Can You Sign My Tentacle?
by Brandon O'Brien
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Pub Date 20 Aug 2021 | Archive Date 15 Nov 2021
Cthulhu meets hip-hop in this book of horror poems that flips the eldritch genre upside down. Lovecraftian-inspired nightmares are reversed as O'Brien asks readers to see Blackness as radically significant. Can You Sign My Tentacle? explores the monsters we know and the ones that hide behind racism, sexism, and violence, resulting in poems that are both comic and cosmic.
About the Author
Brandon O’Brien is a writer, performance poet, teaching artist and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago. His work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Alice Yard Prize for Art Writing, the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions, and the inaugural Ignyte Award for Best Speculative Poetry. His work is published in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Reckoning, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is the former Poetry editor of FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.
Average rating from 115 members
The illustration is what caught my eye at first. I know you should not judge a book by its cover but the illustration was eye-catching. Can You Sign My Tentacle? Is really in a genre all its own. It is told through poetic verses inspired by musicians and Horror fiction creations. I definitely want to see if there will be an audiobook accompanying this one on its release.
I’m not sure exactly what I just read, but I am absolutely here for it! Equal parts HP Lovecraft, Childish Gambino, and Emily Dickinson makes for a weird and wild read.
Honestly the poems sound like the thoughtful rambling of someone stoned out of their mind, you know where you’re not sure if it’s profound or just seems profound for a moment.
The cover artwork is killer and I wish there was more throughout, but alas there is not.
Overall 3.5 stars. If you like horror and hip hop, this is definitely worth a read.
I've never read a collection of sci-fi poetry before, so this book was an interesting change of pace. The imagery and language used reminded me of a high fantasy novel, where some of the passages take a few rereads to really sink in. As with high fantasy, this poetry collection wasn't my cup of tea, but I'm glad I had the experience of reading it.
A pleasant mix of Lovecraftian horror and hip-hop. I found the poetry very intriguing.
I especially loved "the one".
I found the author's note at the end of this book to be a good read. I would definitely recommend not skipping over it!
The cover art is great as well. The title, cover art, and description of the book really made me want to read it, and the book did not disappoint.
If you're a fan of Lovecraftian horror, hip-hop, and poetry I would give this book a read!
Thank you to NetGalley and Interstellar Flight Press for the ARC.
The way of Brandon subverts some cosmic horror concepts is a magnificent thing. Making supernatural creatures looking for a autograph of some black celebrities, tensioning the concept of utopia and describing the urban mechanisms even thinking about death makes this book a wonderful lecture.
This review is based on NetGalley ARC provided in exchange for an honest, unbiased opinion. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher!
This poetry collection was everything that I didn’t know I needed. Part Lovecraftian horror, part hip-hop, and part social reform, ‘Can You Sign My Tentacle?’ is a ride, and one that you won’t soon forget. It felt like a fever dream wrapped up in a poetry collection, and I mean that in the best way possible. The way that it not only manages to do exactly what it says on the tin, but also cover important social issues is spectacular. I thoroughly enjoyed this read.
This is a really interesting collection, almost like a series of mini-collections spliced together. There's a series of poems wherein entities of the Cthulhu Mythos interact with famous Black musicians; a series of "Lovecraft Theses," wherein the author speaks to Lovecraft; a series about building Utopia and how damn dystopic Utopia is; and a smattering of other poems about colonization, chattel slavery, and Blackness.
My favorites were, I think, "Birth, Place," "Kanye West's Internet Bodyguard Asks Hastur to Put Away the Phone," "tar baby," and "drop some amens." But every poem in this collection is doing something interesting, and almost every one has at least a couple of phrases that made me go back and reread and think. I loved lines like "light takes its own life before it can be food," "violence makes good background noise / for anything," "know that my landlords are / greater than yours."
I think that inverting the Lovecraft mythos to confront and deal with its own racism is a natural thing to do. I've seen this done plenty of times in prose (see: the works of Victor LaValle and Matt Ruff, both of which O'Brien mentions in his Author's Note), but never before in poetry, and O'Brien does it very cleverly here, mixing themes and imagery in a way that poetry lends itself to. O'Brien's Author's Note is also really key, contextualizing the poems and providing a kind of critical and emotional lens through which to view them.
