“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).

“H. P. Lovecraft” (1937) by Elizabeth Toldridge

He calls us not (as modern craftsmen do)

To scenes attained, where sin’s hideous scars

On human souls are gilded—no—but to

The far, pure, foamy glaxies of stars!

Terrors he brings and things not known before

From lone and dismal haunts of old dead suns.

Yet are our spirits outward-drawn—to soar

Through vastnesses where a stainless Wonder runs!

—”H. P. Lovecraft” by Elizabeth Toldridge, Leaves #1 (Summer 1937)

Elizabeth Augusta Toldridge was a poet, who had worked as a clerk for the U. S. government, and the author of two books of poetry: The Soul of Love (1910) and Mother’s Love Songs (1911). She sold fiction and poetry, sometimes under her own name and sometimes under the name of her father, Barnet Toldridge. (Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8)

In the letters of H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, Catherine Lucille Moore was sometimes “sister Kate”—and Elizabeth Toldridge was “Aunt Lizzy.” (O Fortunate Floridian! 360) And to Toldridge herself, Lovecraft was “Judge.” Lovecraft had first encountered Toldridge’s verse in 1924 when he was enlisted as a judge for a poetry contest, in which she was an entrant. They finally began a correspondence when Toldridge wrote to Lovecraft about the contest in 1928, and they would continue to write to one another until 1937 and Lovecraft’s death. (LETAR 7) Barlow, who would be named Lovecraft’s literary executor, visited Toldridge in her home in Washington, D.C. in 1934 and 1936, and she received copies of his amateur publications such as the Dragon-Fly.

Lovecraft and Barlow encouraged Toldridge to submit her poetry for publication, and to join the National Amateur Press Association, of which they were both members. Some of her poetry was published in the same amateur journals where Barlow and Lovecraft’s work was published. In 1934, she proposed a collection of poetry for publication to Alfred A. Knopf with the title Winnings, with Lovecraft’s support, but it did not come to fruition.

In late 1936, Barlow commenced gathering material for a new amateur periodical titled Leaves, which consisted of material from Lovecraft and his circle of friends and correspondents: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, etc. Most of these were incidentals: unsold manuscripts from the pulps, bits of poetry or prose, some of them taken from Lovecraft’s letters. The first issue, published after Lovecraft’s death, contained two poems by Elizabeth Toldridge: “Ephemera” and “H. P. Lovecraft.”

Nothing is known about the writing of “H. P. Lovecraft.” Given the subject and the date of publication, it is likely a memorial piece written in the event of Lovecraft’s death, but it is also possible that Toldridge intended it as a living tribute to her dear friend and correspondent of nine years. She had already written one such work “Divinity,” which she had sent to Lovecraft in 1929. (LETAR 78, 396)

“H. P. Lovecraft” is certainly a tribute to the “cosmic horror” which Lovecraft championed in their letters and his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It also touches on one of the great effects that Toldridge had on Lovecraft:

[…] it is clear that his correspondence with Toldridge strongly influenced his atempts to avoid artificial diction and to cultivate greater expression of imagery and emotion, all while loosening his former draconian strictures of versification.
—S. T. Joshi, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8

While it may be too much to say that without Toldridge there would be no “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet-cycle, it is apparent that the correspondence was a broadening influence for both of them: Lovecraft to focus more on content than form, and Toldridge opened to the world of weird fiction. As an homage, “H. P. Lovecraft” definitely showcases that admiration and appreciation for the weird imagination.

“H. P. Lovecraft” was first published in Leaves #1 (Summer 1937), and republished in Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus Press, 2014).


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

 

“Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman

Joanna Russ may have been the first woman to write prose set in the Cthulhu Mythos…but she was preceded by at least two female poets who tackled the Mythos as their subject, and while often neglected, their work stands among the first verse contributions to the burgeoning Mythos.

