“Lovecraft Thesis #5” (2021) by Brandon O’Brien

The man you say brought us here is a kind of prophet.
—Brandon O’Brien “Lovecraft Thesis #5” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 59

Every Lovecraftian thesis in O’Brien’s collection includes a soundtrack; for #5 it is Visions of Bodies Being Burned (2020), Track 6: Make Them Dead, by clipping. An experimental hip-hop piece of carefully constructed distortion, slow to start, building in speed and lyricality. The track provides added context for the thesis; one should be read with the other, not rushing through O’Brien’s free verse, but savoring the way the lines scan. Like good poetry, and good lyrics, there is something more there than just a clever bit of wording or an evocative image.

Lovecraftian is a state of mind. There’s no hard definition, and it means different things to different people. For folks like W. H. Pugmire, “Lovecraftian” was an aesthetic, a mood, an attitude. You don’t need Cthulhu or tentacles to be Lovecraftian;  you don’t even need Lovecraft. The idea is bigger than the man or his fiction, and sometimes it can be crafted in a poem or found by chance in the verse of a song. Every person who comes to Lovecraft and his work brings with them their own experience, their own syntax through which to view and define what “Lovecraftian” means for them—and can put their own stamp on what is Lovecraftian.

Does it bear repeating that the caliber of racism he espoused in his heyday of the 1910s to the 1930s was not uncommon among white Americans? Of coure—but it would be a sorry excuse, as if to imply racism was some unaboidable product of circumstance rather than the deliberate ideology of spiteful people, some of whom may be honestly otherwise remarkable (much to the benefit of that spite). There is no shame or cruelty in observing this. He was a truly remarkable creative mind, but one whose creativity was colored by a misguided value of monoculturalism.

Science fiction is a radical genre, but that fact is a neutral one.
—Brandon O’Brien “Author’s Note” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 68

The “Lovecraft theses” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? are meditations on a theme, but deliberately ambiguous, letting the reader fill in the gaps. The language is evocative of Lovecraft’s themes, but there are no proper names to hang certainties on. In other poems in this collection, like “Kanye West’s Internet Bodyguard Aks Hastur to Put Away the Phone,” the specificity and pop culture references are played for laughs, surreal humor masking the darker reflections, in the vein of Kanye West—Reanimator (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky.

how they huddle around warped symbols,
pledge fealty to idols long since dust,
—Brandon O’Brien “Lovecraft Thesis #5” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 59

For myself, reading these lines about the hooded figures, listening to this track, I’m reminded of Ring Shout (2020) by P. Djèlí Clark. Yet one could just as easily read this as a poem of the fantastic, of any group of cultists; even absent its context, the track, the author’s note, the other poems in the collection, it speaks to familiar themes, people staring into the past, defined by hate and a kind of fanatical devotion. The tenor of the thesis has that kind of Lovecraftian universality to it, picking up its color and timbre from its context.

O’Brien knows what he is doing.

This is not the only work that has taken the most recognizable parts of the Cthulhu mythos and reshaped them for thoughtful and critical effect.
—Brandon O’Brien “Author’s Note” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 70

One of the key points of the 2010s and 2020s has been not necessarily a rising awareness of Lovecraft’s racism—that was never a secret, and no serious biography has ever shied away from the subject—but a rising awareness that there is a body of literature in response to that, whether it be “Jeroboam Henley’s Debt” (1982) by Charles R. Saunders, “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle, Harlem Unbound (2017) by Darker Hue Studios, or The City We Became (2020) by N. K. Jemisin. Anyone that accuses these writers of whipping a dead horse is missing the point: the issue at hand is not berating Lovecraft for his racism, but demonstrating that Black people have a voice in Lovecraftian fiction too. They get to have their part in defining what “Lovecraftian” means to them, to tell Cthulhu Mythos stories in their own way, reflective of their own interests and experiences, just as white people have been doing for decades.

After all, in terms of Cthulhu, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. There is no reason a Black character cannot be the protagonist of a Lovecraftian story, cannot experience the same sense of cosmic horror and insignificance that Lovecraft’s white protagonists did. The experience of cosmic fear should ultimately be colorblind.

“Lovecraftian thesis #5” is a little different.

The end goal of this collection is in the same spirit as those works, but hoping to accomplish the inverse: for Blackness ot be seen as radically significant.
—Brandon O’Brien “Author’s Note” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 70

You can see that in a close reading of the verse. The identity and the perspective of the speaker is critical: they are not among the group of hooded figures, they are apart, watching, questioning. In the first line, the speaker specifies “The man you say brought us here”—the speaker is addressing the audience, and identifying as part of a group that was brought somewhere against their will, set against these hooded figures—you don’t have to see the speaker as a former slave set against the Ku Klux Klan, but you can see how that experience could have informed those words.

What else than to own the carcass
of a land already bought in blood?
—Brandon O’Brien “Lovecraft Thesis #5” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 59

All five “Lovecraft theses,” along with other poems by Brandon O’Brien can be found in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021).


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

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“The Cup-Bearer” (1951) by Lilith Lorraine

Lilith Lorraine, to whom I sent a copy of Out of Space and Time, writes that she will review the book in the January issue of her quarterly, The Raven. She is a kindred spirit, and highly appreciative, and I doubt if I’m likely to find a more favorable reviewer. Her poetry is splendid from what I have read of it.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 21 Nov 1943, Eccentric, Impractical Devils 341

Lilith Lorraine (Mary W. Wright) was a pulp fiction writer and poet contemporary with H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith and the rest of the Weird Tales circle, but her handful of professional sales were in science fiction magazines such as Wonder Stories, and she didn’t begin to correspond with folks like Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth until the 1950s, but she was active in science fiction fandom in the 1940s and 50s, supply poems for fanzines, books, magazines, etc. such as “The Acolytes” (1946). She also published her own poetry journals and issued collections of her work as well.

