Recently, I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy of Matthew Haigh’s collection, Death Magazine, published by Salt (2019). From the outset, readers are confronted by a quote from J. G. Ballard, ‘How do we make sense of this ceaseless flow of advertising and publicity, news and entertainment, where presidential campaigns and moon voyages are presented in terms indistinguishable from the launch of a new candy bar or deodorant?’ From this springboard, Haigh’s poems encapsulate his own thoughts intertwined with words taken from various media, also mixed with reflection, absurdity and tenderness.
Separated into sections, including ‘fitness’, ‘features’, ‘lifestyle’, ‘beauty’, ‘wellness’ and ‘advice’, it uses its structure to offer reflection on the magazine form to highlight the confusing messages readers often receive from the media and the world around them. As the Ballard quote expresses, with so many messages, all being merged regardless of importance, how do we begin to decipher anything real?
The introductory poem 6 essential tips for transferring your consciousness to the cloud is the perfect way to begin the collection. Using a modern concept of the cloud, Haigh injects humour and absurdity into the concept by discussing it in terms of humans having no body. For instance, I really enjoyed parts such as, ‘a look at the products you won’t be using when you have no skin’ and ‘The Eternity Itch: preparing for a life without orgasm’. Moreover, I loved the hanging ending, ‘I Can’t Exist Like This: what to do when’, highlighting the lack of ideas about where exactly we are heading as humans in the face of such developments and progress.
The other thing I loved about Haigh’s poems are the moments of tenderness, such as in We Will Not Become the Cloud, the Cloud Will Become Us, when he writes, ‘51%...... I’d be hanged in some places just for loving him’. Also, in How Adored Is the Pink Authority, when he writes, ‘I adore the sight of you in a dressing gown, but only via a mirror,’ which is both loving and self-conscious all at once.
The interesting thread throughout is the links to technology and how it bleeds into every aspect of our lives. For instance, in Treating Depression with H. R. Giger, he says, ‘I only wonder: is beauty cold as data? Is beauty in data – am I supposed to see beauty in a camel spider?’ This is in reference to watching YouTube videos when feeling depressed, which is a commonplace experience and does really make the readers wonder what we are meant to take from watching odd videos online, as most of us do at some point or another! Another great poem is to his deceased aunt in relation to looking after the Sims characters she has left behind, in which he talks about a character whose chip fan goes on fire and she cries, writing ‘I can’t console her’. This is a great mirror of how he probably felt writing about the loss of his aunt, which is an interesting method of mourning someone, as well as the use of ‘console’, which links with grief and technology simultaneously.
There is also a fascination with identity and maleness. The sometimes violent and harsh aspects of human identity are presented through the everyday, for example when he discusses a man having a nightmare in We Are like the Dreamer who Dreamer and Then Lives Inside the Dream, writing ‘as he runs he knows for certain that the only way to feel this brutally alive is if something huge really did attack.’ Furthermore, in Reptile Your Relationship, he says, ‘You may have been grotesque for some time’, as though an uncomfortable truth has slowly been realised. Though, the clever aspect of this is after a whole poem of suspicion and uncertainty, Haigh finishes with, ‘If any of these scenarios applies to you, shrug.’ Thus, presenting an interesting turn. With regard to maleness, this is present throughout. Though there is a section entitled ‘advice’, which takes on a Q&A style, offering comments such as, ‘Modern day totems perpetuate unrealistic goals by shaming men into inadequacy’ and ‘We consistently encourage men to get a grip’, and lastly, ‘I am a downloaded copy of my entire life’. Maleness is not a concrete concept here and it’s interesting to see reflections on a new definition of what being a man could be.
This collection offers an exploration of the consciousness, absurdity, oddness and complexities experienced as a modern man, and, a modern human. Some of the images and juxtapositions had me laughing, while others were so perceptive, they triggered knowingness or sadness.
I hugely recommend it and thanks to Matthew for the read!
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