Poetry has always been an important aspect of the Mythos. Many of the principal writers of the early Mythos—H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, etc.—were poets, and bits of poetry are embedded in their fiction, or like Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” (1930-1943) cycle or Robert E. Howard’s “Arkham” (1931) can be viewed as a part of the fabric of the Mythos itself. This poetic tendency in part reflects the tradition of the fantastic verse such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834), which was sometimes made a part of weird fiction, as in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia,” which was revised to contain “The Conqueror Worm” (1845).
Of course, another large part of the poetic tradition of the Mythos is that Weird Tales was unusually in the amount of poetry it published—including several of Lovecraft’s “Fungi” and works from other authors. What might surprise readers is the amount of poetry in WT that was written by women. According to Partners in Wonder: Women in Science Fiction, 1926-1965, 63 female poets were featured in the pulp magazine during the period of the Unique Magazine’s heyday—including Alice I’Anson, whose “Teotihuacan” (WT Nov 1930) so inspired Robert E. Howard. Amateur poets also existed among the early fandom, writing verse to contribute to fanzines, such as Virginia Kidd’s “Science and Knowledge” (The Fantasy Fan, Dec 1933).
It was rare for anyone not among the circle of Lovecraft & his fellow Mythos writers to craft Mythos poetry in that early period, but at least two did—Virginia “Nanek” Anderson and Grace Stillman.
Shadow Over Innsmouth
by Virginia Anderson
(Dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft by Nanek)
We have forgotten some of mankind’s ways:
The art of dying, or say … Meroy’s gift.
So when age grows upon us and our days
By span of man are numbered, the seas rift
And take us in. Then in the rites of old
We pledge allegiance where the strange pale gold
Of obscene Gods dispense eternal life
Wherein to glory, savour and renew. …
Free from the world’s alarms and strife
In ocean palaces of colalous hue,
Shedding the shape of man and doubling back
In form at least on evolution’s track.

Virginia Combs came of age in the small town of Crandon, Wisconsin during the tale end of the Great Depression; bought her first pulp magazine (Planet Stories) in 1938 or ’39, and soon was a prolific writer of fan-letters to several pulp magazines, most especially The Spider. She took the pen-name “Nanek,” borrowing the term from the Sikh religion of the Spider’s associate Ram Singh (Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism, the name was sometimes rendered in English as “Nanek”). Her correspondents included Norvell Page, A. Merritt, Isaac Aasimov, and Hannes Bok. At a time when fandom was primarily male, she stood out; Page even wrote her into the Spider series as “Jinnie Combs” in “Volunteer Corpse Brigade” (The Spider Nov 1941). In 1942, she married and became Virginia Anderson—but to her pulp friends and fandom, she was always Nanek.

I guess it never occurred to me that there were things you didn’t do because you were male or female.
— Virginia Anderson, XENOPHILE #40 (5)

The pulps and fandom were not just an escape, but an outlet for her creative energies—she wrote poems based on the works of the pulp authors she admired, which were published in Famous Fantastic Mysteries and fanzines. In 1942, Francis T. Laney, a prominent member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society wrote, asking for a poem for his fanzine The Acolyte, which was mainly dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft. Nanek responded with “Shadow Over Innsmouth” which appeared in the second issue (Winter 1942).

“Shadow Over Innsmouth” is an homage to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (WT Apr 1936), but where Lovecraft focuses on the human character discovering (and eventually embracing) their Deep One heritage, Nanek gives us the alien perspective of someone who has already completed the transition. Rather than simply revisit Lovecraft’s tale, she moves beyond it, taking her cue from Lovecraft’s final line “[…] in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.”

The tone of the poem is one of escapism—though not within an element of horror, involving as it does rites of allegiance to “obscene Gods,” and the “doubling back […] along evolution’s track.” Immortality still has its price, physical and spiritual; to shed human constraint means to become something other than human. Contemporary readers might see in this foreshadows of posthumanism, but there is also an echo of Christian mythos here: “[…] our days By span of Man are numbered” is almost Biblical language, and as many Christians expect their souls to be taken into heaven, so to do “the seas rift And take us in.” This does not necessarily imply any blasphemous intent on Nanek’s part, but it does help to contrast the “life everlasting” beneath the waves to the “life everlasting” in Heaven—both involve leaving behind earthly life.

