Cover Image: Can You Sign My Tentacle?

Can You Sign My Tentacle?

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Member Reviews

Some of the best speculative poetry often reexamines traditional aspects of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror through a modern lens. Linda D. Addison’s How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend? has monsters, tech, and magic in an urban fantasy setting, while Tracy K. Smith’s Life On Mars examines David Bowie and outer space through a personal and wide examination of grief and Blackness. Now, Brandon O’ Brien’s debut poetry chapbook Can You Sign My Tentacle?, follows suit by reimagining the Lovecraftian monsters through the lens of the Black experience, specifically Black pop culture.

One facet of Black pop culture that is predominantly featured is hip-hop music. Given that hip-hop culture has both been praised and shamed as an eclectic and vulgar beast, the Cthulhu mythos works together with this like coffee and cream. Out of all the hip-hop Cthulhu poems, a particularly noteworthy one is titled “Kanye West’s Internet Bodyguard Ask Hastur To Put Away The Phone”, which examines how social media can bring out the worst of celebrities in the form of literal monsters. Notable lines from the poem are: “When I see it, I remember nearly passing out with my own desire to disappear/I remember the sidewalk of my own timeline rising up to meet my nose.”

Speaking of social media, another poem that tackles how social media turns some people into monsters is “Because Who She Is Matters More Than Her Words” which features a Black woman on Twitter mounting a defense against “wolves” aiming to rip her to shreds. The poem turns her Twitter profile and her followers into a suburb with fences and barbed wire, especially with the lines, “Her neighbor puts up/ a warning: the residents here ain’t the ones./the next HOA meeting makes a fence of bodies/gathers its own nets/ immunizes its own from fatal ideas.”

Not only does the chapbook discuss how Black people are often seen as monsters, but it also portrays racism and misogynoir as the monsters they are as well. Two poems that evoke this especially well are the poems “The Repossession of Skin” and “The Lagahoo Speaks For Itself”. The former poem is a no-nonsense poem that snaps at the reader, starting with the very first lines, “You’re glad to have a uniform right?/Cool/Find another one/Some of us live in this one.” The latter evokes the poet’s Afro-Caribbean roots with the initial lines, “You think I is the monster?/nah- I is just a funeral procession/with canine teeth.”

Despite all the teeth and tentacles, there are moments of humanity as well, especially love, rebirth, and resilience. One poem titled “The One” literally counts all the times that the subject has found “the one” throughout time and space through beautiful lines such as, “She is briefly/the only thing that makes sense/One whole thing or/a collection of points in space.” Another poem, “Birth, Place” evokes a reclamation of land and personal roots stolen by colonization, especially through lines such as, “Your legacy’s already drowned me/you dragged me along water not/fit for baptism and my brothers/ swam anyway”.

Even if you aren’t familiar with anything related to Cthulhu, Black and other marginalized readers of color will find at least one poem that resonates with them. Every Black person has a few moments in their life when they have been Othered by forces within and without. Since these poems magnify that too literal monstrous proportions, they will make the reader examine themselves in all their glory and flaws.
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Fist off, I want to say that the cover is stunning! Sadly, the praise ends there. I did not find this book to be engaging. It gave mixed messages regarding the word choice, the overall feeling it was trying to evoke, and the type of poetry it wanted to be recognized at. The end result was very underwhelming, forgettable read. A couple of weeks after reading it, I'm finding it hard to evoke even one image from this collection.
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"Sound darks, sounds cool. Sign me up!" This poetry is having that vibes but as much as I want to dwell in the writing style, it didn't hit me that much. But everything in this poetry is so enigmatic and I truly appreciate this one because of it's straightforwardness. I love this kind of poetry but this one is not for me, love the title though! 

(Thanks to Interstellar Flight Press for my digital copy!)
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This is a collection of poetry by Brandon O’Brien. The collection covers several different topics, including multiple pieces where a Lovecraft monster requests an autograph from a popular hip hop artist. There are 29 pieces in total. There are a few recurring themes, such as discrimination, conflict, regret and admiration.

Overall, I liked these creative pieces; although I realize that poetry is very personal and subjective, so I don't expect that everyone will necessarily enjoy this collection as much as I did. It probably helps if you are familiar with both the hip hop artists and the Lovecraft characters. (Kendrick Lamar, Cthulhu, etc)
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In this collection O'Brien uses hip hop and Lovecraftian creatures to explore a landscape of history, stories, injustice, family, culture, identity, and events of social significance. He uses well known artistes and their own use of their craft to interrogate the spaces the Black body occupies and the ways in which our mental health is viewed. He uses Folklore as a means of questioning monsters and the ways they are used as tools to teach and scare, musical icons from the Caribbean and the ways in which they too use their talents to highlight the different ways music has been influenced by monsters, time, and place.

