Fearless, naked and knowing, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s poems square up to the wildest reaches of our emotional lives. Hers is a poetry of excess, of the beautiful mess and complex depths of life as it is variously lived. While it is intensely and pointedly personal, Lee-Houghton’s writing is not simply solipsistic however: the poems in this Archive recording testify to her ability to bring the rawness of the everyday and wider historical narratives – a man behind a ‘window with his / baby-blue Gretsch and his headphones / fizzing’; the ‘cattle-farm rusted guttering’ of stark black-and-white photographs of Auschwitz – into sharp relief, alongside the intimate, delicate and touching. Whether dealing in telling portraits – the ‘jellyfish pink-blue veins in Angie’s arms and chest’, whose ‘heart flutters like she’s swum too far out at sea’ – or in seemingly confessional cris de coeur, there is a restless intelligence and questing inquisitiveness that guides, and keeps sentiment in check. ‘I see you don’t believe me –’ is the playful accusation of one of her narrators: ‘don’t worry, I know how this works, I always / understood the art of paradox; / that there are many ways to give away the plot / without telling it at all.’
Melissa Lee-Houghton was born in Wythenshawe, Manchester in 1982. Her first collection, A Body Made of You, was published in 2011, and was written in and out of psychiatric hospital, confronting and interrogating the poet’s own experiences of mental health issues. The book received considerable praise for its originality and vividly surreal imagery. As one critic pointed out, her poetry is ‘soaked in the tension between body and mind, between who we are supposed to be and the god-awful gorgeousness of who we really are’. All this is delivered in a seriously beguiling, yet equally dark and unnerving voice, what David Caddy calls ‘sympathetic studies of character, gender and address that poke, prod, irritate and echo’. A follow-up volume, Beautiful Girls, expanded on these achievements, and earned Lee-Houghton a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, as well as a place among the Next Generation Poets 2014, showcasing 20 significant new voices in contemporary British poetry. Increasingly free-flowing, intuitive, and in thrall to an impassioned sensibility that knows its own mind, the best of Beautiful Girls, alongside those poems which Lee-Houghton has written since, are unflinching studies of intimacy, longing and, against it all, hope. Among this Archive recording, of especial note are the palpable sensuality of ‘No-One Touches Me’, which explores the isolating paradox of our bustling metropolises, and ‘Collapse’, an unparaphrasable confession of bold authenticity.
Whether articulating sorrow, rage, joy, love, kindness or pain, throughout this Archive recording Melissa Lee-Houghton’s unadorned yet often warm and witty delivery confirms Pascale Petit’s view that ‘these unflinching poems feel as if they wrote themselves … at times the language becomes rhapsodic, though there is always a lyrical grace and adroitness, and an intense but careful control’.
Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:
“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
“The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass.” – Theodore Adorno
“I opened my veins. Unstoppably life spurts out with no remedy. Now I set out bowls and plates. Every bowl will be shallow. Every plate will be small. And overflowing to their rims, into the black earth, to nourish the rushes unstoppably and without cure, gushes poetry.” – Marina Tsvetaeva
“Rage is underrated” – Melissa Lee-Houghton