Franklin Mason - It is Paris and the Twenties again and Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway are much alive. Hemingway again has four wives but this time all at the same time. But that doesn't keep him from running off to Pamplona with Miss Stein and running with the bulls. There's a party at Sara and Gerald Murphy's that is strangely like one of Gatsby's

Slikovni rezultat za Franklin Mason, Four Roses in Three Acts,
Franklin Mason, Four Roses in Three Acts, Fiction Collective 2, 1980.

It is Paris and the Twenties again and Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway are much alive. Hemingway again has four wives but this time all at the same time. But that doesn't keep him from running off to Pamplona with Miss Stein and running with the bulls. There's a party at Sara and Gerald Murphy's that is strangely like one of Gatsby's. There's a literary cast of thousands. Some may see it all as a spoof, namely on Hemingway's own "The Torrents of Spring." But all's well that ends well, or so we hope.

"You'd have thought The Torrents of Spring had rendered further parodic visions of the twenties impossible, but you'd have been wrong. Four Roses in Three Acts is both economical and wonderfully sustained."—Hugh Kenner

Jay Marvin - Punk Noir. The first great crime writer of the 21st century, who dips his pen into warm blood and shattered bone and paints his unflinching view of how it is out there. An honest voice in an age of whining, emotionless hacks

Slikovni rezultat za Jay Marvin, The White Trash Chronicles,
Jay Marvin, The White Trash Chronicles, Hats Off Books, 2001.

The White Trash Chronicles is another chapter in the on-again, off-again unfolding saga of Jay Marvin's self proclaimed "Punk Noir" writing style. This collection of poems deals with stormy relationships, down-and-out lives, and life as seen through a muddy camera lens.

Jay Marvin dips his pen into warm blood and shattered bone and paints his unflinching view of how it is out there. An honest voice in an age of whining, emotionless hacks. He’s a friend and a valuable creative spirit. - Tom Russell

Meet Jay Marvin, the first great crime writer of the 21st Century. - Edward Bunker
Slikovni rezultat za Jay Marvin, Punk Blood,
Jay Marvin, Punk Blood, Fiction Collective 2, 1998.
read it at Google Books

Scene follows scene until one realizes that all of the scenes are rendered more or less uniformly. The torrent of words spilling from Cohen’s brain gives his father’s mysterious disappearance the same weight as his pal’s buying speed, or what’s happening in the porn video on TV.
Cohen wonders about an old girlfriend, takes a shower and then kidnaps, strips and murders two college girls in the desert. No event is more significant than any other. To someone who cannot feel, all of life is a passing parade of visual images.
Cohen’s is the awareness of someone constantly watching TV, where shampoo makes your hair shine longer and bombers waste a factory in Sudan.
Cohen gives us a glimpse of the other side, that of the life-long outlaw, whose actions differ from ours, but whose thoughts and feelings may not. Cohen is a self-actualized loser, America’s shadow.

One hell of a writer or the hell of a writer? Both. Jay can take you along on breathless rides on the wings of his very peculiar, black and sad songs: hold on and let the rhythm of his prose take you to the very center of his world. Where the anguish of life and death meets with the aesthetical joy only a true author can produce. - Vittorio Curtoni

Jay Marvin’s words have sand in their teeth and dead neon in their eyes. He knows us; he knows our scarred underbelly. There are no maps for the places in this book — bring a large suitcase and keep your eyes wide open. It’s a hell of a ride. - Bill Schields

Marvin writes like a maniac. He hears things that many of us miss. He puts those things on paper where they are exceedingly strange and evocative. His work is never short of stun gun sharp.
- Frederick Barthelme

Slikovni rezultat za Jay Marvin, Punk Blood,

When I was in high school, someone said I should listen to late nights on WLS-AM in Chicago. There was a young fresh voice on the air which I would enjoy. His name was Jay Marvin. I listened. I thought that he was not my cup of tea. He was ridiculous prank calling WGN Radio's Extension 720 program, saying dumb things, then hanging up. Of course, he was doing this while on the air. Aside from that, I thought he was okay. The person who first told me about Jay insisted that if I gave him a chance, he would win me over. The person said Jay champions the little guy. Jay attempts to be the voice of those who do not have one. He does great work to bring awareness to mental health issues in the world. I kept listening and in very short order, I had become a fan of his show. In fact, I loved it. He in fact did take calls from people with mental health issues who screamed out for help. Unlike others, Jay listened. He tried to help these callers both on and off the air. Wanting to establish myself in radio, I reached out to Mr. Marvin and he actually took the time to call me back, answer my questions, and sounded genuinely interested in my life and story. Eventually, he left Chicago and moved around the country. I was not able to find him until I was in college hosting a radio talk show where I would do my best to interview various media members about the latest stories or the media's role in information gathering or entertainment providing. I have been lucky enough to become friends with Jay over the years. Besides being a wonderful talk show personality, he writes and paints. In fact, you can buy two of his books at the following sites. Please take the time to read about Jay Marvin as well as his books. You will be entertained and moved by his words. - Sexy Isra    
Slikovni rezultat za Jay Marvin, death dance
Jay Marvin, Death Dance, Howling Dog Press,
40+ pages sample (issuu)