The horror element was onlynkticeable through the creatures and how they were written into fiction and lore, but was lacking in feel and tone.of the poems. However, this collection is brilliant and definitely showcases a talent.
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My thanks to Interstellar Flight Press for a review copy via NetGalley of ‘Can You Sign My Tentacle?: Poems’ by Brandon O'Brien in exchange for an honest review.

The colourful cover art by Trevor Fraley and quirky title first caught my eye and then the description ‘Cthulhu meets hip-hop’ intrigued me and ensured that this collection of horror/SF poetry was going on my shelf. I quickly purchased my own copy. 

The publishers write that O’Brien is seeking to flip “the eldritch genre upside down.” These poems not only explore the nightmares inspired by the Cthulhu mythos but examines the monsters that “hide behind racism, sexism, and violence, resulting in poems that are both comic and cosmic.”

I read the poems aloud though I am certain that as their creator is a performance poet, Brandon O’Brien would do a much better job than me. I was happy to find a YouTube video of his reading one.

His Author’s Note was illuminating and highlights his intention to not seek to erase Lovecraft but to reimagine his writings in a way that challenges the legacy of racism, sexism, and xenophobia that had dominated Lovecraft’s worldview. Whether that is possible may be open to debate though I applaud the work of creators like O’Brien who are seeking to do so. Therefore, I have obtained two such works that he cites in his Note. 

As for the poems, they are very dream-like and visually rich. As the cover indicates there is a comic element to many of the poems and I loved the idea of the Old Ones collecting autographs from Black celebrities. 

After a quick initial read through these are poems that I plan to revisit and reflect upon over time.
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I wasn't sure what to think about this one but the title and cover was enough for me to give it a try. While it wasn't exactly my cup of tea, I still enjoyed the concept of it and the inspiration that was used to create it. If someone is looking for dark humor inspired by Lovecreaftian monsters and concepts, then this would likely be up their alley. I did definitely appreciate the theming and creativity that went into this.
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Honestly, a lot of the poems in Can You Sign My Tentacle? really went over my head on this first read through and I definitely want to go back and read it again a few more times to really understand it, but there were definitely a few poems that really connected with me and touched my heart; in the ARC I was provided, those were "The Repossession of Skin" and "That Business They Call Utopia, Part Two," assuming that they don't change those in the final edit and print stage of this book. I enjoyed the connections between American pop culture and life in America to life in Trinidad and Tobago, where the author is from and where my family is from; I always love finding books that I can connect to on a cultural level. I think that O'Brien has a great, fluid voice and I'm very much looking forward to his future works.
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A decent poetry collection that used expressive language and a variety of poetic forms, the majority free verse. I did not end up really connecting with any of these poems, but that's not why I rated it 2 stars, it's just because I didn't find anything particularly groundbreaking here. I love the cover and the title, but the inside fell flat. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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A good choice for a new variety of poetry, also good for people seeking poets beyond the typical white feminist popular titles
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What initially drew me to read Can You Sign My Tentacle?
Well first off, the title alone piqued my curiosity; then to discover that this was the work of a Caribbean author who has composed a strange blend of SFF, horror and poetry, I just had to open that cover and dive straight in.

Despite being a self-proclaimed SFF fan, I’ve never read any Lovecraft so I had no idea of the meaning behind the Cthulhu references until much later on. That being said, I feel this enabled me to approach O’Brien’s collection with a wholly open-mind.

O’Brien does not shy away from tackling some of the big themes of racism, sexism and violence, but through this unusual mix of varying genres, his messages tend to pop out and command your attention in a way that may be much less fun or remarkable in traditional prose. 

There are some wonderful phrases and language. As a bit of a logophile, I was struck by the beautiful and bizarre range of vocabulary that Brandon utilised across his writing.
Notably in The Metaphysics of a Wine, In Theory and Practice, the concoction of academia-style concepts mixed with the celestial, paranormal-esque commentary of being lost in the throes of dancing captivated me. Other poems such as The One, Lovecraft Thesis #3 and Time, and Time Again were particular favourites. 

The Author’s Note at the end (along with a little help from Google) helped me to understand how O’Brien’s use of the eldritch genre brought Can You Sign My Tentacle? to life. It tied together some of the loose connections that I hadn’t grasped from my initial reading and clarified the Lovecraft references along with the author’s influences and inspiration for writing this collection of poems.