In Fall 1951, the fanzine Asmodeus published its second number, a special issue devoted to Clark Ashton Smith. Among the articles and poems was Lilith Lorraine’s poetic tribute to the Bard of Auburn:

The Cup-Bearer
(To Clark Ashton Smith)

The light of other worlds is in his eyes,
His voice is like a sunken temple chime,
And many a moon that sings before it dies
Has heard him in the catacombs of time

Such souls come only when the cycles close,
When the dark wine of ages mellowed long,
blends terribly the tiger and the rose,
Seraph and satyr, savagery and song.

Such souls come only when the dreamer wakes
Alone beneath a decomposing sky,
Before the dream dissolves in crystal flakes
To hold new lamps for gods to travel by.

And just before the old dream turns to dust,
He holds again the dark, delirious grail,
The lethean wine of loveliness and lust,
Of tenderness and terror; should he fail

The dream would vanish and the wavering world
Shorn of its wonder, shaken to the core
Back to the “Never-has-been” would be hurled. . . .
Sing with him softly, lest you sing no more.

As poetic tributes go, there is no doubt that Lilith Lorraine knew her subject well. “The Cup-Bearer” touches on many of the themes that are a hallmark of Smith’s poetry and fiction: satyrs (Nyctalops”), seraphs (“The Ghoul and the Seraph”), wine (“The Tears of Lilith”), dreams (“The Hashish-Eater”), memory (“Lethe”), necromancy and necrophilia (“Necromancy”), and strange distant stars (“Lament of the Stars”). It is a fitting tribute, because it is of a piece with Smith’s work, and complements it.

Lilith Lorraine must have liked “The Cup-Bearer” well enough, for she included it in Wine of Wonder (1952), her thin collection of poetry on themes of poetry and science fiction. She wasn’t the only one. Various editors provided lengthy endorsements on the inside cover flap, and on the back:

The summer lightning of fantasy, the storm-piercing levin of imagination, illume these superbly wrought poems. Lilith Lorraine remembers the ancient wonder and magic, but walks intrepidly the ways that modern science has opened into the manifold infinites.

From the mystic lyric beauty of Termopolis and Only the Black Swan Knows, she turns to such clarion-like annunciations of things to be as Master Mechanic and The Matriarchs. Notable, too, for its plangent irony, is Post-Atomic Plea for Euthanasia. A searching and claivoyant sensitivity is shown in the poems on paintings by Dalí and George Gross. Not too often has one art been interpreted so revealingly in terms of another as in these magnificent verse.

WINE OF WONDER can be recommended unreservedly both to poetry lovers and deotees of scientific fiction. Seldom if ever have the Muses of lyricism and science united their two fold afflatus to a result so distinguished.
—CLARK ASHTON SMITH, Author of [Out of] Space and Time, widely known poet and science fiction author.

Lilith Lorraine is fascinating as an author who outside the normal circle of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and co., only to at occasional interval swoop in within their orbits, bright as a comet…and then out again, forgotten until once more she comes around. Yet hers was a fascinating career, and she deserves to be remembered.

Lorraine bio

Biographical page, date unknown, from the August Derleth collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Shadows of Wings (1930) by Susan Myra Gregory

A poet-friend of mine, Susan Myra Gregory of Monterey, sister of the novelist Jackson Gregory, asked me to write a preface for a little collection of her verse which is being brought out in Southern California. She has a real lyric talent, of the true feminine Sapphic type, and I was glad to do the preface—an odd interlude in the writing of my Antarean novelette.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 10 Dec 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 190

Susan Myra Gregory was 46 years old when her small 40-page book of poems was published, with a card cover, by the Troubadour Press in San Diego. She had worked for many years as a teacher of English and journalism at Analy high school and Monterey high school. Gregory provided some of the local color to John Steinbeck, who set novel Tortilla Flat (1935) in Monterey and dedicated it to her. There are few references to her in Smith’s published letters, but it seems likely that, as with many California poets, Susan Myra Gregory may have met Clark Ashton Smith through his mentor George Sterling, or possibly when Smith made one of his trips down from Auburn to Carmel. Her brother Jackson Gregory, an author of popular westerns, whose wife Lotus McGlashan Gregory had bought a few of Clark Ashton Smith’s drawings some years before (The Shadow of the Unattained 200).

Whatever the extent of their relationship, it was obviously enough of a relationship for Smith to gladly write an introduction to her poetry collection.

05

It is easy to see why Smith would enjoy Gregory’s poetry. Poems such as “Tonight,” “Necromancy,” and “Orpheus’ Song to Eurydice” touch on some of his favorite themes, and his introduction struck enough of a chord with one contemporary reviewer to quotes liberally from it. 

if she is more Classical and less cosmic or macabre in her scope than either Sterling or Smith, her poems smack of the fantastic verse which Arkham House would publish in volumes such as Fire and Sleet and Candlelight (1961). “Dream” and “Sleep” might not have been out of place in the pages of Weird Tales, and indeed several of these poems are reprinted from various magazines and journals.

From a strictly commercial standpoint, the book is a bit of a trifle, and has a certain vanity-press air, although it was published as part of a series of ten booklets by modern poets. Classic poems dedicated to Sappho had less cachet to the general public during the interwar years, though no doubt H. P. Lovecraft or Samuel Loveman, both dedicated Classicists, would have appreciated the beauty of lines like:

No, the “lost songs of Sappho” are not lost;
Only ye seek afar for something near.

Though no doubt Lovecraft would have tsk’d at the use of archaic English diction in this instance, Clark Ashton Smith’s edict that “it seems impossible that such poetry as hers will not always have its lovers” is true, or at least it should be. For the sentiments are sweet, the language is soft, and lines such as “Beauty so keen is like a two-edged sword” deserve to be mumbled through the lips of some trenchcoat-clad detective in a Noir film.