“Jay Marvin is a throwback to the hard, gritty, naturalistic writing of the ’30s and ’40s when characters didn’t spend all of their time doing lunch or seducing their students. He joins Algren, Wright, Conroy, Olson, and Cain.” - Ishmael Reed
“Marvin writes like a maniac. He hears things that many of us miss. He puts those things on paper where they are exceedingly strange and evocative. His work is never short of stun gun sharp.” - Frederick Barthelme
“Jay Marvin dips his pen into warm blood & shattered bone and paints his unflinching view of how it is out there…. [He] is a product of the front lines: Border towns, porno theaters, wrestling auditoriums, radio stations, used car lots, mental hospitals, twelve hours on the surgery table, years in rehab … and all of it. His poetry is a testament to a life lived. Read him. Weep or laugh. But read him. Amen.” - Tom Russell
“Superior to the tough language, or the harsh and bleak landscape is Jay Marvin’s capacity for capturing, then holding hostage, characterization & conflict. His voice is authentic, his experience visceral—in tandem they seem singularly enormous. A frenetic sense of obscure panic careens amok throughout his lines. Marvin’s poetry drives hard, hot & furious through the darkest shadows of the human psyche. Has anyone else written poetry noir? To my knowledge, no--not before Jay Marvin--as original an inventor of style as they come. Better take him seriously; Jay Marvin will generate a lot of imitators, but none who understand the genre to the depths that he does.”~ Michael Annis
"I don't think I have ever recommended a book on Facebook before, but I am doing it now. I am reading Death Dance by Jay Marvin, published by Howling Dog Press. As hard to read as it is hard to put down--think Genet meets de Sade meets Kerouac; you're on the road, but it's a dark road indeed, crossing a landscape where the line between a dark thought and a dark deed is nonexistent. Marvin throws a lot of punches; he's Bukowski without the politeness, which makes Death Dance a bruising read. With stark and startling images by artist Jeff Kappel that, like the prose, get under your skin like a splinter and stay there. Marvin is more Rimbaud than Auden; there's no Augustan distance here; it's personal. (As an aside, this book is published by an independent press which I support greatly.) You may be disburbed by this read, but not disappointed."- Regina A. Walker

Jay Marvin Simmers Down

Judy Lopatin - Seventeen stories tell of a rock singer's experiences with men, ghosts, painters, prostitutes, photographers, murderers, the Paris underworld, and secret lives

Slikovni rezultat za Judy Lopatin, Modern Romances,
Judy Lopatin, Modern Romances, Fiction Collective 2, 1986.
read it at Google Books

Seventeen stories tell of a rock singer's experiences with men, ghosts, painters, prostitutes, photographers, murderers, the Paris underworld, and secret lives.

Judy Lopatin's first collection of stories trains a quirky, agile intelligence on the New York-Paris axis, locating romance in hospitals, opium dens, law firms, movie theaters.
They're hardly love stories, though. Modern romances are invariably someone else's, vicarious pleasures available to eavesdroppers and voyeurs. In fact, the only successful romance here is the one between the author and the various genres she takes apart and tinkers with. ''The Real Life of Viviane Romance'' exploits the tough-guy rhythms of detective fiction with tongue in cheek. ''Trixie Taylor, Hospital Nurse'' brings a similarly pulpish accent to its story of an unpopular R.N.: ''For the first time in years Trixie Taylor thought about the dull fiance she had escaped marrying.
The hospital is my husband, Trixie thinks. But perhaps a dull husband these days. She laughs suddenly, dangerously.'' Less indebted to genre, ''Nuit Blanche,'' ''Krystal Goes Mystical'' and ''Retrospective on Weegee'' - a rumination on the 1940's photographer whose voyeuristic work dovetails perfectly with Ms. Lopatin's - are equally successful in working the connection between romance and imagination. It's refreshing to see a story collection that breaks cleanly out of the narrow circuit of family disputes and revelations. ''Modern Romances'' has its failures; the title story, for example, offers a neat package of new wave goods whose calculated titillations (bored violence, bored sex) already seem stale. Still, it's a debut of cool wit, wide range and promise. - James Marcus