I'd recommend this book of poems, and I'll probably find myself rereading a few of them later on.
I received an e-ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Ok how can I express my feelings about Can You Sign My Tentacle? As standalone poems I actually really enjoyed quite a number of them. The themes explored within the poems are current, relevant and relatable. I can understand the author relating to the theme of horror - and actually the themes of racism, sexism etc are in themselves horror without the 'horror elements' as metaphor. I found that I couldn't read the book in order so in that sense it was different to other verse novels which have been popular with 'non poetry reading' audiences. I'm not sure if that was because I wasn't gripped by the novel as a complete story, or if I was seeking out verses that I could ponder over a little more deeply. I would definitely like to read more from the author - probably without horror metaphor though.
This is a strange one for me, I've tried poetry books in the past and I haven't been able to truly relate or feel very much from them.
But this, it hit differently. It was beautifully written and definitely gave me creepy and unsettling vibes, like I was watching something in a fever dream-like fashion.
It covers topics of racism among other things.
One of my favourites was "time, and time again" I actually teared up. I also really enjoyed the autograph poems. The cover is also very beautiful!
Reading the author's notes gave me so much insight too.
Thank you, NetGalley for early access to this beautiful collection!
A unique alignment of verse and imagination that represents new worlds that are reflective of our times. As a poetry and science fiction fan, I was intrigued by this title.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing this e-arc!
It was a fun quick, yet slow, read! Not too attached but I wouldn't mind reading more poems that are similar
Like the name suggests this is not your normal book of poems. I think that they were good. I don’t normally read or understand poetry but, I felt that these poems were good. I feel like I would read more from this author.
This was a good and fast read. I enjoyed it all and would buy the hardcopy when it comes out. The cover art drew me in and I must say I was not disappointed. I love the writing style as well.
NetGalley ARC Educator 550974
Titillating poetry, confounds the mind and engages the senses. True LoveCraft style. Might confuse you, will lure you in and you'll want more.
The sheer artistry evident in every line of this poetry collection is breathtaking. O’Brien’s level of craft and polish easily balances razor-sharp wit and whimsy with moving commentary on art, race, Blackness, the complexity of admiring and being influenced by artists who are imperfect humans, and so much more. Every poem in the set is a highlight, though the one about MF Doom and the ones about iconic Calypso singers were particular standouts for me. All of the poems in the book are thoughtful, musical, hilarious and tragic in equal measure—and, most of all, they are brilliant. I went into this book expecting to be entertained—after all, the title! The Lovecraft mythos references! —and came away amazed.
This collection is a joy to read. I would very much recommend it—and I plan to purchase a hard copy to share with friends and family.
I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
"Can You Sign My Tentacle?" felt like a collection of essays written in verse. That was not what I thought I would get, but I was pleased with the message that was portrayed. It felt very impactful, as all media about racism written by those who suffer from it; however, poetry, being such an emotive genre, full of passion and truth, gives it an extra push, I was struck with Brandon O'Brien's words. I also think the idea is really interesting, mixing Lovecraft and blackness, but I didn't feel like it was perfectly accomplished, namely because the poetry was confusing at times and because I didn't understand the connections that were being made until I read the Author's Note in the end. My rating for the book is 3,5/5, since I really was let down by the lack of connection between Lovecraft and blackness, as I said, but it still hits like a punch and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the #OwnVoices movement.
This was an adventure that I went into blindly! I’m glad that I did because it took me by surprise and I didn’t want to put it down. I felt like I was in another world while I was reading it. The writing was written beautifully and definitely kept my attention all the way through and I wanted more! I would recommend this to anyone.
Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O'Brien.
This collection of poems really intrigued me, and the fantastic cover art by Trevor Frayley was what had me clicking to find out more about this book.
