Melissa Lee-Houghton

Fierce, Intelligent, Intense, Compassionate, Complex, Diligent, Expressive, Vibrant, Honest, Connected

Born in Wythenshawe, England. Based in Blackburn, England, UK


Melissa Lee-Houghton is a poet, fiction writer and essayist whose three poetry collections are published by Penned in the Margins.

Sunshine is her third collection and features a poem shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

She was announced as a Next Generation Poet in 2014.

Her short fiction won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2016 and has been broadcast on BBC Radio Four.

Her poetry has been published in Granta and The Guardian Review

She has read at Jaipur Literature Festival and Kolkata Lit Meet and will read at Cheltenham Literature Festival, Manchester Literature Festival and Durham Book Festival this year. 

Listen to, and read, some of Melissa's work on the Poetry Book Society website.

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Sunshine, 2016, Penned in the Margins

Beautiful Girls, 2013, Penned in the Margins

A Body Made of You, 2011, Penned in the Margins

Patterns of Mourning, 2009, Chipmunka

Extract: He Cried Out To the God of Austerities...

Who Said On the Seventh Day You Shall Tax, Pillage and Burn

With a new equinox comes many bad photos of a red blob which they say is The Moon
eclipsed. I nest deeply and into my need. I make a large hole to swallow.
Poverty is a loop, not a knot and not an empty cup ― not fillable;
there is no opening; just an exit you can turn on and turn into
time and again ― and I turn my back and the whole day disposes of itself.

I pray each night to the God of Faulty Circumstance.
He answers, If only you’d thought of that before and When will you learn
and I tell him, I’m sorry, Nobody warned me life would be this hard.
When I’m stricken he laughs. And the magazines don’t want me
and neither do the papers. I’m sick into someone else’s soul.

I win awards and my hair falls out in clumps and blocks the drain.
I dye my hair the same colour as my heart when the sun shines in.
You say you love me; well break me. When you’re awful I lie back breathless.
I called out but no one came until bedtime. Shave off my edges and rub me in butter.
And drown me in fat. No one who ever slept away their life was ever happy about it.

O woe betide the poet in her finest clothes saying words like Poverty and Piss
and Heartache ― look up her skirt; is she lying about being wet?
Is she lying? Is she? Pull a loose thread and see where it unravels to.
See if it reaches her midriff. If it reaches her core, her centre, her heart, bless her.
If it reaches her muff.

My mother is not as Godless as me.
She has a clean house and clear bronchial alveoli.
I knock knock very gently at your heart when I have a bad dream.~
I keep quiet when I wake having an orgasm.
The political climate comes into me like a hard cock.

God descaled my heart and French kissed me. He tasted like McDonald’s.
He loves me most when he’s tired, when he’s too tired to run.
So goodnight blackbird, and starling. Goodnight Adrian, and senorita,
and my mother, who swings from the bough of a dead tree,
a conker for a heart and a handset for a brain.

I practised for a lisp when I was seven. I wanted a lisp just to be different.
Now I can hardly speak I make promises to only collapse in private.
I have never seen anything more beautiful than the taste of Spanish lemons.
Fasten all my buttons and zips, put me in a chastity belt, in a straitjacket
in a sweat shop. If I’d been a good girl I’d be flying now.

Some of the parts you have to cut away, when they turn bad
but if the knife is sterile it hurts less.
I hear my mother’s knitting needles clacking inside me.
They knitted me a womb and I thought it was a purse.
When no money fell out I blamed immigration.

Put me back on the shelf. I knocked the politics over. It broke
into a thousand shiny pieces.
Never in my whole life was I so demoralised.
But thank you, anyway, for not killing me when you had the chance.
God knows someone less restrained would have.

Thanks again.
And rest assured I keep all my holes oiled for you.
There’s nothing for us in this world, O austerity. I think I’ll
write something happy when they stop applauding.
Ah, if only someone knew to laugh at that line.

I wake up stuttering German words I don’t know.
He said, You don’t come across as angry.
The moon reflected in my eye sockets.
I never shook hands with anyone I actually liked or respected.
Time is running out. Time is always running out.

We make bad choices and we pay for it. There was always enough to go round.
Don’t pass me onto anyone else. This is the fourth phone-call you hung up, dickhead.
My daughter can do Peppa Pig in a Scottish accent.
There is no hope if you rule out a majority verdict.
If it were up to me I would. Eat me.

Bite me, or whatever. Just don’t see me. Just don’t beat me.
Just don’t lie. Vote for the next person
who leaves room to swing a cat.
Vote for the next person who recites poetry.
Someone, somewhere should teach this girl how to write it.