This first collection of stories, set mostly in New York and Paris, takes much of its inspiration from the more experimental wing of American fiction, but its most affecting moments are those with more ordinary characters and situations. Skill, empathy and wit exist here; still, when the varied stories are added up, the arty writer tends to win out over her characters, stunting them in favor of fictional devices and an emphasis on mysticism, S&M and other dark, fashionable fascinations. In the relatively homespun ""Nuit Blanche,"" a lonely American woman ventures more deeply than she had planned into the Paris nightclub world. Set in a Detroit suburb, ""A Murder History"" creates an eerie effect as two strangers, a man and a woman, discover they shared a grade-school teacher who never forgot that a student grew up to be a murderer: unbeknowst to the woman it's this man. And two stories set in staid law firms work well, going against the book's generally more exotic grain. But the more formally experimental stories, which make up much of the rest of the book, evoke little real feeling--the fractured narratives; the shock effects; the wise, ironic comments on modern life; all wear thin without the backing of strong characters or ideas. All in all, a mixed bag by an author whose preoccupations with fiction's techniques can sometimes dry up our interest in her subject matter. - Kirkus Reviews

Judy Lopatin keeps me up all night with this collection of fiction. I wanted to read one story each night before going to sleep, but couldn't put the book down! My curiosity overtook me, and I just had to see who the next set of characters would be in the next story, and what kind of a twist of fate they might encounter. The author introduces us to a variety of characters --- from ghosts to everyday working people --- all with one thing in common --- the experience of romance in some form. If you were or are a Twilight Zone fan, you'll absolutely treasure this collection of bizarre love stories --- and they are timeless. They never get old. This is some of the cleverest writing I have ever experienced. Judy Lopatin is truly a gifted author. I hope we see more of her work soon! - I Loved Modern Romances! amazon.com

"At three in the morning one morning, Dominica returns to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, a painter. In relation to painters- and Dominica has had a long string of painter-boyfriends- Dominica sees herself as a capable, pragmatic businesswoman. But she also likes a little beauty in her life. Her current painter, Dietrich, paints crudely but colorfully, and he is also known as the most beautiful boy in the city. He doesn't mind what she does. Dietrich is the romantic type, lost in the clouds and the bottle. He thinks Dominica is pretty and sweet and sweet and wicked, all at the same time, and that excites him

Slikovni rezultat za Judy Lopatin, Modern Romances,


Tommy Hazard - 'Takeaway' takes the form of a spoken ghostwritten memoir reminiscent of gangster memoirs and celebrity autobiographies, but gives the format over to a funny, cynical London ambulance driver

Image of Takeaway by Tommy Hazard
Tommy Hazard, Takeaway, Morbid Books, 2017.

Takeaway is the story of a cynical, violent and politically incorrect Hackney ambulance driver who goes by the name of Tommy Hazard.

“Postcards sent from the sick soul of the city, Takeaway is vital. Hazard’s visceral depiction of ambulance life at the NHS frontline recalls Hogarth and Dickens in its depth and colour.”
- Benjamin Myers

"Takaway is a cynical low-life cocktail that will make you retch. I haven't read the book but I liked the monkey the publisher bunged me so much that I can recommend this and everything else they've put out. If you only buy one book this year then get something by me – but if you can stretch to two paperbacks then score this one as well!" – Stewart Home

There were three reasons this small, scarlet volume appealed to me. I love Hackney, I am always interested in any seedy tales of a city’s underbelly, and for a long time I harboured the wrong-footed wish to be an ambulance driver (I’ve never even owned a provisional licence).
Takeaway is a collection of anecdotes from the perspective of Tommy Hazard, an ambulance driver working in Hackney. It jumps with a sparky energy.
In these days of NHS crises, the book surely has a wide appeal, as it succinctly narrates dozens of mishaps of normal people, including more relatable characters and those who ‘but for the grace of god…’
On the back of the pocket-sized Takeaway is a recommendation from the writer Benjamin Myers, aptly describing the book as Dickensian: the characters the narrator meets in London’s streets and homes are diverse, and often society’s ‘outcasts’.
We meet NHS users deserving and otherwise, from casualties of drink, drugs and sex to a schoolgirl who swallowed a pin.
The short anecdotes become heavier in tone toward the end with suicides and suffering, yet all the while the book retains a sense of humour.
So you go in there, there’s somebody lying on the sofa. “What’s the matter?”
“I can’t breathe. I can’t walk.”
“Who opened the door?”
“I did.”