I will not pretend to be an expert in poetry. In fact, I don't often read it. But Can You Sign My Tentacle? just had that draw that made me want to read it... and I'm glad I did.
I am going to insert the author's blurb here as it honestly is the best way to explain exactly what this book of poerty is:
"Cthulhu meets hip-hop in this book of horror poems that flips the eldritch genre upside down. Lovecraftian-inspired nightmares are reversed as O'Brien asks readers to see Blackness as radically significant. Can You Sign My Tentacle? explores the monsters we know and the ones that hide behind racism, sexism, and violence, resulting in poems that are both comic and cosmic."
Can You Sign My Tentacle? is eye opening, beautiful and heartbreaking all at once, and so very well written. Some of my favourites included: -
-Lovecraft Thesis #2
-Kanye West's Internet Bodyguard Asks Hastur to Put Away the Phone
-Cthylla Asks for J. Cole's Autograph
Tloto Tsamaase put their praise of this book into words far better than I could: "Dreamlike, visceral, and emotionally moving. An intoxicating poetic journey and a heartbreaking ode casting your fave hip-hop artists juxtaposed with chilling and beautiful imagery through the haunting lens of tangible pain, loss, grief and love"
Overall, a really, really good book of poems that will get you thinking, and hopefully, acting and using your own voice.
I really enjoyed this poetry. While at times I didn't quite understand what was going on - thats ok. This book wasn't made for me as white reader, but I was able to empathize and understand the author and his heart pouring out onto the pages. I will say, the first section, with Donald Glover, was the section that clicked for me. I loved the intertwining of all things Childish Gambino, Donald Glover, and the character's he's played on screen.
Really great book of horror poems, eye opening and relevant pop culture and social impacts mentioned. It was tough to read at times, and other moments left me nodding along.
Can You Sign My Tentacle? is a book of cosmic horror poems that takes the genre and its racist roots and flips it. The description reads “Lovecraftian-inspired nightmares are reversed as O’Brien asks readers to see Blackness as radically significant.” This refers to the significance of continuing to struggle and survive against huge structures of power trying to destroy them. The idea seems to be that the horrors aren’t nearly as awe-inspiring as the struggle. Imagine, if you will, a human standing before Cthulhu shouting “I’m still here, you big slimy fuck!”
A lot of the poems are dark, but they’re funny, as well. The entire concept demands it, on some level! You have poems on topics like “Hastur asks for Donald Glover’s Autograph,” in which Hastur, the unspeakable one, the peacock king, a creature of nameless aeons and inconceivable dimensions, just… in awe of Childish Gambino. Which is fair, you know? In the autograph series of poems, O’Brien is really successful in making the monsters small and the humans big.
Every poetry book I’ve ever read has one standout poem, one that maybe isn’t the best poem for everyone, or the most eye-catching or the one with the deepest meaning or most radical ideas, but that really gets in my head. Here, that was “time, and time again.” The imagery is what hooked me here, sweet and simple and aware of it. Give me simple words that sink into my bones, give me a love story, make it gay and bittersweet, and you have me. And that’s the poem! A pair of lovers, separated by death and brought back together in an alternate universe. It was beautiful and a little disorienting and exactly my jam.
There are a lot of things I didn’t understand, in this book, in the way of poetry. It’s the sort of thing that I will need to ponder and return to a few times. Doing so will be a pleasure!
Can You Sign My Tentacle? is coming out August 2021 from Interstellar Flight Press.
You should never judge a book by its cover, but this one is definitely eye-catching. And well worth the read, too. A perfect meld of sci-fi and poetry, this collection is something I haven't come across before. My favorite was "Birth, Place".
Because I am not as well-read in SpecPo as I would like to be, I fell into a trap when I agreed to read Can You Sign My Tentacle?, the poetry collection by Brandon O’Brien. I was seduced by the cover art, a delightful piece by Trevor Fraley. The colors, the line art, the title font (in conjunction with the whimsical title) lulled me into the expectation of wry, lighthearted poems that would juxtapose Lovecraftian mythology with contemporary popular culture. I made the horribly cliché mistake of associating Fraley’s comic-style cover illustration with material that was perhaps not so important as other, more serious endeavors. I, who should most definitely know better, confused comic with comedic. Based on the cover, I lazily assumed the content to be Less Stuff, More Fluff, as it were.
