visible, so that everyone knows: queer was here, is here, and will be here. We are not alone. We may be swimming upstream but there are many of us.
I will use the camper as a thread to stitch together disparate stars and pockets into new queer constellations. The camper is a vehicle, both literal and figurative, for the various aspects of this project: part collective-grief-mobile, part studio on wheels, part zine library, all parts being an invitation.
It will also be- for as long as the warm weather holds- where I lay my head. A live/work immersive project. I’m ready to go. I need some help making this dream a reality.
Where I’m going:
Queerly, this is open to shifts in weather, invitations, inspirations, and need. I want to follow rivers and tributaries, and I want to visit sites of queer mourning and queer possibility alike. So far, here are definite and possible stops on my tour:
- University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, March 27-28 (co-sponsored by Lynda Barry’s Applied Comics Kitchen, the English Department, and the LGBT Campus Center)
- Standing Rock (in zine collaboration with Natalie Diaz and the school at Sacred Stone Camp)
- Arizona State University-Tempe (in coordination with Natalie Diaz)
- Grace Paley Palooza, Hillsboro, Virginia, May 25-29 (invitation from Emma Eisenberg)
- Idyll Dandy Acres (IDA), Tennessee
- Pulse Nightclub Memorial Site, Orlando, Florida
- University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (invitation from Gabrielle Calvocoressi)
Though universities may be obvious anchors along the way, I’m as interested in visiting less obvious spots: country towns, my Midwest, red states, farm stores, river towns all over the map.
River I dream about.
River from the inside.
River where we shouts the feeling.
Who I’m going with:
Sidekicks: my two pet rabbits. Travel companions to ride with me for short and long legs along the way (Wo Chan); Kim Charles Kay (of the MOTORPARK project among other work) has already been generously sharing advice and shaping these ideas.
As soon as I have a camper. Spring-summer 2017 for the pilot journey, possibly into fall. I would like to have the camper by the end of February so that I can prep it for the road.
What I’m doing along the way:
Following rivers and tributaries. Seeking all kinds of collaborations on the ground. Making zines with people, talking with people. Finishing my book. On one day, I may have a self defense instructor teach a class under the camper’s awning. Another day I may park at a neighborhood park and invite people to write poems with me. Meanwhile, keeping a log online (Instagram, Tumblr, or both) so that folks can follow along from home.
Yes, all night river, burnt sugar river.
We pull the river into our bellies, we
go out walking. We river in darkness
as entire paw prints of color and light.
Everything rivers in motion.
What I am looking for/Ways to support the project:
- Funding to purchase a used camper under 1200lbs dry weight. (I already have a tow vehicle- a 2003 Honda CR-V that I’ve brought up to speed on maintenance to be road-ready). I’ve been researching and am looking at several 13′ (compact) lightweight used older models, for sale through private owners. $3500-5000 will get me a small used camper with good bones that I can tow. Something like this. I would like to purchase the camper by the end of February.
- Individuals and organizations to support and help promote a Kickstarter campaign to fund the pilot journey (gasoline, campsites, food, supplies, and other expenses along the way). I am planning to launch a Kickstarter in February.
- As a librarian, I will tend closely to the process of recording and documenting this journey, amassing an archive of its traces. I am interested in talking with publishers and archivists who have ideas for ways tell the story.
Oliver Baez Bendorf is a poet, teacher, activist, and librarian. His first book of poems, The Spectral Wilderness, was selected by Mark Doty for the Stan & Tom Wick Poetry Prize and described by Stacey Waite as “a queer ecology endlessly transformed by possibility, grief, and the unruly wanting of our names and bodies.” He has received poetry fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Vermont Studio Center, and his writing has been anthologized in Best New Poets and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. His work as a teaching artist (including at 826DC, Madison Public Library, colleges and universities across the country, and the Queens Center for Gay Seniors) has been supported with funding from Poets & Writers, and his activist work on #PulseOrlandoSyllabus and Orlando Flyers was covered by news outlets such as Chronicle of Higher Ed, Ploughshares, Slate, and WLRN Miami. Born and raised in the American Midwest, he is an alum of the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned an MFA in Poetry and an MA in Library and Information Studies.