Inertia, and Prize Nomination News

There’s 27 days left to listen to my new story, ‘Inertia’ on Radio Four iPlayer. Tim McInnerny reads the story which was produced by Jeremy Osborne and first aired on Sunday night. I was at the studio recording and was simply astounded by Tim’s ability to bring the characters to life, and I felt on listening to the show on Sunday that the finished piece was very much a team effort and the whole thing came together so wonderfully. I’m incredibly proud of the result, and grateful to have been able to work with such an astounding actor, and with such a wonderful producer. It is a dystopian story but very rooted in the all too real struggles of this era in political history.

Inertia: Radio Four

I also have some news to share. My poem, ‘i am very precious’ which was originally published in Prac Crit magazine has been nominated for the Best Single Poet category for the Forward Prize this year. The awards evening will take place on September 20th. You can see the poem, my interview by Michael Conley relating to the poem, and an essay on my work by John Clegg, here:

i am very precious by Melissa Lee-Houghton

The poem also features in Salt Publishing’s Best British Poetry 2015 Anthology, edited by Emily Berry, and will be a central poem in my forthcoming collection, ‘Sunshine’ which will be published by Penned in the Margins in September.

And the list of other shortlisted poets, poems and collections is on the Forward Prize website here:

Forward Prize Shortlists/Website

Please do follow me on twitter @MLeeHoughton

Photograph by Jinez Creative from ‘Reading The Other’ at Chorlton Proof 24th May 2016


Revolt from Recovery (Radical Recovery) by Jeremy Gluck

Victim Of Dreams by Jeremy Gluck

A friend who has written extensively on mental illness sent me the following piece of writing, and I felt I wanted to share it here. I’m very interested in finding other examples of pieces of writing others might feel appropriate to publish here – as I think it’s the individual voices of those who endure and suffer that should be heard – not politicians who do not value our lives and cause immeasurable further harm and suffering, and not those who work in the field necessarily, who perhaps haven’t experienced severe mental distress first-hand. I care about hearing the diverse, intuitive, intelligent, often radical and often acutely insightful pieces of writing the mad and the ‘mentally ill’ write, collate and construct though perhaps don’t share. In my own life, it is my writing which has found its way largely into a public arena, that has saved me from a premature death or a life of madness and reliance on a mental health system unequipped for my needs and disinterested in my unique experience. I imagine the immense power of what this clamouring of voices could sound like – those people locked up on PICU units and sat in endless appointments where they are told to think differently, that their experience is not normative, and their approach to solving their own problems is problematic for a world in which productivity and functionality are the two qualities that we are told are paramount to our belonging in the world. Often, those who don’t fit the neat diagnoses and discourses, and who resist treatments they know will cause them harm or who are unable to live in a world as a functioning machine with a uniform set of ideas, values and needs are maltreated, bullied, abused and supressed. To me, the question of care has nothing to do with the idea of a functioning system, either in the individual or the larger and rapidly deteriorating mental health system and the government who choose to bolster or destroy it. It’s about the individual, and how we can all make every person feel valued, and not based on our own ideas of normativity. That inevitably means listening to individual people. There is no common understanding amongst the mentally ill and never will be – no coherent message that each and every person would be happy to endorse – it’s completely unique from person to person, what they want and need, how they view the world and their treatment. There’s immense power in this, so it’s essential that every single person in mental health care throws away entirely the idea of a base-line normativity the mad have to get back to in order to fulfil the wants of larger society. Some will opt for medication and drug treatment, others will resist and refuse (as I have) and many will never be able to access or afford to access any kind of therapy or any kind of adequate support – so what do we have, each one of us? We can endeavour to vocalise our experience until we are heard. Writing it down is so vital. Reading others’ experiences is also vital, and powerful. Sometimes writing can give us permission to be who we are and permission to allow ourselves to voice our own concerns. If anyone would like to contribute to this blog in any way please let me know.

But for now, I welcome to the stage, Jeremy Gluck…

“Outside of society, that’s where I want to be.” Rock’n’Roll Nigger, Patti Smith

Revolt from Recovery (Radical Recovery)

To solve the problems of mind, and therefore mental health, we must go beyond the mind. No matter how well-intentioned or in some ways and cases effective, conventional – even at its margins, as in the current mantras of more adventurous “recovery” – ideas will be futile. Everything developed and delivered in terms of the mind – “mental”, therefore – will ultimately prove pointless. There must be freedom, not halfway houses and compromises and hypocrisy and inverted, converted self-pity and skewed self-regard. Everything now standing to do with “recovery” must be demolished and nothing put in its place and the unknown given freedom to manifest.