But please let me assure you, this collection is as serious as it gets. Oh, it does definitely blend the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft with the media-driven existence of today’s hip-hop artists. Among other topics. It does so wryly. There are whimsical moments. I’m sure there is some lightheartedness within these pages, for those who know how to find it, for those readers for whom these poems are written.
I, however, am not such a reader.
I am an outsider to these poems, one who has been granted the honor of reading/listening to O’Brien’s work. His culture is not my culture and thus, many of his references are from outside of my sphere of experience.
Make no mistake, the fact of this is not a criticism of the work. Who am I to say that a poet must speak to me, for me? No. As O’Brien notes in his “Lovecraft Thesis #1,” “if you can’t make sense of what / the rhythm of time seeks to say / then it wasn’t for you”. To be clear, however, nor should you make the mistake of thinking that if the words are not meant for me, they have no message for me. Quite the contrary.
A non-Native native of the American West, I have spent most of my life living within an hour’s travel from one Indian Boarding School or another, and the recent news (disturbing, yet to those of us who are familiar with the system, not particularly surprising) of mass unmarked graves of Native children, victims of these schools, weighs heavily on me these days. “Birth, Place” is about the experiences of an altogether different people, and yet the lines “Shade will one day grow / in the place where your father’s / bones once called me low.” bring to my mind the resistance and resilience of my Native friends and neighbors.
A father of two daughters, I have spent my life as a parent seeing and fearing and cringing at the casual and explicit misogyny they must face every day. I know there are sub-texts that pass me by in “Cthylla Asks For J. Cole’s Autograph,” but it reminds me that my daughters are strong, that they are ‘girl-gods’ and that they, I pray, will “need rescue last.”
More than two-dozen poems are included in the collection. Some, such as those noted above, evoked scenes and situations from my own life. More drew me closer to O’Brien’s world. All gave me pause. These are serious works. This collection is an event. These poems are, as we used to say, the Real Deal. If they are written for you, you should clasp them to you and read them. If they are not written for you, you may want to begin with the Author’s Note at the back of the book in order to gain some context, and then you should clasp them to you and read them. Now.
ARC from Interstellar Flight Press via NetGalley
Review posted to GoodReads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58178182-can-you-sign-my-tentacle
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.
"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.
Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O'Brien is very cool in a unique way. The concept works for me as I entered blindsided; however, it can work both ways. Some may not enjoy it. It was a jarring experience at first. But, it's a very cool mix of some really cool things!
This mixture of horror, hip-hop, and poetry is super intriguing. Originally the cover is what caught my eye. The colors are extremely eyecatching and the art pulls you into wanting to read and learn more about what is going on.
Though some of the pop culture references go over my head which make some of the poems hard for me to really get, there is enough material here to understand the points that O'Brien is making.
There is beauty in differences and O'Brien's work demands you look at blackness and see its beauty and uniqueness.
Not 100 percent sure what is going on in some of these poems, but the ones that I do I am here for. This might just be one of those poetry books that I go through 2 or more times to truly anylize and understand the works.
I would recommend for any fans of horror, hip-hop, and/or poetry. Definitely one of those instances where judging a book by its cover has paid off.
Absolutely loved this collection of poetry! It was very different and refreshing from what I've read before. I was transported and highly immersed in this one. Kudos to the author and thank you to Netgalley for my very first ARC :)
A good choice for a new variety of poetry, also good for people seeking poets beyond the typical white feminist popular titles
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]
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.
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
I really enjoyed reading this collection of scifi poetry, it was really well done and I enjoyed each one. I really had a good time with this book.
This collection of poems is based on a super interesting premise which is how to take on Lovecraft, an absurdly racist yet influential sci fi author and insert influential black artists into his stories about these classic monsters. Turning stereotypes on their head and making you think while also being funny and entertaining. The more familiar you are with Lovecraft’s work the more you will probably enjoy this collection but even as someone who has not read a lot of his work I really enjoyed this collection. It’s extremely well-written and the stories really draw you in.
