Monday, December 23, 2013

UCA professor explores Arkansas monster lore

— The creatures are stirring. Mark Spitzer investigates some of the most incredible monsters of Arkansas myth, folklore and possibly fact in his new book, Crypto-Arkansas (Spuyten Duyvil, $12). Spitzer, associate professor of writing at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, reports his findings by means of "investigative poetics." Crypto-Arkansas is a book of poems based on fact-finding research, some of which took him tromping into the wilds in search of oogie-boogies. He writes of the supposed Lake Conway Monster, for example:
Deep in muck of tupelo cyprus knees and gatorweed mucks a mucoused froggy beast twisting up a monkeyface.

The shores of Lake Conway "have been dripping with this mystery for more than half a century," the poem goes on.
As proof, Spitzer cites a headline from the April 11, 1953, edition of the Log Cabin Democrat newspaper in Conway: "Mysterious Creature in Lake Conway Target of Two Bullets by Fishermen."
And this, from later that year: "Lake Monster Swallows Boy's Rod. Reel. Line."
The book deals in similar fashion with all manner of growling and burbling things. Interviews, newspaper accounts, folklore, drawings and photographs back up Spitzer's free verse about a half dozen of the state's most elusive residents, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (

"I guess I was just always interested in monsters and mythologies," Spitzer, 48, says. He rates Arkansas's heritage of "crazy tall tales" second to none.

The White River Monster, the Terrible Green Gowrow, Heber Springs Water Panther, Catfish Creatures of the Ozarks and the hairiest mystery of all — "Arkasquatch!" — stalk these 82 pages.
Arkasquatch, especially. Spitzer's catch-all term includes any and all of those apelike creatures that people claim to see, but nobody has caught, around the state.

Tipped by a "Sasquatch expert" on where to look for such a bugaboo in the woods, Spitzer went to see for himself. "All I got was lost," he says, "and freaked out." But he came away "convinced on how imaginative this culture is."
Sasquatch, Bigfoot, skunk ape, gorilla-guy: The author describes more than 50 sightings, and adds, "That ain't even the half of it."

He omits the "untrustworthy" and the over-publicized, and so gives hardly a shaggy nod to the famous Fouke monster. The made-in-Arkansas Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and two horror movie sequels are based on tales of an ape creature in the swampy muck near Fouke, south of Texarkana.
Instead, he points to such lesser-known sightings as "a big brown oranguthang" in Washington County; a growling, stinking "reddish-looking creature" near El Dorado; and "a dirty old hairy hippie with glowing eyes" near Hot Springs.

In another case, Spitzer writes:
1994, Benton County:
a good ole boy out four-wheeling
"seen the boog foot walking" .
Starting at home with the Lake Conway Monster, Spitzer says he studied the state's monster stories in order to write a straightforward, nonfiction book. But then, "I didn't feel like writing in prose form."
The idea of reporting through poetry is one he credits to several other writers, including Ezra Pound and activist poet Ed Sanders, a writer in residence at UCA in 2012.
"I set a personal challenge to see what I could make of it," Spitzer says, applying poetic license as well as a fishing license.

The White River Monster is right up Spitzer's waterway as an expert on big fish. His 20 other books include Season of the Gar: Adventures in Pursuit of America's Most Misunderstood Fish, (2010).
The gar is a knife-shaped fish with sharp teeth. An alligator gar can reach 10 feet long, and "many cultures have labeled these sorts of fish devil fish," Spitzer says.
Despite the look of something that might tug on the devil's own bobber, "they are not evil at all," he insists.

A big gar might have fooled people into reporting a sea serpent in the river close to Newport in 1937. Sightings persisted, and the state Legislature set aside a refuge for the monster in 1973, protecting from harm a creature that might not exist.

Whatever it is, the monster has grown with the telling: a "half-horse-cow," according to one witness in the book, and even "a thousand-pound unicorn-whale."

The Gowrow is a giant lizard with tusks, said to prey on cattle in the northern neck of the woods. Spitzer found stories that pinpointed the creature's lair in Devil's Hole, a cave in Boone County.
Trusting to a Google map, he relates, he discovered a sinkhole full of "colorful Arkansas garbage:"
kitchen sinks, brush cuttings and a bright pink bowling ball.

Catfish creatures populate any part of Arkansas where a catfish might lurk. But a "slippery slimy catfishman," as Spitzer writes, is not to be confused with dinner. This man-sized monster fish is apt to have arms and legs and a "menacing glare."

The coldblooded, staring-eyed catfish creature is the fish-faced Southern cousin of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It is spawned from the penchant that people have to "demonize fish," Spitzer says.
Even so, he rates a mean catfish more likely than another menace said to lurk in the water around Heber Springs, the fabled Water Panther:

I mean, come on:
a half bigfoot half panther . ?

Even the Water Panther might be true — who knows? — but as Spitzer says he was told by "a crabby old man" in regard to hunting monsters:

"Son, you're just chasing bull (asterisk) (asterisk) (asterisk) (asterisk) around."
The author agrees, sort of, claiming to have made "absolutely nothing" of his creature hunting so far. But that's not to say he came back with an empty bag.
His discovery turned out to be the psychology of monster-spotters: what makes people believe in seeing monsters. What makes some people trick other people into seeing things that aren't real.
Better than the question of whether Bigfoot is real, Spitzer says, is "why we create these things in our imaginations."

In the hunt for Bigfoot, well — "science can't prove they don't exist," he says, and people believe what they find believable. But monsters sometimes crawl out of hidden motives.

Submerged in the story of the Lake Conway Monster, Spitzer finds a ruse to scare off unwanted visitors. In the White River Monster, maybe a way to collect tourist dollars.

For now, he is at work on his next book, Beautiful Grotesque Fish of the American West, celebrating the likes of the well-named humpback chub.

But just on the chance "there are other monsters out there," he vows to keep an ear out for the unearthly cry of the Wampus Cat.

Monsters "are the proof that our imaginations are intrigued," Spitzer says. "We like to consider the possibilities. Our inner child wants there to be something, and that's why we go out to look for something." Original Source:

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