Digital Book Tour: New Book by Matthew Haigh
Fam, times are weird—so many of us have to figure out new ways of doing old things. Book launches, an established feature of our wonderful community of writers, have been particularly hard hit, and we’d love to make room for authors to share their work with the world. Our limited Digital Book Tour series will serve that end! Today, we’re sharing an excerpt from Matthew Haigh’s new Death Magazine, as well as an interview with the author himself.
An Excerpt from Matthew Haigh’s Death Magazine
What Will Your Sims Do Now?
Like a good nephew, I save your computer
from the skip’s slew of lifelong wreckage,
lug its black lake-weight back to my room
even though the tower is now a humming grave.
Inside still live the pixel kids
you abandoned to a timeless
paradise, still frolicking poolside,
spouting gibberish, clownish, in a summer
that will never end. They know nothing
of the absent god act you’ve pulled, these tiny
Adams and Eves in cherry-print kaftans.
I feed and clothe and shower them, these strange
skin cells you’ve shed in your swift exit,
my head haloed by the screen’s heaven-
blue, the way yours must have been as you
crafted your craved reflection.
Here is the candy-haired
mohawk girl modelled on your ideal.
I push her around her little kitchen,
fingers lingering on the keys that yours
last touched. Her chip pan has caught fire.
The girl’s face bursts open with tears.
Scorched walls. Her kitchen is
ruined. I can’t console her.
On What the Reader Will Walk Away With
Matthew Haigh: Being completely honest, I’d love readers to finish this book feeling like they’ve experienced something unique, something that feels different to everything else, something that has thrilled them. That’s a tall ask. It also probably sounds quite naïve – I’m sure most writers want their work to stand out and feel truly original. That’s the vanity aspect I think – it’s the personal thrill of being the writer, we all imagine we’re auteurs in our heads. God knows if the reader feels the same!
I’d like them to laugh at the juxtapositions created by the cut-ups, or feel a thrill at the weirder phrasing. It would be lovely for readers to take comfort in the absurdity of it all. I think now more than ever we’re seeing the veil being whipped off, we’re seeing how a lot of what we’ve been lead to believe is paramount to society functioning is actually nonsense. There is no right or wrong way to be a human. I think, on the whole, Death Magazine explores the nonsense of right now and opens itself up to a future that might have a bit more humanity and sense attached to it – however impossible that might be to realize. I’m an optimist and believe in the concept of paradise.
On What the Writer Walked Away With
Matthew Haigh: This was a very serendipitous time, in terms of several elements coming together. I’d run out of steam with writing and was looking for a way to feel excited by it again. I’d been experimenting with collage and cut-ups. This was a method that I’d briefly played with in the past and then discarded, thinking it was one of those things you do in your youth and then ‘get over.’
However, I found that method really takes a lot of hard work – I ended up editing those cut-up poems way more than I would a poem written in the conventional way. You think harder about them, you scan far and wide for the sources you’ll cut up. I was collecting articles from Vogue, blog excerpts, song lyrics, medical journals, pages from vintage sci-fi novels, anything and everything. And the results are like sparks, you don’t see them coming and the clashing of beautiful / weird / technical words and phrases is so thrilling. So I would say writing this book brought poetry alive for me at a time when it felt like it was fading.
The process of writing also helped to crystalize what my interests are, or were at the time. The mutation / breakdown of motivational or aspirational language in marketing and the hold that has over us. This almost Twilight Zone-esque take on the body beautiful, how we have a limited number of models to choose from in terms of how we should look. And then going beyond the body – death, digital mortality, video games… There’s something about ‘organic technology’ I’ve always been besotted with, going right back to being a kid and seeing Alien for the first time. Something that appears to be a blend of machine and organic matter. Flowers and wires.
On The Book’s Biography
Matthew Haigh: The oldest poem in the book was written in 2011, so I suppose you could say it was 8 years in the making. Testing styles and ideas, gradually working towards something cohesive. It started in earnest when Chris from Salt approached me directly and asked if I’d be interested in sending him a manuscript to look at. It was a relief that he’d approached me at a time when my motivation was really at quite a peak, and I was able to tap into that excited, imaginative feeling, and produce work I was happy with. Those periods of time are golden because they’re quite few and far between for me. I’m not talking about writer’s block or anything – I just tend to have bursts of energy where I write a lot, and then long periods where I’m thinking, visualising, letting things simmer…
The end of the process was, of course, tonnes of editing. You edit until you feel like you can’t read the manuscript anymore, and then you send it off and have a glass of champagne!
On The Book’s Family of Support
Matthew Haigh: My friend and collaborative partner, Alex Stevens. We had a lot of lovely drunken discussions about the book – before it was a book, when it was just a collection of pages and notes. I had groups of poems that addressed different things and I was struggling to think of a way they could all come together in one book. During one such discussion, Alex said maybe it should be in the style of a magazine. And that was the key turning in the lock, it all came together with that one thought.
If I think about writers who inspired me, then JG Ballard is top of that list. In interviews he used to espouse this idea that reality exists only in our heads, and everything that we’ve created in the world is a fiction. From the plane journey to the model home, everything is the mirror of a movie or dream. We’re all engaged in this collective fiction, and corporate slogans and advertising prop this up. This idea sits at the root of the book.
Matthew Haigh is a poet from Cardiff, Wales. He is the author of Black Jam (Broken Sleep Books, 2019) and Death Magazine (Salt, 2019). His work has been widely published, and highly commended in the Forward Prizes 2020. He is co-founder of CRASH, a quarterly experimental poetry night in Cardiff.