People who do this think they are the first to have pulled this trick, but we see it every day.
Little escapes the wily eye of the narrator, giving an ‘inside scoop’ or conspiratorial feeling to the book. This feeling made me clean forget about ‘fiction’ label on the front: Tommy Hazard is believable because he is not without his flaws, trying to skive off or handle a morning shift with a hangover.
At first, his hard-line approach to triaging calls as either time-wasting or futile reads as unsympathetic, even righteous, but you soon begin to feel just as weary.
Tommy Hazard is the collective pseudonym of Lewis Parker and another writer. Parker is a poet, and is behind the independent publisher Morbid Books. Alongside Takeaway, Morbid Books puts out the political/literary magazine periodical A VOID.
It is unsurprising then that Takeaway has a literary finesse, with its numbered lines recounting poetry or even Bible verses. The red cover and layout is homage to the German publisher Reclam. One of Lewis Parker’s favourite books is Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, a haphazard collection of stories with themes of addiction and alienation in the USA (Takeaway contains an epigraph from Johnson).
Despite the ‘fiction’ labelling, and like Jesus’ Son, a lot of the stories told by Tommy Hazard actually did happen.
The book also points to a wider truth about the uniquely spirited borough of Hackney that residents might relate to. As Hazard recounts, misfortune doesn’t discriminate: “It’s got nothing to do with how wealthy the street is, white or black, it’s a kind of mystical thing, a madness that sets in.” - Jade King

This is a tiny book. A tiny red book. It’s described as a novella, but feels pleasingly like a monologue, or something in an oral tradition. As an object, I liked the book’s attention to detail: ‘Cover design and layout dedicated to Reclam, Universal Bibliothek’. Something ‘fuck you’ and something of the scholar. And there’s a playful comment by Stewart Home on the back, calling Takeaway 'a cynical low-life cocktail that will make you retch.’ Home is an artist, filmmaker, writer, pamphleteer, art historian, and activist, who has dedicated years to punching up counter-cultural activity, though he is best known for his novels such as the non-narrative 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess (2002); also, you’ve got Ben Myers, award-winning author and one of the finest novelists working in Britain today, noting on the cover that ‘the depiction of ambulance life at the NHS frontline recalls Hogarth and Dickens in its depth and colour.’ Though Takeaway is a vivid, breathlessly done sketch and not a finely wrought artefact, we’re still not too far away from Gaffer Hexam in Our Mutual Friend, who makes his living plumbing the river for corpses, or the characters in Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress and A Rake’s Progress, or Beer Street and Gin Lane.
Some might find this book shocking in its descriptions of dying and depravity. I do not. This may be because I’ve learned quotidian dark humour (and deploy it in all my writings) because I was surrounded by out-and-out weirdness from an early age, plus illness of all sorts, terrible deaths, sectionings, disappearances and other unexplained events. So you cannot shock me, Tommy. Even if you are a renegade Hackney ambulance driver who takes us through his shifts and his colleagues; the people who tell lies and those who are genuinely in need; the old people who’d still give you a kicking if they could - because ‘Selfish cunts get old too’ - and the man who purportedly has a lightbulb up his bottom. (He doesn’t, though he cannot explain where it went.) Tommy ‘worked with one paramedic who had his finger bitten off by a Guardian journalist. If he was some Benefits Street type character . . . he’d get eighteen months, but I think they let him off with a fine.’ I laughed, then thought I shouldn’t: guilty pleasures; bitter aftertaste.
The book looks at how or why someone might call an ambulance to try and get rid of an elderly relative and what might happen to someone who is an alcoholic and has been found accommodation in an old people’s home; at the activities of someone entirely wasted who goes back to their corporate world on Monday morning. It made me think, all this. About what people do. I see spectacular kindness all around me, but I also saw distant relatives appear when a dear older alcoholic friend was desperately ill; so nice, they were that they inherited everything and threw all her cheaper (but treasured) possessions in a skip in front of those who really, truly loved her. And I’ve been a carer and also been in and out of Mental Health services and seen some shockers. And I liked Tommy because, although he skives and dives and copulates once in the back of the truck with a ‘Nurse Shipman’ while she performs erotic near asphyxiation, he is funny and aware of what’s kind, how you should look after your mother if she’s covered in shit and where it’s best to die. He was lazy and rude, but he was decent and knowledgeable, too.
There are startling sections on when you know, immediately, if someone is dead or not (‘. . . there was no . . . structure . . .’); there are particular streets where the ambulance is called and streets where they often attend, and the provenance of these patterns remains a mystery. This passage, previously published in Hotel magazine, is about ‘The Zone’:
‘We were physically in the same borough of London, but we clearly had such radically different perceptions of the world that we were barely inhabiting the same place at all. We were in two different zones that overlapped geographically, but not psychologically . . . my crewmate and I spend more time in the zone than we do in our own lives . . . to show you the madness that goes on in this other zone, they reckon about a hundred people in London account for something like fifty percent of all the ambulance callouts. It’s like they want a gold membership card, or a special closeness with their god, the fear of death.’
Tommy wonders whether people think that if they cheat the NHS, they might cheat death; it is a weird but fascinating scenario. People are pathetic but also understandable when they come up against eschatological stuff. Though the book does not stint on somatic or psychosomatic symptoms, these are not belittled but approached practically, like Mr P’s fits on demand. The author is not mocking, although he does give short shrift to those who are too thick to grasp what’s going on. Neither does the text stint on suicide and its modes, sex, mental illness or other people’s cruelty. It shouldn’t have been funny that one Welsh lad had ‘Land of my Fathers’ on a loop, but I’ve learned to laugh in the oddest places.
Humour, even in its darkest reaches, is coping and a corollary of love and compassion. Irreverent, appalling, insensitive humour can be a form of generosity if it’s shared. There was one final scene best described as arresting and which I am sure plenty of people would find offensive. However, having seen a badly managed death which involved sheer terror for all, I might have a different insight here. There’s an ‘old girl’ who’s decided to die at home:
 '"You mum has decided to die at home," I said. "We should respect her wishes."
Because they want so badly to get her into hospital, they start making things up. Absurd things. Cruel things, about her spiritual belief and cognitive abilities.’
When the specialist nurse arrives, it’s a freshening air in a murky little flat and she wastes no time in making the old girl comfortable, propping her up with two pillows and popping her chin onto her chest:
‘. . . we’d never seen such empathy.
The nurse had suffocated her.’

