Virtual Shop Talk: Oliver Baez Bendorf


Please enjoy this overview of Oliver Baez Bendorf's work. Here you will find biographical information, links to poems and interviews, and writing prompts for you to explore.

photo of Oliver Baez Bendorf


Oliver Baez Bendorf was born in raised in Iowa and later moved to Wisconsin where he acquired his MFA in Poetry and MA in Library & Information from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bendorf now lives in Michigan where he works as an assistant professor of creative writing at Kalamazoo College. In 2013 Bendorf published his debut full-length poetry collection titled The Spectral Wilderness (Kent State University Press), which was selected by Mark Doty for that year’s Stan and Wick Poetry Prize. In 2018 Bendorf published his second collection of poetry titled Advantages of Being Evergreen (Cleveland State University Poetry Center). Bendorf is the recipient of many awards and accolades including a fellowship with CantoMundo, the 2016 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, and the 2020 Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award. Much of Bendorf’s work deals with the experiences of being queer and trans while making his readers feel as if they are taking a long walk beside him.




What still grows in winter?

Fingernails of witches and femmes,

green moss on river rocks,

lit with secrets…I let myself

go near the river but not

the railroad: this is my bargain.

Water boils in a kettle in the woods

and I can hear the train grow louder

but I also can’t, you know?

Prompt: What, in your life, home, community, and/or inner world is evergreen? Can you answer the author’s question “what still grows in winter?”



And I think he must be drunk, from the sweet way he.

Brother. I think about his XX all the time. It’s like a joke,

that we’ll start dreaming of men once we. My favorite

version is the one where we. We ate citrus on river rock

while others swam out. Stern lady cop found us out-of-

towners naked, our clothes scattered around pine root.

Dampened for days. But he. Inclination surges

through window screen – that wind, you’d think

            we’d found ourselves in beach town.

Prompt: In this poem Bendorf leaves a lot to the imagination by ending sentences abruptly and prematurely. Write a poem that says more with less. Alternatively, write a poem finishing Bendorf’s sentences.


River I Dream About

Moon river, swollen river, river of starhole

and bright, harness river, lichen river,

river we velvet with our filth.

River of butter and river of witches, river

cracked open careful like egg, or burst

apart, unleashing its violet load.

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.

Prompt: Pick a word, as Bendorf has chosen “river,” then write a repetitive poem, using your word to form a rhythm.



It’s true that I’m im-

patient under affliction. So?

Most of what the dead can


do is difficult to carry. As for

gender I can’t explain it

any more than a poem: there


was an instinct, I followed

it. A song. A bell. I saw

deer tracks in the snow. Little

Prompt: Try your hand at writing a ghazal that exemplifies how you see yourself.




Dive Dapper

Library of Congress

Poets & Writers

So To Speak