Susan Myra Gregory’s poetic career did not end with this book; she had several poems published in Singing Years: The Sonoma County Anthology of Poetry and Prose (1933), but what further contact she had with Clark Ashton Smith is unclear. She died in 1939.

Shadows of Wings has been scanned and is available here.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Cthulhu on Lesbos (2011) by David Jalajel

The professor had been stricken whilst returning from the Newport boat; falling suddenly, as witnesses said, after having been jostled by a nautical-looking negro who had come from one of the queer dark courts on the precipitous hillside which formed a short cut from the waterfront to the deceased’s home in Williams Street. Physicians were unable to find any visible disorder, but concluded after perplexed debate that some obscure lesion of the heart, induced by the brisk ascent of so steep a hill by so elderly a man, was responsible for the end.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

Jostled negro come from of queer on hillside
Formed a short from waterfront home in Williams
Street. Physicians find but concluded after
Lesion of heart, by
—David Jalajel, Cthulhu on Lesbos 10

The earliest contributors of the Cthulhu Mythos were poets—H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, Jr., R. H. Barlow, etc. all composed verse, of various types and quality. Weird Tales was more accepting of poetry than some of the other pulps, and the poetic sensibilities of the authors often found expression in the fiction itself, through Lovecraft’s curious couplet or Howard’s fictional poet Justin Geoffrey and his lines in “The Black Stone.”

This tradition was basically immediately continued by fans, from “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman to “Yig Country” (1993) by Ann K. Schwader and “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” (1998) by Katherine Morel. Yet some poets aren’t content to stick to strictly traditional approaches. Some of them get downright experimental.

David Jalajel’s basic conceit in Cthulhu on Lesbos is pretty simple: he has taken the text of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” and chopped it up into a series of Sapphic stanzas, so named for Sappho of Lesbos, arguably the most famous Greek woman poet in history, whose legend gave rise to the terms sapphic and Lesbian in reference to female homosexuality. More than this, Jalajel has subtly shifted the meaning of the text with certain insertions ([Lesbos], always in brackets) and erasures (“queer,” “Negro,” and “Chinamen.”)

Sailing for London, I reëmbarked at once for the Norwegian capital; and one autumn day landed at the trim wharves in the shadow of the Egeberg. Johansen’s address, I discovered, lay in the Old Town of King Harold Haardrada, which kept alive the name of Oslo during all the centuries that the greater city masqueraded as “Christiana”. I made the brief trip by taxicab, and knocked with palpitant heart at the door of a neat and ancient building with plastered front.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

Sailing [Lesbos], one and at trim in shadow
Lay in Old Town King which alive the name of
[Lesbos] during all that greater city
Made the by knocked with
—David Jalajel, Cthulhu on Lesbos 46

The result is a weirdly altered narrative, one that transposes the action to the Greek island of Lesbos, but also tackles, subtly, an emphasis on issues of race and sexuality, simply by both highlighting and removing instances of “queer,” “Chinamen,” and “Negro” in the text. It makes for a challenging, disjointed read; sentences don’t resolve neatly at the end of stanzas, words rush together, disconnected and out of place, a paragraph whittled down to four broken lines…yet there is a bit of craft and art to how this is done, just as a collage has a certain aesthetic and order to what might otherwise be indecipherable fragments.

The premise and the technique are perhaps a bit more interesting than the result, for most Mythos fans. Those hoping for a homoerotic re-interpretation of Lovecraft will be disappointed. What jumps out upon a reading of the text is, shorn of context, the sheer poetic choice of phrase that Lovecraft employed in the story. His training as a poet always shown through in his fiction, but in this text, eroded as a stone on a Lesbian beach, select phrases stand out as particularly evocative and capturing and communicating the mood of the story.

Slowly, amidst the distorted horrors of that indescribable scene, she began to churn the lethal waters; whilst on the masonry of that charnel shore that was not of earth the titan Thing from the stars slavered and gibbered like Polypheme cursing the fleeing ship of Odysseus. Then, bolder than the storied Cyclops, great Cthulhu slid greasily into the water and began to pursue with vast wave-raising strokes of cosmic potency. Briden looked back and went mad, laughing shrilly as he kept on laughing at intervals till death found him one night in the cabin whilst Johansen was wandering deliriously.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

Shore that earth the titan from stars and gibbered
Cursing fleeing ship of hen, bolder storied
Cyclops, great Cthulhu the water vast strokes
Cosmic and laughing 
—David Jalajel, Cthulhu on Lesbos 52 


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Cindy: Scrub-Lady in a State Street Skyscraper” (1920) by H. P. Lovecraft

Ethel: Cashier in a Broad Street BuffetCindy: Scrub-Lady in a State Street Skyscraper
Beautiful and calm and proud,
Only Ethel’s soul seems bowed;
Throngs may pass her, kind or curt,
They can neither heal nor hurt;
There she sits with manner strange,
Taking checks and making change!

Eyes are dark, but something fled
Leaves them heavy as the dead;
Brow is white, but something there
Lingers like an old despair;
Lips are sweet, but coldly curled—
Oh, so weary of the world!

Ethel’s always dressed in black;
Parting thus may leave its track.
Ethel’s always wan and pale;
Pining is not known to fail.
Though a life or love you rue,
Ethel, how I pity you!

—Randolph St. John
Black of face and white of tooth,
Cindy’s soul has lost its youth.
Strangely heedless of the crowd,
O’er her mop forever bow’d:
Eyes may roll and lips may grin,
But there’s something dead within!

Brow serene—resign’d to Fate—
Some three hundred pounds in weight—
Cindy wields a cynic’s broom,
Thinking not of hope or doom.
For the world she cares no more—
She has seen it all before!

Cindy’s always dressed in red,
With a kerchief round her head.
What may blight the damsel so?
Watermelon, work, or woe?
Tho’ her days may placid be,
Glad I am, that I’m not she!

