Melissa Lee-Houghton was born in Wythenshawe, Manchester in 1982. She has had poems published widely, in magazines including Magma, Tears in the Fence and Succour and has poems forthcoming in The New Writer, The Reader and La Reata. She also writes regular reviews for The Short Review.
Melissa Lee Houghton’s A Body Made of You is a series of poems written for other writers, artists, strangers, lovers and friends. The process began by interviewing each muse, and then working from photographs and in a couple of cases, paintings of them or by them. Charged with sexuality and an uncomfortable sense of the strange, this debut collection introduces a powerful new voice in poetry.
“Melissa Lee-Houghton’s highly original and innovative debut might be considered an epistolary tour-de-force, split into fifteen sections dealing with Others identified only by their forename. We begin to see those named through the refractions and concerns of the poems, as they conjure relationships and exchanges, memories and transgressions in strikingly off-kilter, compelling narratives that often contain piercingly memorable lines. The final Other of the collection is actually a sublime self-portrait played out in the form of an interview and indeed the whole book can be seen as an extended interview or interrogation of intimacy. It is an extraordinary achievement and a must-read book for 2011.”
– Chris Hamilton-Emery
“Melissa Lee-Houghton’s A Body Made Of You is a restless book; images pile high full of a deep questioning of the friends, lovers and strangers who populate these poems. This collection is an intense ‘naming of parts’ made of body, soul, and memory.”
– John Siddique
“I feel alive when I read Melissa’s poetry. It is raw, anthropological and sassy. Sympathetic studies of character, gender and address that poke, prod, irritate and echo. She has a penetrative gaze, a deep compassion and turn of phrase that recalls Alan Bennett. Her dramatic glimpses of being are full of honesty, wit and understanding. Pour yourself a favourite tipple and imbibe. You will feel the range of psychology; her emotional and poetic register and be in awe at its resonance. You will see her double vision.”
– David Caddy
your foreign bread smell
boiled bagels shoulders
round like potato, oily
inner fish skin sweet yeast
burned bonfire matchwood tongue
marijuana kiss old as bees
moustache curled walrus
sarsaparilla earlobes call
like a tender drunk piss
smells of old books rub
olive oil in your skin
straight nails the pink of
teary eyes skin like fresh
paint still moist the heat
droops the eyelids summer
is tiring on your feet
tepid showers matted
eyelashes like wet dog fur
straightened out for an alien
feet like Roman tiles veins
like common worms your leg
gets lonely in bed purrs
in sleep a cat dying
happily, your violence is just
frustration at the size
of things my hands
and just smaller than yours
we smash things like we’re
children, ninety per cent
of your ticklish skin
by my sad wick tongue.
Rumi was our wedding gift from you. A reminder
of ecstasy; you think me a denouncer of prayer
in favour of blank idols, but I have prayed
like only a whore knows how.
You’re blonde, you have the features of purgatory,
the feminine blueprint; tragedy has aged your
god and he is earthly. You feel his cold blood
in the clay, the places your mother implored you
to feel for. You should wear your summer hat –
don’t let your skin burn, your precious skin
is delicate, will peel like a shroud from the body
of a pharaoh. What brave language
have you made in me, have you freed, succour
with the alabaster bones of your love and faith;
your blood is the silk that creases in your dressed
gestures, I know the thing you haven’t told.
Secrets do not matter. They are only sugar
and fat soap. Your soul was Mayan; it was burned
into the flesh of a sleeping child; it was fed
on the equilibrium of pain and the beauty
of dead sunset. Be careful, it’s not your fault
you burn so easily, squirm at rivers, bloated sheep;
the breath of a son in your lap or a buttercup’s
gold glowing life in a beam on your throat.
from A Body Made of You (Penned in the Margins, 2011).
Order A Body Made of You.
Visit Melissa’s blog.
Date: 23 April
Time: 7.30 pm
Venue: Nexus Art Cafe, Dale Street, Manchester
with readings from Annie Clarkson and Michael Egan