I really, really like this book. It’s different, it’s highly entertaining yet meaningful at the same time. The poems are curious and provocative. The whole theme of the collection and ideas behind the Cthulhu/Lovecraft mix are totally original and have taught me something new; not just about the medley of Science-Fiction and Poetry as genres, but about the over-inflated concept of self-importance and that nobody or nothing is infallible.

In a world where cancel culture seems to be increasingly (somewhat shockingly) normalised, O’Brien’s narrative seems to challenge this notion and turn it on its head. Just as Lovecraft was undoubtedly a talented writer who has done much to shape the SFF genre, O’Brien shows that rather than ‘cancelling’ or criticising his creative legacy, we can turn his prejudices into a weapon and opportunity for education. He shows that we can learn from past denigrations and champions how today’s society can shift away from the attitudes, mistakes and short-sightedness of those who came before us.

I went into Can You Sign My Tentacle? looking for something a bit on the offbeat, peculiar side – I came out of it with something much more meaningful. O’Brien is truly a voice to be celebrated. He has written such a thought-provoking, original masterpiece with a trailblazing message that will stay in my mind for a long time to come.

[Review to be published on blog August 11th]
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I've been getting into poetry a bit more, and I really enjoy O'Brien's flow. This is one heck of a collection. 

O'Brien does an absolutely phenomenal job of blending hip hop culture with Lovecraftian horrors, and not just the tentacled-make believe ones. He hits on racism, sexism, violence, institutions and how they perpetuate such things. I may be an outsider in terms of the perspective given in this collection, but I recognize the greatness underneath.

Yeah, some of them didn't hit with me. That's fine. It's a poetry collection, so there's going to be stuff that really hits me and stuff that's less so, but this had a lot more hits than not, and a good portion of those were big hits. 

Ultimately, if you're in the market for some hard-hitting poetry set in a Lovecraftian-monster x hip-hop mashup, this is a great (and very specific) choice. If you need an overarching narrative in your poetry collections? Keep looking, although the theme is heavily prevalent throughout. 

As for any favorites of mine, there are a number of poems in the collection where the title is all lower-case. Every single one of these hit hard for me.
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This book was very nuanced and interesting. I liked a lot the conversation and the metaphors are incredible. :)
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Turns out that goodness is often light-sensitive.
Turns out that darkness leaves all of its windows open
and makes lullaby out of everything. Turns out there’s
a duality in everything

I would definitely recommend reading the ‘Author’s Note’ first, as Brandon O’Brien gives a very moving and well-considered account of how he came to ‘embrace’ the work of generally-not-a-nice person HP Lovecraft, whose numerous endearing qualities included having a cat named ‘Nigger-Man’ (catnip for meme makers on social media, of course).

Still, O’Brien notes that Lovecraft is “one of science fiction’s most well-known authors”, “an otherwise talented and creative hand in the genre, and we credit him on the expansion of an entire subgenre mythos that science fiction and horror still reveres to this day.” He points out: “The conversation is a challenging, bitter thing.”

Instead of erasing Lovecraft from the genre’s collective memory, O’Brien points to the highly potent “deliberate reimaginings” of Victor LaValle (‘The Ballad of Black Tom’) and Matt Ruff (‘Lovecraft Country’). It is clear that ‘Can You Sign My Tentacle?’ falls into this category of contemporarising and re-energising Lovecraft for the ‘new world’.

But just as we have monuments like the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem as a cautionary reminder of the depravity of humanity, O’Brien’s poems also indicate that Lovecraft should be both a reminder and a warning.

He states that “Science fiction is a radical genre, but that fact is a neutral one.” One just has to recall the Rose Tico backlash sparked by The Last Jedi and the Sad Puppies right-wing anti-diversity voting campaign at the Hugos to realise how the spirit of Lovecraft, unrepentant and unreformed, is very much alive in our supposedly enlightened genre and world. Live long and prosper my ass, especially if you’re black or gay in the wrong part of the planet.

The wonderful title and cover art made me think that this would be some Rocky Horror Picture Show ‘Monster Mash’, but this is a surprisingly diverse, quite dark and often really lovely collection of poems that will stay with you for a long time. I suspect not all of them will speak to everybody’s lived experience, but anything that manages to combine Cthulhu with hip hop has to be pretty fucking fantastic in my book.

My personal favourites:

because who she is matters more than words
The Metaphysics of a Wine, in Theory and Practice
time, and time again
drop some amens
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3.75. Thank you net galley for the digital copy of the book. I request this book because I only thought it was just sci-fi poems. But it’s way more than that. I didn’t understood all of them. But it was meaningful and really powerful
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You know the first sign of a great book is when you are reading the advance copy and ten pages in, set your device down to find out if your local book store can order you a physical copy because you -need- it on your shelf. 