—L. Theobald, Jun.
The Tryout no. 6, June 1920

We are spoiled for lore with regard to Lovecraft; because he left such a paper trail, because conscientious individuals like R. H. Barlow, August Derleth, and Donald Wandrei worked to preserve his letters, and then Arkham House, Necronomicon Press, Hippocampus Press, et al. to see them published, we know more about Lovecraft and his thoughts on things than almost any other pulp writer. However, he didn’t make a habit of leaving a trace for every bit of verse he left scattered in every amateur journal.

“Cindy: Scrub-Lady in a State Street Skyscraper” by H. P. Lovecraft (writing under his pseudonym Lewis Theobald, Jun.) appeared as above, opposite “Ethel: Cashier in a Broad Street Buffet” by his friend Rheinhart Kleiner (writing as Randolph St. John) in the same issue of the amateur journal The Tryout. The two poems are obviously a set, with the exact same number of lines, common meter and subject. Beyond that, there is nothing more known about the background of the poems except what is contained in the text; no letter survives regarding their genesis, publication, or reception in Lovecraft’s Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner or any other volume of Lovecraft’s published letters.

The setting is presumably in Providence, R.I. (which has both a Broad St. and State St.); although Kleiner being a New Yorker, there’s the possibility they were writing from their respective locations. Kleiner wrote a handful of brief memoirs of Lovecraft without mentioning these poems, but in “A Memoir of Lovecraft” (1948) he wrote what might conceivably be their genesis, a trip to Providence that Kleiner took in 1917 with the express purpose of visiting Lovecraft:

On our way back to his home, and while we were still downtown, I suggested stopping in at a cafeteria for a cup of coffee. He agreed, but took milk himself, and watched me dispose of coffee and cake, or possibly pie, with some curiosity. It occurred to me later that this visit to a public eating-house—a most unpretentious one—might have been a distinct departure from his own usual habits.
Lovecraft Remembered 196

Yet without any more specific reference to go on, we are in speculative territory. We don’t know if this was part of a contest, a jest, or an old shame for the both of them.

It can be clearly seen that this is a lighter bit of verse. Both Lovecraft and Kleiner are being melodramatic about their subjects to the point of parody. The poets were still relatively young (Lovecraft was 30 in 1920, Kleiner was 28) white men who took as their subject two apparently older working women, and finding something dreary and dead in their countenance. Kleiner appears authentic (“I pity thee!”), while Lovecraft is obviously having a bit more fun, which given his subject and the way her frames it, makes a rather forgettable bit of verse come off nastier to readers today. This wasn’t untypical of Lovecraft’s satirical verse, and Kleiner would write in “A Note on Howard P. Lovecraft’s Verse” (1919):

As a satirist along familiar lines, particularly those laid down by Butler, Swift, and Pope, he is most himself—paradoxical thought it seems. In reading his satires one cannot help but feel the zest with which the author has composed them. They are admirable for the way in which they reveal the depth and intensity of Mr. Lovecraft’s convictions, while the wit, irony, sarcasm, and humour to be found in them serve as an indication of his powers as a conversationalist. The almost relentless ferocity of his satires is constantly relieved by an attendant broad humour which has the merit of causing the readers to chuckle more than once in the perusal of some attack levelled against the particular person or policy which may have incurred Mr. Lovecraft’s displeasure.
Lovecraft Remembered 402

The only thing that makes “Cindy” really stand out among the mass of Lovecraft’s poetry is that it is his only poem that takes as it subject a black woman. It isn’t clear that this is a specific individual or a kind of archetype; “Cindy” in this sense has to be taken as short for “Cinderella,” a shorthand pseudonym for any cleaning woman. The traits that Lovecraft assigns to her: dark-skinned, white teeth, overweight, dressed in red, with a kerchief around her head suggests the “mammy” archetype, which was popular in the United States from the 19th century and on through the 20th century in advertising (Aunt Jemima being one prominent example), and as a stock character in fiction and film (Hattie McDaniel’s characters in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Song of the South (1946) as examples).

Lovecraft’s poem appears to be a response to Kleiner’s; the meter, length, and the shared details (Ethel as being dressed entirely in one color, both women are world-weary, etc.) definitely suggest this relationship. Give the quasi-seriousness of Kleiner’s effort, I suspect Lovecraft wrote his poem as a jocular rejoinder, satirically poking fun at his friend’s effort to pity and commiserate with someone he shared so little in common with. That is speculative, but it would certainly have been apt if Kleiner wrote his poem of the “wan and pale” Ethel, dressed in black, and Lovecraft countered with the exact racial opposite—a black Cindy, dressed in red.

The nastiness of Lovecraft’s poem stems largely from his reliance on stereotype. His major negative inference on Cindy’s appearance is her obesity (“Some three hundred pounds in weight”), and this is in keeping with Lovecraft’s general attitude, as he disliked fat—to the point that when he himself began to push 200 pounds during his marriage in the mid-1920s (the result of his wife’s cooking and eating out), he took to a strenuous “diet” that saw him shed the “excess” weight—and established the poor eating habits which would stick with him all of his life. This is compounded when Lovecraft ascribes one of the potential “blights” on Cindy’s life as “watermelon”—he’s basically using both a racial stereotype (that African-Americans love watermelon) to suggest that Cindy’s weight is a result of gluttony, rather than, say, a poor diet and chronic lack of sleep caused by working long hours for low pay.