The author’s note at the end is great and puts the whole collection in a new light. I read it first and I would suggest doing that. I didn’t expect this collection to be this deep when I first started to read it but all the layers only add to the experience of reading. I’m more of a casual poetry reader so I’m sure this would be even better for people who are more familiar with the style of symbolism but I still found it really enjoyable!
My favorite poem was “Time, and Time Again”. It was a little unexpected in the best way.
Can You Sign My Tentacle? is one of the most beautiful poems collection I’ve ever read. I didn’t start it with high expectations to be honest, I thought it to be about something entirely different. But my mind was blown away by the criticism of climate change, racism, sexism and classism. It was so well and deeply written, our society’s worst problems summed up in a few short lines, yet they hit home. O’Brien has a great talent and I can’t wait to read more poems by him.
My top five poems were
the repossession of skin; it haunted me, it had mayor Among Us vibes and really freaked me out
the lagahoo speaks for itself; humanity from a monster’s point of view. SO interesting and well written
Birth, Place; an exploration of home - what is home and why do we feel attached to a mark on a landscape? I loved it, it was spiritual and gave me the chills
time, and time again; it broke my heart, no poem ever touched my soul like this one
Cthylla asks for J.Cole’s Autograph; it made me feel so empowered and strong
All in all, this perfect mixture of horror, imagination and bitter truth was an incredible read. I’m pretty sure I’ll reread this collection at least ten times in my life and I encourage everyone else to give it a chance.
This is a great combination of interaction with the canon of speculative fiction, the black experience, and pop culture all intersecting to say something new and amazingly well written. Definitely interested in future works from this poet. Keep an eye out for him.
*I received an advance reader copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley and the publishers.*
It's kind of challenging to review a poetry book, because poetry is meant to be read and processed so differently than the novels or even non-fiction that I usually read. I didn't fully understand all of the poems - there are a lot of references to mythology, horror and pop culture that I didn't understand, but that will make these poems much more delightful and add a lot more depth for those who do get them. From my perspective, if I love and am touched by a few poems from a collection, that's enough for me to give it a high rating, because I don't expect every single poem to work for me. And this collection certainly did that. I'm also writing from the perspective of a Trinidadian woman familiar with Trini history, culture and spaces, and I definitely connected with these works on that level.
This collection is written from a playful but also subversive and radical place, as the author's note explains (I read it after reading most of the poems, but I would recommend reading it first, as it gives a better understanding of what the poet is trying to achieve). The perspective of mythological/horror monsters interacting with pop culture, and specifically Black, icons is such an interesting premise. But many poems are also deeply Trinbagonian in the way they incorporate folklore, history, and the local crime situation. It's not a light read, as it also deals with racism, colonialism, violence and murder.
There were many poems that touched me:
Hunting Dog was a poignant look at the murder rate through the lens of folklore, referencing murder victims Sean Luke, Keyana Cumberbatch and Dana Seetahal.
I was absolutely floored by Birth, Place, which left me staring into the distance while contemplating the country's legacy of slavery and suffering and the hope and faith and hard work that went into building a better future. Lines like "make my children potters / of a planet, give them / farmers' hands", and "shade will one day grow / in the place where your father's / bones once called me low." are so deeply evocative. "I will plant a time I cannot see/ for children I will not know" had me thinking of my own work on the climate crisis, and the hope we need to have for a better future for generations to come. This is definitely my favourite poem in the collection.
The Metaphysics of a Wine, in Theory and in Practice was an incredible read, with an almost academic look at something so rooted in our culture. I loved the references - I want to know what each of those songs are.
Time, and Time Again brought me to tears, this look at queer love and loss and grief. Anyone who has lost or faces the loss of a loved one will relate to the line "I have tried to find / the space and time / when you still are."