The premise does an amazing job of grabbing you from the start. The intersection of the mythos spun out in the writings of a dead racist and a talented young Black poet writing odes to hip hop stars and monsters is fascinating in both its contradiction and how well it works. Brandon O'Brien is sometimes listed as a performance poet and that is clear from the cadence of the first poem in the book and is continued throughout. Its hard to not find yourself reading them outloud, testing patterns and beats that would bring them to life. I'm hardly the first reviewer who would love to hear this collection in audio from the artist as well. 

The biggest selling point for me is the way the horror (both in the cosmic sense and as social commentary) are interwoven with a sense of humor and charm. It disarms you as you read it and also gets through your defenses, making some of the poems land all the harder for it. If you are familiar with Brandon from his time as Poetry Editor for FIYAH (a literary magazine that I feel like is going to continue giving the world gifts for years), you won't be too surprised at his deft hand in tying in allusions to cultural touchstones and literary work. If this is your first time coming across the author, you are in for a treat as you watch a talented poet spin tales that are nuanced and real even as they deal with thousand foot monsters from beyond the stars. 

Its the first verse of the second poem in the book that grabbed me and kept me reading through the entire collection in one go. The poem is entitled 'because who she is matters more than her words' and if you follow any Black femme presenting authors on twitter its going to ring all too true to the daily struggle that these talented women go through. 

This book is the perfect take for people who enjoy the cosmic horror genre but want to see it be more than just tired old stories. This is a fictional genre that's always been more for what has been added and this continues a rich tradition of making it more. Mr. O'Brien mentions in his author's note the concept of Black Significance in the face of the cosmic and its an idea I look forward to being more explored.
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Maybe I got the wrong impression of the book before I ased to review it.
I read poetry and saw the wonderful illustration on it. That I loved.
For me the poems weren´t like the one I´m usual reading and I didn't really understand them. So after a while I gave up. This book was, sadly, not for me.
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CAN YOU SIGN MY TENTACLE? is the type of poetry book I wished I could have read and studied in university. It flips the horror genre upside down and uses other-worldly monsters to create a landscape where very real issues and themes of racism and sexism are explored through an entirely new lens. Here, the "horror" isn't so much monsters and mayhem, but the situations people find themselves in. I truly wish I could discuss this one with other readers to share thoughts on it!

I admit that some of the poems went right over my head, but others sparked so much emotion and gave my brain a workout. Some stayed with me well after finishing, and I found myself venturing back to certain lines and sections, reading them over again.

This was my first time reading horror poetry, and while some parts were a bit confusing, others were completely enthralling. I loved this collection, and can't wait to read more.

Thank you to the publisher, Interstellar Flight Press, for providing me with a digital ARC via NetGalley.
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"The foxes wanted something to eat, after all. To roast it all and grin, to live rich at the summit. But the smoke rose to meet them. The tar baby never stopped hungering. It already ate all of the poor. That was just its job. Its salary was the flesh of everything else. "
I enjoyed some poems but some doesn't make sense to me(sorry) and some are so good and meaningful.
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As a Lovecraft fan myself, I was really excited to see just how would the author connect a 20h century writer - his lifework plagued with blatant racism - with some of the most influential black artists out there. The result was really interesting, flawed, but well executed.
 While the Lovecraftian connections reach their climax on the various "Lovecraft Thesis" (aside from constant references throughout the verses), I enjoyed way more the writer's innovative talent with his "autograph style" of unraveling the story. I think it brought a necessary freshness to the book because each time I was reading a Lovecraft Thesis, I always caught myself anticipating and thinking "who's Hastur going to ask an autograph from next?". Aside from that, by either various undertones or being the central theme, almost every poem was a testament to black struggle in society, reaching their peak with the various "That Business They Call Utopia".
 The only flaws I can really think of are in the way the poems were written. Losing direction with a lack of solid cohesion between verses, the reader sometimes gets lost and is left with a jumbled mess of cosmic infinity and rap. However, by using a mostly colloquial tone, each poem felt like hearing a live performance, which I also really liked and think helps the lovecraftian and hip-hop themes, to get closer. If this was the author's intention, he absolutely nailed it. 
 The poems about MF Doom and Gambino were my favorites btw, I especially liked the verses dedicated to Teddy Perkins (aka the best episode of the second season of Atlanta), which curiously enough, while reading other reviews, I think most people didn't get it because they've never watched the show.
  In conclusion, I have to recommend this book to every Lovecraft, poetry, or overall hip-hop fan because, even if you don't like it, you have to admire the braveness and freshness of it's concept, which the author also discusses in his final note: a heart to heart talk between  reader and writer, a bridge usually hard to cross.
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