The watermelon stereotype was extremely common during the period—at least one of the many postcards Lovecraft sent that survive might serve as an example of how ubiquitous it was, and how innocuous and “self-evident” it might have seemed at the time to Lovecraft. Lovecraft also liked watermelon, hence the annotation at the bottom of the card.

watermelon

The major question with this poem might well be: how racist is it? That it is racist isn’t arguable; Lovecraft clearly uses the racial stereotypes of the 1900s in its depiction of an African-American woman. Beyond those images though—it’s hard to say if this rises about the racist background count of the 1920s. It is certainly not a specifically positive view of a working-class African-American woman; and it is probably damning with faint praise to say that it doesn’t call for violence, use a racial pejorative, or ascribe any negative attribute or predilection to Cindy based on race beyond a hypothetical fondness for watermelon. In that sense, Lovecraft was contributing to the overall stereotypes regarding black people, but the best that can be said is he doesn’t appear to have been particularly malicious in their use. The most honest aspect of the poem is undoubtedly the last line, where Lovecraft writes: “Glad I am, that I’m not she!”

Readers might also ask how misogynist these poems are. We don’t get a lot of context for the poems except that these are two working-class women, black and white, employed in relatively menial positions, and we can assume that they have to work for a living and have done for some indeterminate but long period of time. The depictions aren’t entirely negative, but both also assume that whatever spark of joy life had for these women is gone, and that is what makes them pitiable, or at least sympathetic. However, the perspective is very much through the eyes of the someone else—the women don’t get to talk about their experiences in their own voice, we get no peek into their inner life.

The poems, basically, tell us more about the poets than their supposed subjects.

“Cindy: Scrub-Lady in a State Street Skyscraper” has been published in a number of collections of Lovecraft’s poetry; Kleiner’s “Ethel: Cashier in a Broad Street Buffet” is a bit more scarce, being rarely republished since its initial appearance in The Tryout. Both are in the public domain, and both have been reprinted in the appendices to Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

¿Donde Duermes, Elderado? Y Otros Poemas (1964) by Clérigo Herrero

Am pulling out of a bad physical slump and have not done too much work, apart from the writing of poems in Spanish, some of which I hope to place sooner or later with Latin-American periodicals. They have been checked over by a good Spanish professor, who did not find too much to correct.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 31 March 1950, Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 364

English was the language of Weird Tales during its first run (1923-1954), though stories might have snippets of any number of languages, natural, artificial, and fictional.

Neither H. P. Lovecraft nor Robert E. Howard were ever fluent in Spanish, though both of them were at least somewhat familiar with it. The evidence for Lovecraft’s knowledge is fairly slight: the two passages in his story “The Mound,” which had been ghostwritten for Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, both of which are largely accurate (the final portion was deliberately designed to appear somewhat crude); Lovecraft’s library included a copy of Ollendorff’s New Method of Learning to Read, Write, and Speak the Spanish Language (Lovecraft’s Library 139), which may have served him as a reference. Lovecraft also used Spanish openings and closings to some of his letters to Bernard Austin Dwyer in 1928 (during the period “The Mound” was written, and when Lovecraft recounted his dream of Roman Hispania), signing himself once “Luis Randolfo Cartero y Teobaldo” (LMM 468)

Robert E. Howard’s knowledge of Spanish was probably more utilitarian. In at least a casual way, he had picked up at least a small stock of Spanish and Mexican words—exclamations, terms of address, names of food and drink. Certainly, when Spanish-speaking characters appear in his stories their English dialogue tends to be sprinkled with a few choice Spanish terms, although sometimes with some peculiarities of spelling; a common technique when Howard wanted to express something of the rural or uneducated nature of the speaker, though it’s hard to tell sometimes if he is doing it on purpose or not, as he seems to have dropped this tendency in Spanish relatively quickly. So, for example, in “Red Shadows” (1928) he writes “Senhor,” in “Winner Take All” (1930) he writes “Senyor,” but in “The Horror from the Mound” (1932) he writes “Señor.”

In late 1948 or early 1949, Smith learned Spanish, made his first translations of Spanish poetry, and wrote his first poems in Spanish.
—Donald Sidney-Fryer, “A Memoir of Timeus Gaylord: reminsicences of Two Visits with Clark Ashton Smith, &c.” in The Romanticist #2 (1978) 3

Smith had already taught himself French from dictionaries and grammars in the 1920s; Lovecraft would praise his translations of Baudelaire. A decade after the death of Howard and Lovecraft, Smith would do the same with Spanish. All three men shared a love of language and poetry, and were autodidacts, but Smith was the only one of the three to attempt anything like fluency in Spanish, at least to the point of translating and composing poetry in that language.

His hopes of being published in that language do not appear to have been fulfilled during his lifetime, although some of his translations of Spanish poetry from Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, José A. Calcaño, and José Santos Chocano (“El Cantor de América”) did see print in zines and his poetry collections, and some of the English translations of his Spanish poems also appeared in his Arkham House poetry collections—including a translation or two of “Clérigo Herrero,” Smith’s Spanish pen-name (“Cleric Smith”—Clark, clerk, cleric).

After Smith’s death in 1961, his widow attempted to continue to publish his work, and selling some of his letters and manuscripts in conjunction with letterpress printer and bookdealer Roy A. Squires. One of these projects was the small pamphlet ¿Donde Duermes, Elderado? Y Otros Poemas (1964), done entirely in Spanish, publishing eight of his poems as by Clérigo Herrero. The colophon says this printing was only 160 copies, although the bibliographies say 176.

Donde-inside

Typescripts of some of his other Spanish poems, discovered after this printing, were published in Shadows Seen & Unseen (2007), showing something of his process:

SSU-sample

For long decades, the Spanish poetry of Clark Ashton Smith was relatively unavailable: published far apart in limited editions. Today it has all been republished as part of the Collected Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith (2012) …and it is a testament to one of the great voices of Weird Tales to extend himself this way, to explore and express himself in another language. Because there is far more to this world than just the English language.

El mundo es el suyo,
El sol es el tuyo,
La luna es la mía.

The world is yours,
The sun is thine,
The moon is mine.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“The Acolytes” (1946) by Lilith Lorraine

The Elder Ones are stirring as the red
Stallions of chaos champ their bits with rage;
And they have sent their messengers ahead
Proud with the knowledge of their alienage.

