NaPoWriMo Day 26: Alex Russell – Urban legends

A welcome return by one of the first guests on Poetry Non-Stop Alex Russell. They invite us to look at urban legends from today’s NaPoWriMo poem.

Retell an urban legend in an everyday, mundane way.

Take that in any direction which feels right, but if you;re stuck and need a starting point: How would it be different if it was told from another point of view or focus? If the supernatural element was a metaphor or misunderstanding? With a different amount or placement of sympathy?

The Largest Man in Arkansas

I wish I had a better answer, but I’ve wracked
my brain all I can, and I really think my favourite
place is The Bait Shack – that dive bar that draws in
all the conspiracy theorists. No idea how you get
a reputation for this sorta thing, but they got it.
Last night I talked to a salt and pepper preacher
about mosquitoes for an hour. Big, messy tales
of two huge skeeters eating a lumberjack’s horse
in two bites, leaving nothing but a shredded saddle
‘til they spat out the shoes. Last time he told it
the lumberjack was the same but they ate a cow
and used the horns as toothpicks. When people
find out this is my favourite way to spend a Friday
night, they figure I’m mocking the clientele. Nobody’s
ever assumed I believe it. I mean, I don’t, but still.
Truth is, I like being around the passion. I want to see
someone wave their arms around with their story,
doubly so if they’re so excited to tell it they don’t know
you’ve heard it from them before, because what are
the odds? People don’t come back. You get one time
and Lord best believe you’re gonna make it count.
But I love to hear it. I want that fire in their eyes to
melt me, I don’t care what it’s about as long as it’s
not hurting anybody. When’s the last time you saw
someone enthused about something that didn’t have
a body count? I only get that here, and it makes me think
I could find it too. One time I got asked to guess the size
of a creature’s claws and I held my hands out about
a foot apart. He put down his drink hard, took them firm
and moved them for me, spread them out twice that, showed
me forcefulness without cruelty for the first time. My hands
moved in his so quick and I’ve been searching for the right
word for it every night since. If “grab” were a little more tender,
I’d be close. Anyway, this evening he told me about Bill
Jenkins, the largest man in Arkansas, carried away into
the night by a pair of skeets. I think I’m jealous.

Alex Russell

Alex Russell is a nonbinary poet and editor at Placeholder Press. Their pamphlet ‘stories in which’ is forthcoming from Really Serious Literature, and their micro-chapbook of poems inspired by cryptozoology (which this prompt is based on) is available for free from Ghost City Press

Placeholder Press is coming back from a hiatus, and will start doing free workshops, open mics and writing support sessions from May. Alex would love to see you there. 

If you’d like to be involved, details will be announced on their social media at @readplaceholder and on, where you can also find wonderful poems to enjoy and use as inspiration for your poetry month practice.

Please share your responses to today’s prompt either in the comments or via email. The best submissions will be featured in future podcasts.

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Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast are available from the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

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