Lovecraft Thesis #5 is relevant to anywhere with a legacy of colonialism, "a land already bought in / blood"
I'm so grateful to Interstellar Press for this ARC, it's a truly relevant read and a valuable addition to any collection of poetry books and to any collection of Caribbean writing. I will probably be buying a hard copy of this for my own shelf.
This is a delight and a trip and full of joy and angst and passion and fear and amazing, original language. I want everyone to read it and talk about the author's descriptions and constructions and flair. An excellent read for anyone who enjoys poetry and SFF.
Okay, so this collection is brilliant and fascinating, and I am going to flail through trying to talk about it because I’m not great at talking about poetry anyway. And there’s always this slightly complicated dynamic when you’re talking about work by Black creators, in that you want to support and celebrate the work and meet it where it’s at, without appropriating it or trying to make where it’s at all about you and your whiteness.
I guess a good place to start with this is that SFF has long had a Lovecraft problem: in the sense that his writing is seen as fundamental to our understanding of horror and has shaped the genre inescapably. (My favourite goddamn boardgame is Lovecraft-inspired) But he’s also, and there’s no way of saying this sensitively, like … racist. Like next level racist. Which I’m not saying to demonstrate my amazing sensitive allyness: it’s just kind of … a fact that, while we’ve got better at pretending it isn’t there, or it doesn’t matter, must be all kinds of fucked up to navigate around if you’re a Black SFF writer. Though, of course, there’s an also a burgeoning collection of work that exists directly to address this (The Ballad of Black Tom, She Walks in Shadows both spring to mind) and I think it is to these texts (as well as to Black art and culture more generally, for example in its hip hop influences), over and above Problematic Uncle Howie, that Can You Sign My Tentacle is most explicitly in dialogue.
There’s a lot going on, both whimsical and serious, in Can You Sign My Tentacle but its central conceit is this: what if these unspeakable monstrosities that exist primarily as manifestations of some white guy’s fear of the known were just, like, super fans of Black artists? The opening poem is called ‘Hastur Asks for Donald Glover’s Autograph’. Which, y’know, if that amuses the hell out of you, then this collection will not disappoint. For all the significance of its themes, essentially positing Black significance as both defense against and answer to Lovecraft’s terror of cosmic insignificance, these poems are deliciously playful. Unabashedly weird. It is rare, I think, to find something that engages so uniquely—so transformatively—with the mythos (and I say this as someone who often digs through Lovecraft’s pockets when I’m writing).
I think the other thing that this collection serves to highlight—and the author discusses this in the note at the end (something that white readers will probably find illuminating to read first)—is, like, just how fucking privileged do you have to be for “fear of the unknown” to have such an overwhelming effect on you. I mean, the rest of us have plenty to fear from the shit we do know. Couple this with the idea that insignificance in the face of arbitrarily powerful ‘others’ that aren’t like you and don’t care about is, when you get right down it, what living with a marginalised identity is like. And so what you get here are a collection of poems that speak far more to human nature, identity and the monsters we create for ourselves than Lovecraft ever could.
It’s always really difficult to play favourites with a poetry collection because I feel if a collection is put together carefully enough the placement becomes, well, kind of its own poem really: there’s another journey here, with its own rise and fall, and its emotional resonances. And this is definitely true of Can You Sign My Tentacle. There is such precision here, not just in the construction of each poem individually, but in how the poem is placed among its fellows. But, for me, some of the highlights include: because who she is matters more than her words; the lagahoo speaks for itself; That Business They Call Utopia, Part Two; time and time again; Young Poet Just Misses Getting MF DOOM’s Autograph.
Really, this is just a stunning piece of art. While every poem is unlikely to work for every reader—and if you’re white then they’re explicitly written within and speaking to a cultural framework that doesn’t include you (and, y’know, that’s okay, we’ve apparently got Lovecraft)—there’s still something really bold, charming and very much worth experiencing here. It will take me a while, I think, to fully understand the depth and breadth of these poems. But given how much Lovecraft shit I’ve consumed down the years? That feels fair enough.