They walk apart from men, the Acolytes,
By stagnant pools and rotting sepulchers,
Whispering of dark, delirious delights,
As young gods die among their worshippers.

They dream of dim dimensions where the towers
Of Yuggoth pierce the decomposing dome
Of skies where dead stars float like evil flowers
Afloat on tideless seas of poisoned foam.

Black tapers glow on many a ruined shrine,
The patterns coalesce – the good, the bad –
The old familiar stars no longer shine –
And I – and I – am curiously glad.
—Lilith Lorraine, “The Acolytes” in The Acolyte (Spring 1946)

Mary Maude Wright (née Dunn) wrote under a number of pseudonyms, at least three of them masculine. She wrote pulp fiction for some of the same magazines as H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, but among early science fiction fandom she had her greatest esteem as a poet, for she was prolific and skilled. As a correspondent of August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, like Margaret St. Clair, she was on the fringes of the Weird Tales circle. She was likewise associated with The Acolyte, Francis T. Laney’s prominent 1940s fanzine devoted to Lovecraft and his contemporaries, sharing space with Virginia “Nanek” Anderson, Fritz Leiber, Jr., E. Hoffmann Price and other pulp fans and professional pulpsters.

Sgt. R. A. HOFFMAN. Acolyte art editor, reports from “Somewhere in Tex- Texas” on his visit to the home of Lilith Lorraine, noted poet:

…I Visited San Antonio, which I found to be a primitive, degenerate town, and telephoned Lilith Lorraine, mentioning that CAS had insisted I look her up… She and her husband met me in their car, and drove me out to their Shrine (Avalon Poetry Shrine. — eds.). As we entered the grounds, I heard the barking of what seemed to be myriad dogs, though it turned out to be only three— two of them Russian wolf and the other a crossbreed between Russian wolf and spitz. All were beautiful creatures and very friendly. Inside I was startled to find a veritable menagerie. A large parrot was quietly perched inside its huge cage which sat on the floor, and two cats were snarling at each other. They also have a monkey, but it was asleep in bed at the time, though later she brought it out.

Miss Lorraine is a most amazing person, and going out there was a most fascinating adventure. She and her husband have been married 33 years, but she says she is all the time receiving love letters from strangers. She prefers her pen-name so much that even her husband calls her Miss Lorraine sometimes! They are both native Texans, and she is complete with drawl and all. She has a charming personality and a fine sense of humor.

I had only 2 1/2 hours before my bus, and every minute was spent in incessant conversation or in listening to Lilith read us some of her verse. She read me selections from her then as yet unpublished book The Day of Judgement (Banner Press, 1944), and I was completely caught in her spell, totally swept away with them. She showed me the shrine itself, and the sunken garden, though unfortunately it was late at night, and the floodlights did not give the proper perspective we would have desired….Miss Lorraine thinks CAS the finest American poet since Poe….

Lilith Lorraine’s previous poems in The Acolyte were “On Walking in the Tomb” (Fall 1943) and “Black Cathedrals” (Spring 1944), but “The Acolytes” was a little different. It came in the final issue (#14) of the ‘zine, and is a tribute to those who contributed to the important little magazine…those who, through their efforts kept interest in H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard going after their death, who began the study of their work and the creation of original fiction and poetry of the Mythos.

The last lines of the poem are strangely appropriate; evocative of Lovecraft and perhaps Robert W. Chambers’. The Acolyte was extinct with this issue, but the Acolytes, that first post-Lovecraft generation of fans and scholars survived and flourished. The stars were right…and Lilith Lorraine was there, to capture a moment in verse.

The_Acolyte_14_v04n02_1946-Spring_0011


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“On A Dreamland’s Moon” (2017) by Ashley Dioses

The cats of Ulthar steal across my dreams
On paws of softest fur and blure the seams
Of my subconscious with their purrs and eyes
Of molten gold that twinkle and that gleam
Like Beacon lights toward where their kingdom lies.
—Opening stanza of “On A Dreamland’s Moon” by Ashley Dioses,
Diary of a Sorceress (2017), 120

Poetry is an inextricable part of the Mythos, there from the beginning. Lovecraft and many of his contemporaries were poets, from the sonnet-cycle “The Fungi from Yuggoth” published in Weird Tales by the grace of editors Farnsworth Wright and Dorothy McIlwraith, to Robert E. Howard’s “Arkham” and the verses of the mad poet Justin Geoffrey capture in “The Black Stone.” Fans got in on the act fairly early on, including “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman, and the poetic tradition of the Mythos has continued down to the present day, through practitioners such as Ann K. Schwader, and to Ashley Dioses.

“On A Dreamland’s Moon” takes its most direct inspiration from Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadathbut the object of this dreamer’s quest is not the hidden gods of dream, but Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos. In language and imagery, however, the influence of Clark Ashton Smith is more evident, echoing some of his narrative poems such as “The Nightmare Tarn.” The purpose for which the narrator seeks out the soul and messenger of the Other Gods is revealed in such lines as:

Hail Nitokris, my patron, grant me skill
In amorous endeavors so the thrill
Of His enchantment will coil round my soul!
—”On A Dreamland’s Moon,” Diary of a Sorceress 121

Again, very much in the tradition of Clark Ashton Smith, whose work so often dealt with love, sorcery, and death. The carnality by contemporary standards is subdued and artistic; erotic fantasies are better hinted at for the imagination to paint than spelled out explicitly, and there is always beauty in it, nothing as gritty as “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” (1998) by Katherine Morel.

One thing that jumps out in this work is the clever expansion of the role of Nitocris in the Mythos from her original appearances in both Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” and “Under the Pyramids” (as “Nitokris”). A relatively minor character, seldom-used by other Mythos writers (Brian Lumley’s “The Mirror of Nitocris” comes to mind), the idea of the ghoul-queen as a spiritual patron—someone to model yourself after—is both entirely appropriate and offers interesting possibilities. Dioses expands on the character further in the subsequent poem, titled simply “Nitokris.”