Nanek’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth” was only reprinted once, in The Innsmouth Cycle (1998), the text is reproduced from that copy; “Meroy” and “colalous” are probably transcription errors (for “Mercy” and “coralous”), made when originally setting the type for The Acolyte. Given the obscurity of that ‘zine, it is unfortunate that Nanek’s poem did not receive wider distribution.

The Woods of Averoigne
(Inspired by the Clark Ashton Smith’s stories)

By Grace Stillman

Deep in the woods of Averoigne,
Goblin and satyr, loup-garou,
Devil and vampire hold their feasts:
Forces of wizardry imbue
Even the foliage of the oak;
Beeches and pines in drear decay
Uplift their bony branches wan
Under a sky of corpse-like gray.
Evil is there in Averoigne:
Evil I should not see at all;
Evil whose very presence seems
Holding me in curious thrall:
Knowing it well, my feet still grope
Nearer this force malign, withdrawn;
In dread, against my will I creep
Deep in the woods of Averoigne.

Grace Stillman is a cipher; “The Woods of Averoigne” is her only publication in Weird Tales, nor does she have credits in any other pulp index. The published letters of Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, etc. contain no reference to her or the poem, so we have no idea what they thought of it—but we know what inspired it.

Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne is a fictional medieval French province sometimes compared to James Branch Cabell’s Poictesme, and was one of his own original settings—much as the Miskatonic River valley and its towns of Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport are “Lovecraft Country,” and Robert E. Howard had his stories of the Hyborian Age and Thurian Age. Averoigne was introduced to the readers of Weird Tales with “The End of the Story” (May 1930), and continued on with “A Rendezvous in Averoigne” (Apr-May 1931), “The Maker of Gargoyles” (Aug 1932), “The Mandrakes” (Feb 1933), “The Beast of Averoigne” (May 1933), and “The Holiness of Azédarac” (Nov 1933). Her poem itself would appear in the same issue of Weird Tales as another of Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne tales, “The Colossus of Ylourgne” (Jun 1934).

Stillman’s poem evokes the witch- and fiend-haunted forests of Averoigne, which form a common element in many of Smith’s tales. Plant life was one of Smith’s foci in life, and it shows in his fiction:

[…] the gnarled and immemorial wood possessed an ill-repute among the peasantry. Somewhere in this wood there was the ruinous and haunted Château des Faussesflammes; and, also, there was a double tomb, within which the Sieur Hugh du Mainbois and his chatelaine, who were notorious for sorcery in their time, had lain unconsecrated for more than two hundred years. Of these, and their phantoms, there were grisly tales; and there were stories of loup-garous and goblins, of fays and devils and vampires that infested Averoigne.
(“A Rendezvous in Averoigne”)

Much of Stillman’s imagery is taken directly from Smith’s descriptions of the setting, right down to the types of trees he mentions in the stories. It is, like Nanek’s later piece, a derivative work that seeks to capture something of the essential idea and feel of the original, and succeeds not so much in the first few opening lines with their talk of familiar horrors, but for the fact that despite the dark legends of Averoigne people are still drawn there—as many readers, including Grace Stillman herself, were. Again, we see a writer who has struck at a point essential to the Mythos: the point of attraction, for lovers of the weird, to these terrible and remote regions, even though they are warned away from it. By entering these areas, the protagonist—and by extension the reader—cross a threshold, pass through a limnal space or boundary, break a taboo. What is more, the nameless narrator in Stillman’s poem knows that they are doing this, but are unable to help themselves, as something draws them deeper into the darkness.

As far as I can determine “The Woods of Averoigne” has never been republished. Like Nanek’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth” it represents something of a lost start. Like many early contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos, they failed to gain enough audience to influence subsequent writers and fans. They were a part of the movement that eventually exploded into the sprawling shared universe of the Mythos, but were largely overlooked and ignored. It isn’t enough to simply write something good, or even to have it published; if it is not referenced, reprinted, or revisited…it becomes forgotten, unless someone finally resurrects and remembers it.

†††

With thanks and appreciation to Dave Goudsward for his help.


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)