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:



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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.

Sorry/Not Sorry


Yesterday my son, Luke and I went on the train to Liverpool to see a friend and her son. We walked to the Pier Head and had a picnic; they raced each other, played hide and seek (not the best game to play on a crowded, sunny day in a city centre but still), and we looked at Liverpool Museum, and walked around the Albert Dock in the sun, eating Mr. Whippy ice creams. Luke was not at his best as we started to come back home as he has been poorly with gastro-entiritis for well over a week after possibly being infected by crypto-sporidian in the drinking water in Lytham when we went camping, and we find out tomorrow for sure. He became very lethargic and poorly and today we went back to the doctor who prescribed buscopan and dioralyte sachets, which have really helped him today. Aside from the bug though, we had a brilliant day in Liverpool. I loved just spending proper time with him, we like getting on trains together, reading books and chatting and watching the world go by. He’s exceptional company.

Today I have to admit has not been the best of days for me. I plucked up the courage to make three complaints regarding awful treatment (or lack of) I received in March through to May this year as a psychiatric patient. I was admitted into in-patient care in March and the whole thing has been a terrible ordeal. I thought I was doing the right thing by complaining, and when someone came to go through my letters with me I found her to be very sympathetic, understanding and helpful, though the appointment and the process in itself has been difficult to say the least. She said at the time that she fully expected that I would receive ‘many apologies’ in response to my complaints. I haven’t the energy to go into detail today but after it took so long for people to be assigned to look into the complaints I had to give my permission for the investigation to go on longer than is usually the case, which I did, and I thought that as had been suggested, I would receive apologies and the impetus for sending the letters was simply to try to ensure others don’t have to suffer similar issues in the future. I received a long letter today in response, and although it does appear the investigation was thorough, I’m so far from being satisfied with the response that all I can really say is I cried a great deal today. The things I have tried to tell people simply weren’t recorded in my notes so I haven’t got a leg to stand on. It makes me feel completely demoralised and I wholeheartedly wish I’d never pursued the complaints in the first place. I feel completely belittled and as I said to my husband ‘like an idiot’. I can’t believe that I’ve had to be treated the way I have been treated. I simply have not had adequate support or anything like adequate support.I have been completely and utterly let down and spat out of a system I’ve been stuck in since I was only a child. Yes, there were apologies but mostly there were just awful, patronising justifications of their actions and covering their own backs. I doubt my having complained has caused anything to change at all. My nurse asked me to complain about one of the issues but I feel as though it simply wasn’t dealt with at all, or taken seriously, and it has all left me, months down the line still having constant nightmares and feeling incredibly fragile.

I wanted to write this blog to keep some sort of diary and make it public because no-one really knows the extent to which manic depression has and continues to turn my life upside down on a daily basis. If I have a strong focus, if I can concentrate on one thing and get on with it, and feel well enough to do so, like going to Liverpool yesterday, or working on my book for example, I can keep on top of my mood and steamroller through the day. Most days are not like this. Every single day of my life I am as motivated as I can possibly be to try, and if awards were given out for trying I’d have a big badge I could pin to my coat and wear but aside from the mere art of trying I feel like a huge failure. I managed to get a few submissions from the new book posted to magazines today, which in itself felt monumental, as even going to the post office was hard, and I walked the dog with Luke and Steven, and cooked fajitas and guacamole, but aside from that, tears, a heavy heart, and inconsolable sadness.

I began a manic episode in September which outlasted ten months in total. I am now moving into a depressive episode which I don’t think I can stand lasting ten months. I definitely feel the high coming down now, the agitation took over recently for a while but that’s changed to frustration and sadness, sadness and melancholy, and the feeling that I simply can’t find any peace.

My husband has stayed off work to look after me for some time, something I feel incredibly guilty about and something which the only person who seems to have any understanding of why this has been imperative and why we need to run things this way right now is my psychiatric nurse; everyone else in our life seems to sorely miss the point. It makes my self esteem turn to mush. We are fighting, have fought, and will continue to fight, and it is very much a fight we have learned to fight together. I feel tremendous pressure on a daily basis. I feel I can’t live up to anyone’s expectations including my own. I just thank god I have my family and that we push every day to try and to love one another. Although I have a severely debilitating illness I think that people only see a capable, articulate woman who seems happy and can’t understand what it is I am going through. I rarely see anyone anymore. It’s just too hard.

I don’t like ending anything like this. Despair in small doses is good for us, I really believe that, but overwhelming despair is very bad. So I don’t wish to overwhelm. All I can think of in terms of good news is that the new Litmus is out now, I received my contributor’s copy a couple of days ago and aside from the awesome editorial by Sarah Crewe there is some incredible work. I thumpingly adore Sophie Mayer’s work in this issue; Lucy Hamilton, Tom Jenks, Chris McCabe and Dorothy Lehane’s work is also top notch stuff, and there are many other gems besides. To buy the issue, and I don’t think there are many left so be quick about it, just follow this link: Litmus

I’ll leave you with a beautiful picture of Luke on the train:


oh, and the Liver Buildings and the Albert Dock:

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Absolutely beautiful.

the terrible

Cover (3) copy

I want to give my readers a heads up about this wonderful book which is coming out in November this year, Daniel Sluman’s ‘the terrible’ – this is what I have to say about it after reading the manuscript:

‘This is a decadent work of painstaking beauty. Its sophisticated chromatic spectrum is fevered with a minimal though striking palette of monochrome and the occasional burst of pure, visceral colour – erotic, it sweeps through all the shades and nuances of love and a life lived to its blurry reaches, like a Lou Reed song and striking and vivid as a Warhol Factory print. Blood sutures stream through every poem and cuts in the flesh of this book ensure that you cannot read it to the end without knowing the sweet release of a hesitant knife edge to the wrist – let the pain entice you – there is absolute suffering and absolute relief within the pages of this book.’

