This Week I Read Matthew Haigh: Death Magazine

Image Credit: Jonathan Ybema via Unsplash

“I will say my skull is a gleamy sheet of metal. It’s pretty and sheer. Your body smells so good, like the air. I’m really into the good stuff all over your heart,” the speaker says in Matthew Haigh’s collection of poems, Death Magazine.

The book is set up in sections, like a magazine. It takes on how bodies are portrayed in the media, particularly male bodies, and the bizarre ways that the media tends to play into toxic masculinity. The main point of the book is that beneath the filters, there are people, and not necessarily happy or fulfilled ones.

In the poem, “Brad Pitt,” the speaker says, “Despite the black/comedy of self improvement, Pitt/ruined it for everyone.” It’s a solid opening line, particularly since it’s so wry and rings true. There’s an odd duality to the concept of self-improvement: is it really improving oneself, or is it the pursuit of embodying an unrealistic ideal? I feel like it really is a black comedy. This sentence really does well to set the tone for the piece and to draw the reader in immediately.

“Google What is that/rainbow of moss/that runs from Pitt’s/hip to his crotch?” the speaker says, evoking the sense that Pitt is some sort of ultraterrestrial/Fae King.

What I love about these pieces (because he does several and they’re all fabulous) is that they seem to spiral outward, becoming more bizarre as they progress. Except Haig’s craft is flawless, drawing the reader along with him as he makes a commentary on societal expectations and how truly odd they are.

“He was seen using/a glass carapace in/primary colours, but/he has yet to share/his method,” the speaker says, thus ending the poem, which is disappointing, because I’m left curious to know what that method is. Suddenly, Pitt has become a large rainbow cicada, thanks to his self-improvement rituals. Regardless, this is a masterful ending to this poem which is both lovely and hysterically funny.

I really enjoyed reading this book;  Haig’s poetry is a combination of lush description, acerbic wit, and dark humor. It’s such an interesting and surprising collection, where absurdity is combined with a deep sense of pathos and understanding of what it means to be human in the Digital Era. It is well worth a read. Death Magazine is available now via Salt Publishing.

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