Short Film Starring My Beloved's Red Bronco
Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco, selected by Tyehimba Jess for the 2022 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, is an aching tribute to the power and precarity of queer love.
In small-town Mississippi, before the aughts, a child “assigned ‘woman’” and a boy “forced to call / himself a girl” love one another—from afar, behind closed doors, in motels. The child survives an injurious mother and the beast-shaped men she brings home; the boy becomes a soldier. Years later, the boy—the eponymous beloved, Missy—dies by suicide, kicking up a riptide of memory. This is where K. Iver writes, at the confluence of love poem and elegy.
“I say to the water if you were here, / you’d be here.” With cinematic precision, they conjure dorm room landlines, the lingering sweetness of shared candy, a ballet strap and “soft / fingers tracing it, afraid to touch / the skin.” They punctuate depictions of familial abuse and the cruel politics of the Deep South with fairy tales: a girl who endures abuse refusing to grow into a mother who inflicts it herself, queer youth kissing fearlessly, bodies transcending the violence of a reductive gender binary. In these fantasies, “there’s no / reason to leave town no hidden / torches waiting for us to fall asleep.”
Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco sees us through a particular kind of grief—one so relentless, it’s precious. It presses us, also, to continue advocating for a world in which queer love fantasies become reality and queer love poems “swaddle the impossible / contours of joy.”
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Praise and Prizes
“Iver’s fierce, sad debut collection offers a queer coming-of-age story and an elegy for the speaker’s beloved, a trans man from Mississippi who killed himself at 27. The book embraces the fluidity of language and gender alike.”
"A gripping debut . . . an elegiac coming of age story . . . . The most beautiful moments in this collection are of celebration, as when the two lovers, kept apart against their will, play the radio on boomboxes over a landline"
“Iver’s poems acknowledge the limits of their own fantasizing, they adamantly support the vitality of trans reality…In this entanglement of transness and elegy, reality and fantasy intertwine to assess the transformative power of desire and its limits.”
“Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco is one of the most powerful excavations of grief in recent memory, a genderqueer kaddish that veers from guilt (‘I have a body / and you don’t’) to despair to tenderness to searing anger... Iver’s poems will turn you inside out.”
“K. Iver’s debut collection, Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco is a book of living-through. Here the elegy is not embodied as form but as mode: the death of a loved one is not a subject but an experience that resists conclusion and shapes the perspective of all experiences thereafter.”
“[Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco] is both elegiac and celebratory, a fierce love song about queer resilience, as well a mourning song about familial abuse and the violence inherent in the gender binary.”
“The poems are truly in a league of their own; I’ve never read another book like this one. Such a magnetically raw exploration of grief is a gift—and a comfort, to those who seek it.”
“K. Iver's Short Film Starring My Beloved's Red Bronco is a gleaming counter-narrative of gender, place, and class. Framed by grief and longing, the poet's vivid and eclectic imagination sprawls through each poem, wrestling with mortality and ideas of transgression. The versatility of images, and the bright energy that pervades and suffuses this work, is a triumph.”
"Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco is equal parts extended elegy and origin story; in these poems, celebration and lament collide to form a complicated portrait of queer grief and how we survive in the aftermath of loss. Iver refuses to offer up a simple and consumable trans narrative, instead making visible all the pain and joy and mess our lives contain. As much as this collection inhabits the fact of their beloved’s death, it also tries to write a future for both of them beyond it—their poetic imagination its own kind of mourning. In poem after poem, Iver insists on the tangibility and persistence of grief. 'I am inconsolable,' they write. 'Every day a new definition / of inconsolable.'"
“What happens to our present when we hold ourselves in the past? K. Iver’s debut collection, Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco, is a beautiful and heartbreaking answer. Reading these poems is like watching a dancer analyze their performance repeatedly on a big TV, pausing to circle mistakes with a red marker—‘This is where I go wrong’—until the marker coats the entirety of the screen. Grief colors everything—and still Iver fights to bring joy to the surface. You need to read this book; you’ve been waiting for it your whole life.”
“K. Iver’s debut poetry collection, Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco, brought me to my knees: in clumsy prayer, in imperfect grief, in an earnest and stumbling joy. In these stunning poems, Iver animates an imagined world of less pain, more softness, more ‘gold hair canopying,’ more ‘bodies shucked to bareness.’ Our grief as queers has always been collective and deep—and yet we are always finding new ways to hold one another. These poems are what I need and what holds me. This book is what I always needed. Iver’s work is a gift I’ve long begged for, and just now received.”
“Short Film Starring My Beloved's Red Bronco, is a tender examination of the intricacies of grief, love, gender, and the lasting impressions of deep human connection. This collection is artfully stitched together… through its depiction of the relationship between the speaker and their beloved.”