And this is what Nine Arches Press’s editor has to say about it:

‘Daniel Sluman’s bleak brilliance in the terrible is a masterclass in the power of poetry to confront difficult subject matter with accuracy and painstaking openness. These are rigorous and exacting poems, that dare to go to some of the darkest places and interrogate a bare language to speak out with truthful precision.
These poems may be stripped down, intense and utterly frank, but they are not without great sincerity and beauty; Sluman writes of the heady cocktail of being alive, where loss, love, sex, close shaves with mortality and the sharp narratives of pain and suffering are written in crystal-clear and humane clarity.’

Jane Commane

This is a book I wholeheartedly endorse and I think it will garner a wide readership, not least because Daniel does not shy away from difficult themes and I really admire how he has pushed and reached and explored depths and heights most other poets wouldn’t dare to.

Today I woke early and crept downstairs to work before everyone else got up. I managed some heavy editing and wound myself up in frustrated knots by the time everyone else began their day. I have had to sleep this afternoon, I was just so exhausted, and my mood has been ever so low and difficult to bear. I’ve begun reading Emma Jane Unsworth’s ‘Animals’ and I love it, fifty pages in. There is a female Tyler Durden and it’s got a great pace and it’s very much a book with personality. I think this book saved the day for me as while I read I wasn’t preoccupied and it took me out of my head for a short while. I have very little to say for myself today but I’ll leave you with last night’s dramatic Lancashire sunset:

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Happiness Is A Warm Poetry Reading

Yesterday we had a birthday party for my dad, Jos, and I cooked veggie toad in the hole and the sticky toffee pudding of dreams on a hot summer day and we got sleepy and full. Lately I’ve felt so tired, the sun, anxiety, anti-psychotic medications, a head full of work, words that don’t fit.

This afternoon we drove into sunny Liverpool for Stinky Bear Press’s RWF/RAF pamphlet launch at the cool as fuck News from Nowhere bookshop (you can purchase it here):


The ever-brilliant Sarah Crewe (pictured below), Pascal O’Loughlin and Mendoza read a selection in the first half then into RWF/RAF in the second half, Sarah and Pascal stalking and slinking around the room, growling and pacing, Sarah barefoot and full of poise and grr and Pascal calmly but fiercely reading alongside; the pamphlet features texts inspired by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Ulrike Meinhof and Mendoza introduced it: a.k.a The German Masterpiece! I loved the interplay, the atmosphere, the buzz, and the bookshop itself was the perfect venue. We drank wine and juice and read Zizek jokes and danced to samba music and talked and it was a lovely afternoon. To avoid turning to pumpkins we had to depart early and got starbucks coffee on the way home, happy and full of poems and hazelnut syrup.


Finding the time to write during the holidays is proving tricky. I keep getting up earlier than everyone else and gulping coffee and editing, and I find the morning is always the best time to write. I worked on a poem, Cobra, in the car on the way to and from Liverpool, a poem about the suffocating feelings I experience living with mental illness and how I often feel so restricted and limited. I often have a feeling like I might burst out of myself at any moment. I feel great pressure and frustration at the tiniest difficulty, I long to feel peace. I know others who feel this way and who I would like to help but I often feel very helpless to do so. I really want to go to the sea with Bobby and scream into the waves holding hands.We are all up against so much; sometimes I can see all of it all too well and all at once and I feel myself shrinking inside and the noise in my head roars!

It is wasn’t for poetry I wouldn’t function as I do. I would, as I know others would give up writing, my main focus in life, to experience a life without mental illness. But since I can’t erase it I have my writing and I need it and use it – a great weight lifts from me each time I write and say it in the way it’s meant. Many people are afraid to write bad work, and this is awful because we have to write bad poems, we absolutely must, we must write the worst to work towards our very best and must write every shade and colour in between. I don’t write reportage, I don’t write autobiographical prose, I write about my life, my world, my emotional life and everything I come into contact with but it is art, to me at least, and is honed, shaped and arranged in such a way that I have to be absolutely sure it delivers focused, beautiful language in a way I feel makes complete sense to me. It is a vocation, a profession, a calling, an addiction, a dependency – my writing – it is my life and I would not be able to live as functional a life as I do without it as my mind simply couldn’t process it all in any other way. When I don’t write I feel ill, I feel confused, spaced out, fragile, frustrated, irritable, wild sometimes, mad sometimes, and I can’t find the motivation for anything else I might enjoy. This may sound far fetched and a bit dramatic but I absolutely rely upon writing to survive. And in making the connection I make with my work with the outside, very real world, I feel real, and I feel alive. It’s essential to me that I keep this connection. A large part of my identity is my identity as a writer; my sense of identity and my own mythology is so tied up in my writing that to dislocate it would be to sever a connection I wouldn’t be able to survive without.

As the light fades in the evening I feel a sudden and overwhelming sadness. But today I felt connected, and I take that with me through to tomorrow.