A total role reversal of Lovecraftian dread, expressed through the pain, outrage, and perseverence of Blackness. Here, the Old Ones are White institutions and atitudes: omnipresent, omnipotent, and always seeking to own and control. Here, the incomprehensible is the hypocrisy of white attitudes to black artists, glorifying the few while oppressing the many (and the few, too).
And yet here, the insignificant is not maddened and destroyed. Instead, the insignificance breeds resilience and pride.
These poems are often a stark reflection of modern events, but they are also a cheeky, unique way of diving into and opening up about the racist origins of Lovecraft's ideas.
I can't help but feel out of my depth reviewing Can You Sign My Tentacle?. I know almost nothing about Lovecraftian horror and rap music which I've learned can be an obstacle when reading a poetry collection billed as "Cthulhu meets hip-hop". But it's a testament to Brandon O'Brien's skill as a poet that even with my blind spots I found this collection to be an enjoyable read.
The most arresting aspect of O'Brien's work is his visceral use of language. His poems are rich with imagery and often have a guttural, rhythmic fluidity that was amazing to read. This tone works perfectly with the subject matter of a lot of his poetry. This collection frequently touches on identity, racism, imperialism and sexism and the imagery evoked to discuss those themes was stunning. O'Brien was at his best when discussing his connection to the earth and his culture and the ways systems of power have attempted to rip him from it.
If I were to pick a handful of favourites from this collection I would say "Time, and Time Again" a tragic poem exploring the grief of losing a lover was a standout. The poem was the perfect blend of tragedy and hope and the cosmic framework of the narrative only added to the beautiful storytelling. I can see myself revisiting that one frequently.
I also surprisingly adored the poem “The Lagahoo Speaks For Itself". This poem evokes Trinidadian mythos rather than the Lovecraftian and goes to show that being unfamiliar with certain elements of myology didn’t necessarily take away from my reading experience. The bitting imagery and gripping descriptions of this poem hooked me in and I loved it.
In the end, Can You Sign My Tentacle? is a difficult collection to recommend. There were moments I felt lost while reading it because of my lack of familiarity with its subject matter. If you know more about Lovecraft and hip-hop than me you'll probably get more out of it. But my lack of familiarity with the subject matter didn’t hinder my enjoyment all that much and that could be the same for others. Brandon O’Brien is a skilled poet whose work I’m definitely willing to seek out after reading this collection.
the cover and title were what grabbed my interest and i can say that i would have liked to had these poems analyzed at literature class. i really liked them, even though i didn't fully understand anything. the author's note at the end explained a lot, so i appreciated it. overall this talks about how blackness should be important, and the author embraces the works of lovecraft ( great world building etc, sadly very racist person ) and reinstalls then in his poems. i would recommend!!
( received this through netgalley! thank you! )
The delightfully sinister Can You Sign My Tentacle is a collection of horror poetry, inspired by the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. Poet Brandon O’Brien has an agile, fast-paced and witty writing style that lends itself particularly well to the combination of Victorian horror motifs with contemporary social mores. Poems like because who she is matters more than her words, Kanye West’s Internet Bodyguard Asks Hastur to Put Away The Phone and Cthylla Asks for J.Cole’s Autograph are standouts. Overall it’s a really interesting, intelligent collection that has the power to move the heart and fire up the brain.
Enjoyed the collection. It was marketed as horror poetry, but it's not about terror or gore as much as feelings of unease and dread and the monstrous. The poems are free verse, and about 1/3 are relevant to the title. These poems involve various eldritch beings from the Lovecraft Universe interacting with popular male rappers. The rappers have various levels of supernatural abilities. I didn't know how to interpret most of the poems. One was about racist fantasy fans harassing N. K. Jemisin over her Hugo win/ the general mistreatment of authors of color, tar baby as allegory for imperialism, and another was about cultural appropriation with a body snatcher allegory. I didn't know what to make of the rest of them. I enjoyed the ones about canine monsters. There were a couple more poems about Lovecraft universe (minus the rappers) and a discontinuous poetry series about utopia. Good for poetry fans who really want to mull over what they're reading.
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.
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)
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.
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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