I don’t care how much better or more helpful the “recovery” movement and practice in services and for service users has proven. The radical is required. Something literally unthinkable because to go beyond mental illness we must go beyond the mind. Ideas, identities, all of it; in the sale of the soul everything must go. It is possible to be rid of mental illness: by having no mind. This is the absolute position. This is literally the unthinkable, the perspective without comparison or convention to moor and ground and pollute it. It is the pure and peerless place. Why don’t I want to be involved anymore and identified anymore with mental health and mental illness, even to help? I am in direct and radical revolt against it all. Against being “mentally ill”; against “recovering”; against it all. I am…sick of it…from it. The tame tyranny of drugs, the kindly and hopeless concern and sympathy of others, even of empathy and fellow-feeling. I don’t want to be human, a person, an idea, in your mind or my own; I want to not know mind. I want to destroy “me”; the idea of me, who is this person, who has and suffers and thinks and understands, who feeds their own ideas with more ideas and is sick and makes themselves sick and seeks freedom and escape from sickness. I am supposed to be grateful for my recovery. Why do I feel grateful for being more of who and what made and makes me sick? The entire being that is recovering is sick with itself, with what it is, which is a lie, sick or not, mentally ill or not, recovering or not.

I want nothing more to do with myself as “sick”, “mentally ill”, “recovering” and I radically reject and revolt from all such descriptions and self-descriptions. I am breaking with it all. I am not being held by it. Yes, there are drugs in my body that poison my brain, but my body and brain are not what I am. Yes, I am diagnosed and medicated, but the being to which those things happen is not created or recreated by them. I radically reject, destroy and transcend all these restrictions upon being. I factually don’t care any more for them. I am so much greater and more exalted than such descriptions. I have allowed myself to be enmeshed in it, and fed it, and made sick and somehow satiated with it, but it is ending. There is no more mental illness; no more recovery. There is nobody to which they happen.

I do not “accept myself”: there is no self to accept.

I do not “recover”: there is no recovery required; no being was sick.

I do not “heal”: all is instant and spontaneous.

I do not “reflect”: there is nobody there.

I do not “support”: all is free and empty; windows, no walls.

I do not want wellness: there is no sickness.

I do not regret anger: under the great sky the wind blows.

I do not seek help: Nobody wants it.

I do not reject or accept descriptions of me: Nobody here to receive.

I do not fear madness: Fear is madness.


You can read more of his work here:


Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Upcoming Online Course on Long Poems

The wonderful poet Elly Nobbs has interviewed me about my upcoming Poetry School course for anyone who might be interested and needs a little bit more of an idea about it. I’m excited to get to work with poets on longer work!

Read my interview here: Source: Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Upcoming Online Course on Long Poems

Audio Recording and Video of February Reading

Here is a recording of a poem as my personal response to violence:

father forgive him he knows not what he says

Also today this video was published of a reading I did for The Poetry Book Society in February as part of the Next Generation tour, filmed at the Liverpool Centre of New and International Writing:

Liverpool Feb 2015 NextGen Reading


My Poetry School online course The Long Poem: now booking!

Often teachers tell poets to hone, edit and show not tell, or use language more sparingly, but what if we want to rage and roam, and embrace the mental rollercoaster ride which is the long poem?

Writing a long poem can be a chance to immerse yourself in the subconscious and surprise yourself with the results. It’s about the big themes and investing yourself in mining for the difficult and hard to reach epiphanies – and writing intuitively. Getting the first draft of a long poem can be quite different from writing in shorter forms as it requires a degree of trusting yourself and going with the flow – seeing where the poem can take you and writing freely and often expansively. Another aspect is editing the monster you’ve created, taming and shaping something unruly.

One long poem which I come back to time and again is Marina Tsvetaeva’s Poem of The End which evokes the painful drawing to a close of a relationship and is as powerful and universal today as it ever was. It begins simply and starkly:

‘A single post, a point of rusting

tin in the sky

marks the fated place we

move to, he and I…’

The poem then runs through a variety of scenes or poses in fourteen parts which are charged with an immediacy and a pressured longing for satiety or relief.

Barry MacSweeney’s long poem, ‘Daddy Wants To Murder Me’ is in part a deeply confessional poem and an homage to Sylvia Plath’s famous poem, ‘Daddy’. I’m interested in how these two poets take a theme and use it in entirely original and complex ways – there is what is described and what is evoked, there is sadness, rage and raw emotion, and in MacSweeney’s poem, a broad and compassionate narrative style, and in Sylvia’s poem, a more tightly wrought though ultimately staggering incarnation of patriarchal image.

