Review: Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien

cover of Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O'BrienCan You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien
Interstellar Flight Press (August 2021)
89 pages; $11.99 paperback; $5.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Can You Sign My Tentacle? is a wild amalgam of Afro-futurism, Cthullu mythos, and social commentary with a finger on the pulse of hip-hop culture.

At first, the poems seem fun and humorous. The opening poem “Hastur Asks for Donald Glover’s Autograph” begins:

In his house at Stone Mountain, real hip-hop Gambino stays woke.
In floaters, he can see spacetime on opposite
ends of a line of scrimmage, watch them collide into nebulae
to the point where he can’t even find himself out of that mess.
He doesn’t really know sleep. There’s too much to know.
Before the entourage parks outside the 2013 version
of Sway In The Morning, he’s already seen how it all middles.

Here Hastur is in awe of a hip-hop artist; the elder god is humbled beneath the larger-than-life personality of a media sensation. At this point, the casual reader will enjoy the cleverness of these lines and get fooled into thinking they’re reading a mash-up of Lovecraft mythos and rap music — which is exactly what Brandon O’Brien wants to happen.

Much like the tentacles surrounding the malignant maw of a Great Old One, O’Brien’s lines catch the reader and suck them into the dark underbelly of Lovecraft mythos. It is no secret that Lovecraft was a racist, and O’Brien says as much in his “Author’s Note” (which, itself, is worth paying the price of the book to read), and O’Brien uses his poetry to tap into this horror and have it reflect back upon itself. This is apparent in poems like “the repossession of skin,” which states:

we fight hordes of TV execs
who throw milquetoast casting calls with lethal force

and we win by stabbing each
of them in the eye with our fountain pens

and we peel their pale exteriors with our hands
and bite into whatever wicked pulp rests beneath

and we get whole seasons of ourselves
and neither of us gets written out

and our bodies still belong to us
and our bodies never forget the sound of our voice.

The rhythmic intensity of these lines, as well as their socio-political commentary and the horror of a literal skin walker makes for a brilliant horror poem.

There’s so much working in this collection that it’s difficult to encapsulate in a simple review. There’s a cleverness in the language and the turn of phrase, as well as a richness in the layers of imagery and social critique. There’s a call to action, a demand for readers to see and acknowledge the cruelty in the world and the universe and to do something about it. There’s a defiant declaration of existence that needs to be heard. If you aren’t reading this book, you are missing out. Make sure that doesn’t happen.

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