I am not a poetry expert in any shape or form, having read little of it over the years. But last year I read a rather fab book, The Point of Poetry by Joe Nutt, reviewed here. This book aimed to encourage its readers to give poetry a go, and inspired, since then I’ve added poetry books into my usual mix. Thus when offered a spot on the blog tour for a new poetry book, I was bound to say, ‘I’m in!’ However, Matthew Haigh’s collection Death Magazine is like no other poetry I’ve yet encountered. The blurb describes it thus:
…a neutropian vision of our soundbite, snippet-obsessed, digital and print magazine culture. It employs the Dadaist technique of cut-up to produce poems that range from the blackly comic to the surreal, from the nonsensical to the prescient.
The first thing I did was look up ‘neutropian’ – and the closest I could get, as it’s not in a standard dictionary, is a neutral utopia, a form of speculative fiction not bounded by up nor down values; something between dystopia and utopian, neither good nor bad or both. So, a word that is probably very apt to this collection.
Let me share some thoughts on Death Magazine with you.
After an epigraph from JG Ballard about making sense of advertising, and the opening title poem, Death Magazine is cleverly structured into the kinds of sections you expect to see in glossy monthlies: Features, Fitness, Lifestyle, Beauty, Wellness and Advice. In Features we find the amazingly titled ‘Treating Depression with H.R. Giger’ (he of ‘Alien’ fame, just in case you didn’t know), indeed the film series’s heroine Ellen Ripley crops up elsewhere in this first section too.
The Fitness section is fabulous. A set of cut-up poems, each about a particular male film star – from Bruce Lee to Marlon Brando, Brad Pitt to Jake Gyllenhaal and many more. They are presented in a columnar format, as in ‘Will Smith’ to your right. These prose poems may be cut up in part from Men’s Health magazine, but if you read them aloud at speed, like a North Korean newsreader perhaps?, their warped text-bites about male vanity, almost sound like the real thing filtered through a tabloid lens. Here are two favourite throwaway lines from this section:
With that he blasted off, like mould on horseshoes. (‘Chris Hemsworth’) – Just love that description.
Ironically, American Psycho was interpreted as a moisturizer by many reflexologists. (‘Christian Bale’) – I laughed out loud at this non-sequitur.
Haigh is so good at titles – there are many great ones in this collection, but my favourite is ‘My Robot (or I Stopped Knowing What to Do with the Android Version of You)’ which sounds like a C&W ballad. That whole poem for me had a lyrical feel and needs to be set to music! It begins:
I left you/ my robot/ standing under the blackcurrant bush in the rain/ the house with the lip-gloss door/ the neighbour’s washing hung there/ forgotten or given up on/
My other favourite poem for its imagery comes from the Beauty section, in which the poems are partly collaged from blog posts on the Goop website. ‘Hysterical Summer’ is encapsulated by two great lines that just totally appealed to the materials scientist in me!
Floral prints will carry you like burnt out circuits…
…Even though yellow is going to happen, corroded metal is unapologetically feminine.
I read most of these poems several times, many out loud too, and they are certainly thought-provoking. They can be whip-smart, parodic or just laugh out loud funny but, equally, they can be touching, showing a vulnerability in their hearts. The cut-up technique exploits perfectly the lack of concentration that is becoming endemic in our Insta-soundbite-world, yet look beyond that and there is profundity to be found. Death Magazine is not only a bold statement, this book is terribly cool! (If I were John Thompson in The Fast Show‘s ‘Jazz Club’ – I’d say ‘Nice. Grrreat.’)
Source: Review copy – thank you!