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.
Latonya Pennington is a freelance writer from the southern United States specializing in entertainment and pop culture. In addition to BlackSci-Fi.com, her pop culture work can be found on The Mary Sue, Black Girl Nerds, and Buzzfeed. When she isn’t freelancing, she can be found tweeting, reading, doing creative writing, or streaming music, shows and anime online. Find her on Twitter.