Diary of a Sorceress is based after the Sorceress in the poem. This is her diary.
—Ashley Dioses, “Afterword” in Diary of a Sorceress 166

For context, within the book itself “On A Dreamland’s Moon” is sandwiched between the poems “Nyarlathotep” and “Nitokris” in the fourth section of the book. The three poems together form a thematic unit, but not a narrative one, in that they share characters and can be seen to speak about the same setting, but are not linear entries in the same story. The same in general could be said for the book as a whole: this is a collection, and there is a thread of a narrative that binds some of the poems together, but it is not a case that every poem is an integral part of the eponymous sorceress’ descent, and most can be enjoyed on their own.

What is interesting in considering “On A Dreamland’s Moon” in the context of the collection is how the Sorceress in her dreams is drawn by dark attraction to seek an inevitable yet destructive meeting. This puts the shoe on the other foot compared to how she initially responded to the love letter in the waking world, where she herself was the object of attraction…and the consummation and dissolution that the Sorceress faces in dream perhaps foreshadows what is to come, in the diary’s final entries.

“On A Dreamland’s Moon” was first published in Black Wings VI: New Tales of Lovecraftian Terror (2017), and then collected in Diary of a Sorceress. Ashley Dioses has published a good deal of weird and Lovecraftian poetry in places such as Weirdbook, Vasterian, Necronomicum, Skelos, Hinnom, and Infernal Ink.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

“To Mr. Theobald” (1926) by Samuel Loveman

To Mr. Theobald

(Upon His Return to Providence)

In Providence at fringèd eve
Old Theobald takes his cap and cane,
And where the antique shadows weave,
Dreams his Colonial dreams again.

Sees the pale periwigs that pass
Pause delicately by, then far
Past balustrades that shine like glass
To seek his eighteenth century there.

Dream, Theobald—close your tired eyes,
Forget the ruder world around;
Only these by-gone folks were wise,
Only the vaniquish’d world was sound.

Hold them an instant if you will,
Shadows of perfume, light and flowers—
We never knew their grace until
You, by your genius, made them ours!

—Samuel Loveman, The United Amateur (July 1926)
Reprinted in Out of the Immortal Night (2004), 111-112

It seems very likely that Samuel Loveman was H. P. Lovecraft’s first Jewish friend, and his first homosexual one. Loveman was a great link in the web of correspondence among weird writers in the early 20th century; he traded letters with Ambrose Bierce, George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith, and in 1917 answered the call of H. P. Lovecraft to return to amateur journalism. Upon acceptance, Lovecraft wrote:

Loveman has become reinstated in the United through me. Jew or not, I am rather proud to be his sponsor for the second advent to the Association. His poetical gifts are of the highest order, & I doubt if the amateur world can boast his superior.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 8 Nov 1917 Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 119

This began an association that lasted the rest of Lovecraft’s life, mostly carried out through letters and the occasional visit. In the dream that became “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1919), the character of Harley Warren was based on Loveman; the manuscript of Lovecraft’s Grecian fable “Hypnos” (1923) is dedicated “To S.L.”; together in 1922-1923 Loveman and Lovecraft edited The Poetical Works of Jonathan E. Hoag. Lovecraft’s praise of Loveman’s poetry in the pages of the National Amateur (Mar 1922) led to a critical battle in the columns of the Oracle and the Conservative between Lovecraft, Michael Oscar White, Frank Belknap Long, and Alfred Galpin.

Through Loveman, H. P. Lovecraft met Hart Crane, and got his one and only job during his stay in New York City—stuffing envelopes, for a couple of weeks. They were both key members of the Kalem Club, a group of writers in New York so-called because the founding member’s last names all began with K, L, or M. One might add a hundred more little details and connections; they were close friends, booklovers, and fellow-poets.

Loveman wrote at least three poems specifically dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft: “To Satan” (1923), “Bacchanale” (1924), and “To Mr. Theobald” (1926). This last poem refers specifically to Lovecraft’s pseudonym “Lewis Theobald, Jr.”, which in Lovecraft’s letters was sometimes shortened to “Theobaldus” or “Grandpa Theobald.” The occasion of the poem was Lovecraft leaving New York to return to Providence. In 1924, Lovecraft had quietly eloped to Brooklyn to marry Sonia H. Greene—a friend and fellow amateur journalist. Sonia had even invited both of them down to visit, in 1922, and would later write in her memoirs:

Long before H. P. and I were married he said to me in a letter when speaking of Loveman, “Loveman is a poet and a literary genius. […] The only discrepancy I find in him is that he is of the Semitic race, a Jew.”

Then I replied that I was a little surprised at H. P.’s discrimination in this instance—that I thought H. P. to be above such a petty fallacy—and that perhaps our friendship might find itself on the rocks under the circumstances, since I too am of the Hebrew people—but that surely, he, H. P., could not have been serious, that elegance of manner, cultural background, social experience and the truly artistic temperament, intellectuality and refinement surely do not choose any particular color, race or creed; that these attributes should be highly appreciated no matter where they may be found!

It was only after several such exchanges of letters that he put the “pianissimo” on his thoughts (perhaps) and curtailed his outbursts of discrimination. In fact, it was after this that our own correspondence became more frequent and more intimate until, as I then believed, H. P. became entirely rid of his prejudices in this direction, and that no more need have been said about them.
—Sonia H. Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft 26

By 1926, however, the marriage had fallen apart. Loss of her job and ill-health had forced Sonia to relocate to the midwest, where Lovecraft would not follow. Living alone in the city, unable to find steady employment, and finally robbed of his clothes (and an expensive radio set that Lovecraft had been holding for Loveman), the Old Gent returned to Providence in April of that year.