My upcoming course – Long Poems & Invocations: Making The Measure Work For You – is a little different from other courses as it’s set out over a longer period of time to give students chance to really embrace the writing tasks and the form. Writing a long poem requires stamina, so we’ll look at how to take on big themes and see them through to a conclusion; themes like mysticism and the metaphysical, love and heartache, the personal and the political, and our formative relationships and early experiences. I will encourage poets to be inquisitive, to try to find original and striking images, use longer lines and revel in language.

The long poem is enjoying something of a revival, and on the course we will study a number of excellent contemporary poets, including Lucie Brock-Broido, Toby Martinez de las Rivas and Patricia Lockwood, all who write without limits and boundaries and follow their original line of thought to mesmeric and startling conclusions.

I’ll also be looking at how to introduce the personal into work and mix it up with political or philosophical ideas or broader concerns, and how to create layers within a poem. I think students who are particularly interested in confessional poetry who want to write from their own point of view in new ways, or who have a keen interest in contemporary poetry and want to find new modes of creatively engaging with new challenges and techniques will thoroughly enjoy the challenges of the form.

The long poem is uncompromising, with little room to hide, but one that delivers huge pay-offs that shorter work cannot. Students will have to push themselves to get the most out of the writing assignments, but it is absolutely worth it. And I can’t wait to see the results.

Why stop at 14 lines? Why stop at 40? Extend your work on my new course, Long Poems & Invocations: Making the Measure Work for You. Book online or ring The Poetry Schoolpublicity photo - Copy on 0207 582 1679.



Last week the Houghtons went to Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons for a whole week. The festival itself ran from Thursday to Sunday but we got Settlers passes and camped for a few days beforehand, something I would recommend to anyone with a family as we’ve simply had the best holiday we’ve ever had and I would say, as my first festival, I had one of the best experiences of my whole life.

We got tickets because I was manic and without telling anyone or discussing it I bought the tickets completely on a high and on a whim. We have worried about how we’d pay for it but really it was so worth it that even if we’re broke the next six months we enjoyed every moment of our adventure.

We saw Peter Broderick first, who I didn’t know and who was stunning, genuine and moving. Then we raved with Dan Deacon in the Far Out tent, late at night, and Luke can now say he went to his first rave aged nine. It was absolutely bonkers and a lot of fun; I had Luke on my back and we danced and shouted – Dan Deacon got the tent to form a dance circle in the middle and had someone pick people out to dance and be be filmed, which was hilarious. Then weird devils and skeletons started dancing in the crowd and the lights and the music were crazy.

We saw The Fall, Slowdive, Viet Cong, Sex Witch, Waxahatchee in the Far Out tent, by far my favourite place in the festival. We saw Calexico at the Mountain stage, who were one of the highlights, and we danced and danced in the rain with the Mariachi band giving it their all. We saw Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires – Charles is 66 and did the splits, humped a monitor and had all the moves you can dream of, and we screamed the place down. We saw Father John Misty and St Vincent on the last night, who were both incredible, Father John was funny and high and over the top and wonderful and St Vincent put on an amazing 2 hour show to close the festival, and they both played my favourites. There were plenty other bands over the four days, Villagers, Temples, The Staves, Sweet Baboo, Bombs, Hannah Lou Clarke and over the first three nights we saw loads of unsigned bands in the Settlement camp by a fire with little kids toasting marshmallows.

I also caught a set by the Faber New poet Will Burns which was wonderful – a very authentic, genuine poet and found only by chance as it was raining and we bundled into the tent just before he came on. Magical.

Here are some pics from the festival:



DSC_0367 (3)



DSC_0450 (2)


We got seriously muddy.

I managed to do a little writing during quiet moments. At night we slept all cuddled up in a cocoon and kept toasty warm. The weather was so changeable sometimes it was so hot and sunny and the next thing there’d be thunder then downpours but on the whole we got good weather, all got tans and enjoyed the mud and dancing in the rain as much as we enjoyed the sunshine.

My mood held up throughout, as did our cheap tent. Camping, there’s always something to do, always distraction, and it was just so peaceful on the campsite. If we had a low moment, we just toughed it the fuck out. We walked into Crickhowell on the Thursday, an eight mile round trip by a river and through beautiful farmland, and the people there were friendly and helpful. We spent a day in rainy Abergavenny, and ate cream cakes and relaxed and walked around carefree. Oh what I wouldn’t give to still be in Wales.

Since I got home I’ve been exhausted mainly. I’ve been getting up early again to work on my fiction projects and have a lot to do at home. I’m looking forward to the kids going back just so I can work full days again. When I can’t work I get so tense. The holiday was a real break but break’s over and I wanna get something done.

