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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Writers @ Florida Reading Series Intros

"Psychedelic Sluggo," one possible interpretation of Benjamin's ethos.
Twelve years ago, midway through grad school in Gainesville, FL, I inherited the mantle of MC for the reading series where we grad students read our work to an audience of mostly ourselves and our students, coerced by extra credit into being there. The torch was passed to me by the great William Bowers, whose previous year's introductions had been sublimely mindbending. He seemed insistent that I must be his successor, if for no other reason than my willingness to laugh at unjustifiable references to ninjas, and a critical exploration of the word "shitass." He also sensed that if I did not take the job, audiences might be doomed to endure blandly serious intros dripping with quid pro quo displays of quasi-respect.

Since many of my poems from those days are steadily self-demoting into juvenilia, these intros may be the best slab of my Florida legacy. If nothing else, I got away with a lot of squirrely hokum. People seemed to actually look forward to it.

*Lost Bonus Material*
In the tradition of William Bowers—as well as Carrot Top, who also attended UF—many intros were accompanied by props, maps, graphs, puppet shows, etc. This particular intro was accompanied by a visual display, which was an undershirt I stripped down to, showing a map of the south with some sort of comedic distortion, drawn on with Sharpie. I can't remember the details, but it illustrated the South as bloated until it took up most of the country... something to do with me not knowing the difference between Asheville, NC and Nashville, TN.

Reading #1: Benjamin Pryor

Several weeks ago, I told one of my roommates, “I find myself wishing for some kind of serious asshole among the new MFAs—some shitass who’ll just come in and piss everybody off and start fights in workshop.” He told me I should take the position myself, not to expect anybody else to do what I wanted done. I knew that wouldn’t work, knowing myself to be more of a cowardly, lurking sort of evil than a slam-dunk, spit-in-the-face, out-loud dickhead sort of evil, which is what we sorely lacked in the program.

When the new MFA kids showed up, I was disappointed. Though there were a few more-than-functional mouths among them, none were the goon I’d hoped for. For one swell moment, Benjamin Pryor showed promise. I saw him roll a cigarette, saw in him the same already-sick-of-this-place sentiments I’d developed this time last year, caught a James Dean vibe or two, and noted his all-around strapping good health and “air of the scrapper.” Problem was, he wasn’t an asshole, a prick, or even a son-of-a-bitch. When I heard he had a hearty thirst for spirits, I rubbed my hands together and hoped for a mean drunk, but legend says the man who drinks with Pryor drinks with a sincere mountain man with a penchant for invitations for adventure—”LET’S GO!” he says—to rivers, miniature golf courses, slaughterhouses and ass-kickings.

Mr Pryor was born in Chicago, but is now more Duke Boy than Elliot Ness or El Train. This is the western North Carolina mountains talking—Maggie Valley, Haywood County, where his Cherokee bits originate, all polished off at UNC Greensboro with a 1995 BA in English.

Other Benjamin highlights:
    • worked as a dishwasher, a blacksmith’s apprentice, a banquet server
    • has a 4-year-old son named Ibai, which means “river” in Basque
    (hanging out with Basques: another reason to expect trouble from this guy)
    • played with such experimental bands as Heated Pony, Plank Franklin, Jerry’s Finger, and STUB

Finally, I believe he accidentally told me his philosophy for writing and more when he said (to my query concerning this introduction’s content), “Use whatever works for you. If you want to make up mutated or exalted things, that’s fine. No gondiddy. Adiboo mongobby. A beedesign. Peace.”

Please welcome Benjamin Pryor…

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