I am all over and through with you.
When a person is not believed when they are truthful they shake their fist at God.
When I broke the pestle and mortar I shook my fist at God.
He remained unbothered so I stuck out my tongue. I’m a bad kid.
Tsunamis, he said. Yes, I said.

The world is not round if you are in your mother’s womb.
It reeks of faeces and out in front of you all you can see is shit.
Spare me the sob story, I am a very clever girl
and I can list my attributes and put them in order.
One, I am good in bed. Two, I can quit anything in a heartbeat.

Three, When I start things I can’t finish I just walk away and don’t look back.
Four, I wasted a great many words though I never wasted poetry.
Come get in my bed and make me sorry.
My eyes are bloodshot and I have been patient but
the truth, he said, is just something you know in your gut.

In your core, in your centre. Feel it.
I am desperate. I flinch every time someone hands me a receipt.
I see my long life and my steady death in it.
I see it in the noughts and the decimal points.
Save me from the destiny within ― it doesn’t understand the metric system.

Why did no one teach me a skill I could use?
Whenever I look up, God closes a door somewhere and the more doors he closes
the more fences I have to climb ― the more I have to feign surprise
when someone asks me why I didn’t do it the easy way;
why I have to cross myself before stepping inside your heart.

Extract: i am very precious

I see all the black marks on the page, the lines
hallucinations falling off the edge of the world — my tongue
we haven’t talked about desperation,
yet you tell me about pornography, girls with death wishes
attached to their libidos, little warm arrows
aligned to their supple bodies, inside where the parental hole gapes;
do you understand that when the day breaks
semen in the body turning over like a silk belt, slashing
the way the poetry aches like it does when fantasies
abate and leave beds turning over like guillotined heads
and my eyesight’s killing the words as they fall
into the blinking retinas and all the images burned inside
tearing the cloth on your body with wide-eyed
longing. My darling, you write, my darling, my love,
reach into the glove compartment and pass me my map,
and my scissors to snip your underwear, to snip at your heart,
little buckles undone to reveal the muscle torn
and purple and ermine and the little black-leather buckles.
When I used to wear my fuck-me boots and walk the
streets at night I could feel men looking at my melancholy curves.
I felt hot and I wanted to call home and say my death
was not only imminent but simply a scar that never healed —
crying in my sleep, my chest heaving and my body fastened
to every shape ever thrown in the bed in June
when Nature told me to no longer be pregnant. I’m a big girl,
I said. Roomy in the hips like Buffalo Bill’s victims
in The Silence Of the Lambs. I oil my skin
so the desire will slip off me and onto the floor and crawl
around and get carpet burns and I will glow
like a cigarette burn on the arm of the whitest smack-head
in town, I will glow like the face of the girl who loves him and is willing
to watch him die out, slowly, and with no flames to fan.
I was that girl. I made him listen to a song I loved
and he cried like he’d never cried in his life that this girl with cuts
on her skin would have liked to hold him, crawl into his
psychiatric ward bed and breathe all over his damp, white shoulders.
Some people don’t actually want to be wanted.
Some people actually want to be harmed. I used to fantasize
about being annihilated. About being so completely overwhelmed
the dark would rush in on me and fill me up inside
like whiplash in the back of a Ford Estate.
Wanting to be loved is not the same
as wanting to be fucked is not the same as wanting to come last
is not the same as wanting to be married. Not wanting to be married.
Wanting not to heal up inside and the tears
ruby, glowing tears in the skin just sting in the morning
and are easy to cover up. I told you last night about the baby
that died, you told me not to talk about it and I was glad
you were so on my side that talking about dead babies was bad.
Dead babies. I tried to explain how they don’t stay with you long,
and you told me how your sister went in the wrong grave —
I’m gonna have to pace myself; that’s what men tell me
they have to do when they’re with a woman;
it’s easy to get consumed and the main thing is to hold out.
Death has come out of me, before love has wound its way
to my thigh. The things I have lost fill my toy-museum heart
and when you take me all the dolls get wound up and the bears
start barking. Handjobs just don’t do it for me, I’m sorry —
maybe if I really like you, you can tell me about it. I like to hang on the line
and when the feeling coos in my mouth for an outlet
and I want the voice of someone with a heart that knows about hearts
that know about hearts that know and can give me their thumb
to suck and say you can’t handle the way I want you;
when I don’t know if I can; and I only do it with men
with really clean hands. When I am rubbing my heart against
the sofa like a sexed-up cat, rubbing up against the bedclothes,
rubbing up against the fictional thighs of Northern Goddesses,
pull me in all directions. I want to be told.
Tell me. My sense of abandon is an alcoholic, and you’re
co-dependent. In the night I dream of Adolf and the fictional