And yes, I know I am a very, very lucky woman.

we’re all gonna die/ in memoriam of Phil, Stephen, Jim


My facebook timeline keeps reminding me of events last summer. The above pic is my husband, Steven’s band, Unalaska playing the Roadhouse, Manchester. The band members were his brother, Peter Houghton on guitar and vocals and Phil Riley on bass. Phil died in July last year from cancer and this time last year we attended his funeral. I didn’t know Phil well but had met him and spoken to him at gigs; all his friends spoke so highly of him, his authenticity, his sense of humour, his caring nature and his musical talent. I know he is deeply missed.

At around this time my Grandad Jim also passed away, and my friend Stephen Pickles who taught me how to paint and was very much a paternal figure in my life until recent years when we drifted, as people often do in life, also died. I found out he passed away because I’d been emailing him, and he never replied to any of my emails, then his wife wrote to me to thank me for them, that he’d appreciated them, and that he had, sadly, died from an enduring illness. To say I was shocked and heartbroken doesn’t really cut it. I attended both funerals around August last year.

This is me and my mum at my Grandad Jim’s funeral, celebrating the man we dearly loved:

me and mum grandad's funeral

Stephen was an incredibly gifted artist and some of his work can be seen here: Stephen Pickles Saatchi

I’ve written a number of poems towards my next collection in memory of Stephen. We had such a lot in common and I will always remember times we shared, and conversations we had, and the music he loved, the art and literature, the way he made me laugh, and comforted me. The way he wasn’t afraid of sadness, bleakness or pain, and how I trusted his insights and felt such an affinity with his outlook on life and love.

My grandad Jim suffered from Alzheimer’s and died with his wife by his side. He was a real character, and told awful jokes that were so bad they were good. He was dearly loved and is missed.

grandad me and beckie

This is me, my grandad Jim and my (upside-down) sister. Grandad Jim always wore short shorts, liked to have his shirt open or off and was our hero.

I’ve been gearing up for a summer event I’m going to and may not put a blog up next week with so much going on. The last three days I have written two short stories and a monologue. I don’t really know what drives me to write fiction but sometimes these things seem to write themselves, and I can have a stretch of fiction-writing buzz that lasts a while then fizzles out. I love to write poetry best of all but I find I can explore things through fiction: identity, human psychology, gender, sexuality, all kinds of concerns I have in my poetry but in fiction I can take things further in many ways, and in many more directions, because I can just make it all up, and there’s great freedom in that. I write what most people would describe as ‘confessional’ poetry but I think of it simply as having an authenticity to my own experience. I don’t write ‘fictional’ poems and nothing is posed; I have written maybe half a dozen poems in another voice in the past few years. I find that this can be problematic, not for me but in the way other people struggle to separate my real life from my poetry, (it both is and is not) and the way I feel people misinterpret me: I am writing about my own experience because I feel it has value as an artistic pursuit because it is real to an extent and yet it is art and not reportage or autobiography. We all have our own mythology, too, which may exist in our own heads, or in our personal writings, letters, journals, conversations; we have an image of ourselves which we are happy to perpetuate – I try hard to be as true to myself as I can be in my work; the good and the bad. But sometimes people who don’t know me act as though they do from reading my work, which is just bogus, and yet, saying this, my sense of identity gets all tangled up and I sometimes can’t even separate myself. 

So writing stories has helped me remove myself from my work. I have a nagging feeling each day I’ve not pushed myself enough, that I’ve not got to the bottom of what it is that’s eating me up, that I’ve not produced enough work, that time is of the essence and is running away. 

I’ve always had a terrible fear of panic, of flight, of being caught. I used to hate The Gingerbread Man when I was little because I’d get a pain in my chest almost from panic. I would have a recurring dream most of my life about being chased. Writing is what happens when my thoughts catch up with me and is flight and is an adrenaline rush. Often there is also a terrible comedown from that, when I haven’t managed to get it all out and the tumbling, churning, spiraling sensation of creating ideas begins again. Sometimes, too, there are the highs of getting it right on the money, of absolutely elucidating the terrific buzz in my head.

Before I go, a big thank you for all those who have left kind comments on my blog. I don’t check in regularly here, only to write when I have something to write about, but I appreciate the comments and the time people take to read my silly thoughts. I have so many books to write and only hope and pray I live long enough to write them all. This place is helping me keep track of the days, and the ebb and flow of my mood and the things I must try to remember. We are, absolutely hurtling toward death. We are. The time becomes precisely irrelevant when I am writing. All the rest of the time it speeds ahead, or it slows to an agonising speed, but in writing I exist. I exist as I feel I was always born to. We all have something which makes us feel this way. It’s about harnessing it. I only ever wish I had more time and space to write, something which I may never have and I count my blessings when I do have time as it is priceless to me.