Bright ideas with luminous implications…”
Matt Campbell’s ‘Activities for the Apocalypse’ starts with a lamp. An antique light inherited from a relative. The item appears increasingly tired to the author’s eyes. He confesses to us that simply out of sheer boredom, he spray-painted it yellow. A lightbulb moment in a number of ways, if you’ll pardon the idiom.
Firstly, this domestic project inspired him to restore more furniture in similar ways, imbuing colour and vibrance into the objects of everyday life. The creative impulse is one of entertainment for the author and the results are a continuing source of satisfaction in his life. Vitally, the author tells us this rejuvenating act illuminated in him a compulsion to write this book. I think this image serves another symbolic purpose too. A reminder that the words he has created are light, fanciful gestures to us, and that they are performed with hope to stir motivation in us and to entertain us. These motivations could be primal or cultivated; to feel, to create, to connect, or simply to think, but nonetheless they are all conjured by a book which is hopeful and largely successful in affecting its readers.
I make no bones in suggesting that some of the humour and poetry featured in ‘Activities for the Apocalypse’ are a little unsophisticated. By the author’s own admission his advent into poetry is only recent and his love for the cruder side of humour is apparent. Nonetheless, it provides readers with a hearty slice of life in Billingham in 2020, of people searching for meaning and connection in a new situation. The work is occasionally decorated with the words of other contributors too, and as occasionally unrefined as these words are, I cannot deny that the poems printed are at the very least spontaneous, raw and brimming with the feelings of real people. On the whole, the poetry here collected is an exploration of how people from Teesside can use the literary form to understand themselves and the world around them.
“…provides readers with a hearty slice of life in Billingham in 2020, of people searching for meaning and connection in a new situation.”
The key strength in this book is its honesty. There are numerous enjoyable moments: instances of lewd humour which indulges our enjoyment to be profane; the activities which may forsake our health for indulgence otherwise best avoided; the exercises which exorcise the parts of ourselves that condemn the people we simply find disagreeable. Most compellingly, we find an author completely unafraid to be themselves.
Closing with an epilogue that features an admission of his tendency to be panic-stricken lately, we see Matt Campbell conversely satisfied in that creating this book has helped him navigate a life profoundly affected by Covid-19. With a refreshing hit of hopefulness he closes the preceding Chapter with an affirmation that “I can do better” and indeed that “We can do better” too. Without indulging in sloganeering or tautology, these phrases remind us that with or without blame, we are here in this challenging and often dire situation together, and that no one else will fix this other than ourselves. What instructions can we take from ‘Activities for the Apocalypse’, be safe, have fun, and to connect with oneself and their community; some bright ideas with luminous implications.
Find Mattie on Twitter @mattiecampbell