Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Matthew Haigh

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Matthew Haigh

is a poet, artist and designer from Cardiff. He is a regular contributor to anthologies by Sidekick Books – most recently collaborating with friend and artist Alex Stevens on Battalion and No, Robot, No! They also collaborated on the Tumblr series This Was No Suicide – a reimagining of Murder, She Wrote episodes produced using cut-up poetry and collage. He published a pamphlet, Black Jam, with Broken Sleep Books in 2019.

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I started writing poetry around 10 years ago, after I’d graduated from university and found myself unemployed for quite a while. I can’t really pinpoint why I started writing poetry – I just found myself scribbling down little lines as they came into my head one day and it grew from there. Unemployment was difficult, but I do believe that having that time allowed me to discover something that is now a huge part of my life.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Nobody introduced me to it, as such. One of the first poetry books I bought was a collection of Dorothy Parker poems. I enjoyed her sharp, acidic style and it got me writing my own versions.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

When I started out I was completely new to poetry so I wasn’t forming those kinds of ideas about gatekeepers and traditions and things like that. These days I’m very aware of dominating trends in the poetry world, but for me it’s not so much an issue of “older” poets forming the zeitgeist, it’s more a case of London-centrism. And when we have the internet, and Skype, and social media – it really doesn’t need to be the case.
There’s also a strong sense of what is allowed. You see certain poets being attacked on Twitter by people who’ve decided they are the arbiters of what writers can and cannot do. Or somebody writes a negative review of a poet’s work and all hell breaks loose. I don’t believe in this ivory tower poetry community. We’re more than happy to discuss films, music and games – literally any other media – with honesty and humour, and not always with eggshell-delicacy, so why not with poetry?
I think the way poets show each other support is really beautiful, and I’m not advocating being a dick to people. But some poets have this viewpoint of If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all – and that is some kind of Orwellian nightmare in my eyes.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m so disorganised. I work full time and care for my mother, who has a disability – and her wellbeing is always going to be my priority. It can be tricky finding the time needed to write but somehow I just get it done, because not writing isn’t acceptable to me.

5. What motivates you to write?

It feels quite powerful, I think. With any kind of creative project, you are bringing something into existence, you’re utilising the power of your imagination and employing all the skills required to shape that thing and make it real. I know for a fact that when I’m not writing, I tend to feel quite low and my mood suffers for it. If I’m working on a project I feel really commanding and in charge.

6. What is your work ethic?

My work ethic is to keep experimenting and trying new things. I went through a period of not writing anything at all for about 2 years, because I’d grown so bored with my usual style – it felt like I always knew what the poem was going to be before I started it. So I began making collage poems and it brought the whole thing to life for me again.
Also because I have a background in art, I love visuals and want to incorporate that more into my work. I’ve collaborated a lot recently with my friend and artist, Alex Stevens. We’ve contributed some visual poetry – including a poetry comic – to a few Sidekick Books anthologies. I’d like to expand on things so my poetry snakes its way into different forms.
So for example I had this idea where I would make little scale models or dioramas of video games that don’t exist, like point and click games, and the text would be little poems… or I wanted to make a book of miniatures where the poems were typed in tiny font and you needed a magnifying glass to read them, kind of a language version of those artists who carve things into grains of rice. I wanted to make a video poem soap opera, too; think Eastenders, but with cockroaches.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

The writers who’ve come to influence my subject matter would be people like Harlan Ellison, William Gibson, JG Ballard… I remember reading Crash in my mid 20s and being so intoxicated by Ballard’s writing, in particular. And I mean intoxicated in the sense that his writing felt so drunkenly rich. That melding of erotica with technology, futurism and Hollywood dreaminess really influences me.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

In terms of poets, I’m really taken with Astra Papachristodoulou and her futurist aesthetic. I recently read Baby, I Don’t Care by Chelsey Minnis, and I enjoyed that concept of writing a whole book in character, those fragments of old 50s Hollywood glamour. I need to mention the musician Scott Walker, who basically writes poetry set to theatrical soundscapes. Each song is like a dark play. And he’s really funny. I like it when incredibly talented people can do humour as well as the serious stuff, so for instance in his song Corps De Blah there’s a segment with an orchestra of farts.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Writing poetry is one outlet for the ideas I get, but not the only one. I get a similar thrill when I design or paint something I’m happy with. I enjoy dancing as an art form, and makeup and fashion, but in a bastardised, futuristic way – bodily adornments made monstrous. It’s that connection between poetry, music and the visceral – it’s all movement isn’t it. It’s the flowing of the brain into the limbs and muscles and fingers.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Going on my own experience – as somebody who doesn’t have an MA in creative writing, and as a Welsh writer who isn’t part of that London scene but has been able to cross over into London-based publications and beyond – do the thing that gets you excited. You might feel really unsure about the thing you’re doing – I certainly do, most of the time – but it’s a thrilling kind of uncertainty. The worst thing is to keep it safe, I would say.
Also, try to find the people who “get” you. I discovered Sidekick Books way back when I was just starting out, and it was beautiful to find a publisher who approached poetry with an imaginative, experimental ethos. I’ve submitted work to them countless times over the years and appeared in a number of their anthologies – Kirsten and Jon are such supportive people. I can’t overestimate how vital it is to find those individuals who believe in your work, because it helps you believe in your work too.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

In February 2019 my first pamphlet, Black Jam, will be published with Broken Sleep Books. And then in June my debut full length poetry collection will be published with Salt. It’s called Death Magazine and it’s a contemporary-futuristic pastiche of body horror, fashion and lifestyle blogs. So there’ll be editing work to do on those, but I’m also planning on expanding Death Magazine to include a number of visual art pieces and maybe more. Again, I’m working with Alex – he designed the cover image for the book and created this cover model who’s a sort of flirty, bio-organic faceless hunk-tart. We’re hitting ideas back and forth about what we can do and I’m really excited to get cracking on those.

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