loins of Northern Gods and the vacant lane to the abattoir
where the boys hang out looking for pussy
at five a.m. when the girls come on their shift in their shitty jeans.
I want to hang on the line and get all torn up.
I want to stare at women in shops when they’re not even that attractive,
just look expensive. And the perfume they wear isn’t so tempting
but it covers the sex they had hours before and how they
don’t want to smell of it anymore. Being ravaged is like
someone howling your name so it vibrates in
the caves of your sex. You want to ravage me, don’t you?
Don’t you want to ravage me? You want to ravage me so much
you don’t even know where to start, you haven’t
figured that out, or maybe when you’re alone and no one is there
the plan remains the same. Start from the top and work your way down.
This is no longer the poem I expected.
Being rejected has always got me hot — being turned down,
being wanted and turned down for no real reason, being desired
and being tormented, and not having what I want
gets the blood flowing to my knickers and when I’m really wet
I’m so wet I can’t do nothing about it and it hurts.
I can tell you this because nothing fazes you about me. At night
I lie like a little snail stuck to the edge of a wall and get really moist.
I don’t want to do it anymore. I’d like simply to talk
about other poetic pursuits, like addictions, and walking at dusk
and making soup. Hounds call after me where I run with shaved legs
to come back and make coffee. Just try something simple and easy
and do nothing with my mouth. My red and open mouth,
my wet and pink and closed mouth, swallowing,
my ordinary mouth with wet lips opening, my tongue —
fuck off, you said. I’m a big girl. I know you watch porn
and all the hairless girls with hopeless drug addictions lick each other
like stage-struck puppies. They don’t mean it, you know that.
It’s not like that when I get my tongue around someone;
it barely lasts five minutes most of the time, always has.
I don’t like it to go on for a long time. My scars itch and I get so wet
I get drowned. I’ve had boyfriends who’ve tried to get me
to watch porn with them but it’s the lack of perceived sensation,
their bodies just seem numb, like if they were enjoying it they’d
just melt. Melt into the screen, with their dumb, lame, orange
skin and a sound like you’re supposed to make when a climax comes,
so slow and steady you’re silk, the heart turning over
like a silk belt; the little black buckles of the heart snapping
in turn. I don’t want to take my clothes off for anyone; want to
sleep with my t-shirt on and wake in a fever, my legs closed
and my hands under my pillow. These things eat me up inside.
I want to be eaten up inside. I want to abstain.
I want to be hungry. I want to hunger for nothing, want
annihilation in a pile on the floor, want annihilation to creep
along the floor to my heels, push its head between my legs and seep
into my skin. All the things I have done before
are yesterday’s sins. Skinny dipping in the reservoir. Dressing up.
You’ve got to hide the mirror, you’ve got to hide
the mirror. You can’t handle me, and I’ll only last sixty seconds.
And I’m gonna brush my hair one hundred times
and wear red satin, and sit at the dresser, and look in the mirror
and in the mirror and in the mirror I saw
a girl, a little younger than me, as vacant as a dream of a house
in which everyone you know goes to live and disappears.
And I saw a girl, so tightly spun it’d take an avalanche
of desire. And I saw a girl so sad the whole sorry affair went by
without celebration. My head is very tired now
for all my thinking about my body, how different parts
of my body feel differently. I don’t understand why anyone would go
to a swingers party. Or watch handjob porn while their partner
wrote poetry. I don’t want to see anyone come
but you. I’m gonna brush my hair one hundred times, looking
in the mirror and hope to God I don’t
only last sixty seconds or maybe just hope that I don’t die too soon.
That the leather buckles that fasten my heart to my chest
are kept down, and a silver stream of semen
goes nowhere near my abdomen. I want
everything and more besides. I want the wholeness
of my psychological make-up to stay whole and ripe. I want my wholeness
to retain its mystery and I want my breasts to get bigger,
and my ass to get smaller, and my belly to disappear.
Like the orange girls who lick each other’s pale nipples;
orange like they’ve all come from some other land,
hairless like they’ve all come from some other place
where beauty gets defaced just so men can come all over
faces made ugly by insincerity. When you’re not sincere,
how can you climax? The afterthoughts of all of this are
I’m not worth the heat, sweat or blood pressure. If you had sex
all day with orange fictional Northern Goddesses, you’d not need
to go to the gym. When my boyfriend made me watch porn one time
they did a lot of bouncing. I kind of thought this looked
uncomfortable and strange. I thought if I did that all day I’d get bruised
inside and I imagined their purple, ermine, ruby insides
their uteruses lined with stinging salt. The baby that died
took a small part of my heart. I buried that baby
in the toilet of a downstairs flat, where it was so cold
the window had iced up. I have had to stop.
Blood pours into all of my poems like it floods
the veins around my clitoris when someone says they like my
name. So please do say it again.