An interview with Greg Brownderville,

Q. How did you first become interested in folktales and how did this fit your interest in poetry?

A. Growing up in Pumpkin Bend, Arkansas, I heard a lot of folktales and always loved them. In Woodruff County, people like to sit around the table, on porches, on upturned buckets under shade trees—you name it—and tell stories. It’s a land blessed with good talk. The people have their own local way with words. They don’t take their linguistic cues from mass media as much as people do in other places I’ve lived. A lot of Arkansas Delta folktales, like a lot of poems, work their magic through striking metaphors, indelible sensory images, and a musical flow of language.

Q. Of all the stories and tales in this book, do you have a personal favorite? If so, why?

A. So many of the images haunt me (in a good way): the pumpkin-colored girl with “blazing red hair,” the corpses decaying in photographs, the magic hatchet, the angel covey’s “silver song,” all the crazy apparitions seen by diggers of buried treasure. It would be hard for me to name a favorite.

Q. Looking at the overall content of the book, is there anything that the stories and poems all have in common?

A. What stands out to me as a defining feature is the imagery. The poems and tales are both highly imagistic. A lot of Woodruff County folktales are like prose poems in their density and intensity. Often, when people think of Southern tales, they think of those old meandering yarns—very talky and leisurely. Doing fieldwork for Deep Down in the Delta, I did hear stories like that. But I was attracted to the quick and sudden poem-like tale that shines in the mind, suspended. It’s like a flash of light you can still see after you close your eyes.

Q. How did you go about your research and what resources did you use?

A. I just got out there and visited with everybody. I wasn’t only gathering stories; I was making friends. It felt pretty natural and easy because I’m from the area. I knew the people and wanted to know them better. Sometimes I used a tape recorder, sometimes I scribbled notes, and sometimes I just listened and trusted my memory.

Q. What do you think these tales and poems tell us about Arkansas history?

A. That East Arkansas is wondrous weird. That its history is numinous.

Q. Did you find any surprises in the research and writing of this book?

A. Well, since I grew up hearing these stories, the material was familiar to me, but a lot of people who’ve read my work have been quite surprised that folk magic and folk religion thrive in the Arkansas Delta. Arkansas doesn’t market its arcane religious and magical traditions to tourists nearly as much as some other Southern states do. Often, rural Arkansans who are in the know play dumb or talk evasively when outsiders ask about those topics.