Hence Loveman’s letter; a cheery, intimate portrait of his friend, who he knew well enough to emphasize the Colonial architecture and history of Providence that Lovecraft so loved. A silver lining on a dark cloud that spelled the end of Lovecraft’s marriage, and a long absence from their physical company; meetings of the Kalem Club for Lovecraft would become fewer and farther between. In a memoir to his friend after his death, Loveman would write:

Lovecraft’s stay in New York, after the separation from his wife (a tragedy to those who knew the inside of the affair), was one of complete rebellion against everything that the huge city had to offer. He hated the noise, the interminable rudeness of the inhabitants, the rowdy and rancid slums. […] He declaimed with flushed cheeks and a rising voice against (so he called it) “the mixed mongrel population—the very scum and dregs of Europe and the Near East,” that filled and permeated the area of the entire city. He anticipated with a heart-breaking intensity and longing that only his closest friends knew—a liberation and return to New England—back to his beloved Providence with its antique gables and narrow streets, to the Colonial reconstruction of what is now known to the readers of his weird fiction as “Arkham country.”
—Samuel Loveman, “Howard Phillips Lovecraft” (1948)
Reprinted in Out of the Immortal Night 221

Later in Loveman’s life, when Lovecraft’s letters began to be published and after correspondence with Sonia H. Davis, he became aware of the depths of the Old Gent’s antisemitism in the 1930s and roughly denounced his old friend:

During that period I believed Howard was a saint. Of course, he wasn’t. […] Lovecraft had a hypocritical streak to him that few were able to recognize. Sonia, his wife, was indubitably his innocent victim. Her love for him blinded her to many things. Among the things he said to her was, “Too bad Loveman’s a Jew; he’s such a nice guy.” I was, in the early phase of our friendship, an easy mark. He was, however, loyal in his appreciation of me as a poet.
—Samuel Loveman, “Of Gold and Sawdust” in The Occult Lovecraft (1975) 22

It is impossible to appreciate “To Mr. Theobald” without understanding the larger context of how it came to be rewritten, the nature of their friendship at that point…a friendship that Loveman would later look back on with such evident disappointment, in himself and in Lovecraft. Fans of Lovecraft’s fiction and poetry can certainly relate; too close a look at one’s literary heroes often reveals flaws that were not immediately apparent on that first happy exposure to their work.

Loveman’s focus in later life is on Lovecraft’s antisemitism. No comment from Lovecraft was ever made in print about Loveman’s homosexuality, and it is not clear if he was even aware that Loveman was gay, although there are certainly hints in the letters that Lovecraft knew about Hart Crane, so it is possible. Still, there is something in these poems dedicated to Lovecraft—and the poems that Lovecraft wrote dedicated to Loveman—which are melancholy today, pressed flowers of a real friendship. Lovecraft was serious when he wrote:

So like in name, in art so much the less,
Let Lovecraft lines to Loveman’s Muse address:
How blest art thou, who thro’ thy pow’r of song
Beside Pierus’ sacred fount belong.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “To Samuel Loveman, Esquire, on his Poetry and Drama, Writ in the Elizabethan Style” (1915)
Reprinted in The Ancient Track 94


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” (1998) by Katherine Morel

Katherine Morel is a painter, an aspiring mad scientist, and an honorary saint of Thud, bestower of the sacred word, obsquatulate. She is currently bruised and swollen due to extra grey matter being inserted into the space between her brain and skull and hopes to sleep it off in time to be in attenance at the marriage that changed over the millennium.
Cthulhu Sex Magazine, Vol. I, Issue 13

Cthulhu Sex magazine was the brainchild of Michael Morel, and graduated over the course of its run from a small black-and-white chapbook illustrated with crude, pixelated images of sperm to a slick, full-sized semi-prozine with color covers, photographs, and digital artwork. A collection of material from the magazine was issued in 2005 as Horror Between the SheetsIn the first issue and that final collection is printed (with slight changes) “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” by Katherine Morel.

The poem is an almost perfect encapsulation of the magazine as a whole. While Cthulhu is in the title, it never appears in the body text. The tone is light, the verses violent, darkly humorous, and sexually explicit.

Twas through their connection she passed her infection
—Katherine Morel, “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—”, Horror Between the Sheets 36

Poetry has a long history among creators and admirers of the Mythos; H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and Frank Belknap Long were all notable poets, and some of their poetry was directly related to the Mythos. So too, some of the first fan-additions to the Mythos were poems, such as “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman.

In the 1990s, poetry would continue to play its part in fandom, being featured in prominent ‘zines & journals such as the Arkham Sampler and Crypt of Cthulhu—but there were editorial limits to what those ‘zines would publish. Hardcore horror, the splatterpunk style of violent and gory horror fiction that took its cues from slasher and exploitation films (and, reaching back into the dim mists of time, the weird terror pulps), had few outlets.

To see her reflection,
Caused him an erection,
Yet something seemed the slightest bit weird. (ibid.)

Cthulhu Sex became an outlet and medium for fiction and art that couldn’t be posted elsewhere. Not much of it dealt explicitly with Cthulhu, Lovecraft, or the Mythos; it didn’t have to. The title was a statement and a challenge, just as it is in Katherine Morel’s poem. The title gives context to the text.

In 1998, people could still remember when HIV was a death sentence and not one to be long-deferred. Japanese tentacle erotica had hit the shores of the United States with  Maeda Toshio’s Urotsukidōji and La Blue Girl, and were already the subject of jokes about “naughty tentacles” on the nascent internet. There was a zeitgeist there, mostly untapped as yet… until Katherine Morel’s “Cthulhu Sex.”

she scratched her complexion,
so that bloody tentacles appeared. (ibid.)

The tagline for Cthulhu Sex was “Blood, Sex & Tentacles.” Katherine Morel’s poem was an anthem for the magazine, an invocation for what was to be from 1998 to 2007. She captured, however briefly, the mood and attitude, right at the outset.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).