There follows an extraordinary scene in the back of the ambulance with this nurse and ‘I guide her cold, white hands over my throat.’ Tommy has both some musings on the erotic and that ‘this mass of crippled souls needs euthanasia nurses more than it needs a mayor’. We are awake to unpalatable suffering here; that not everyone is cared for; that there isn’t always love or appropriate resource and that Eros and Thanatos hold hands.
Have a read; a quick read. A joke and a drink. There are shades of the Dickens and Hogarth, yes perhaps, but remember Denis Johnson, whose Jesus' Son is quoted as preface: 'What I write about,' Denis Johnson once said, 'is the dilemma of living in a fallen world, and asking why it is like this if there's supposed to be a god.'  - Anna Vaught

“they reckon about a hundred people in London account for something like fifty percent of all the ambulance callouts. It’s like they want a gold membership card, or a special closeness with their god, the fear of death.”
Takeaway, by Tommy Hazard, offers an uncompromising look at the realities facing an NHS ambulance driver in contemporary London. The honesty is shocking in places so used have we become to expressing thoughts in language deemed acceptable by those who have made it their business to police such things. The tales told are refreshingly devoid of standard public censorship. Although at times derogatory it is to expectations and behaviours rather than people.
Written in the voice of an experienced ambulance driver, part of a team that has established an inner detector honing in on who may actually benefit from hospital treatment, the anecdotes recounted bring to light how often ambulance callouts are unnecessary. Prospective patients are drunk, on drugs, suffering indigestion or simply seeking attention. Families do not wish to deal with difficult or messy relatives. They want the problem of responsibility to be taken away. When a true emergency happens – a heart attack, attempted suicide or road traffic accident – sometimes the kinder action is to accept the inevitable. Those looking on increasingly expect a miracle, as seen on TV.
“we’re judged on how many of those dead people we can bring back to life. Most of those dead people are dead for a reason. Forty years of smoking, drinking a bottle of whiskey a day. […] Only five percent of people come back when we do CPR and the rest of it. Out of that, how many of them actually have a quality of life? A tiny amount. […] The natural way of dying is the heart stops beating, oxygen stops going to the brain, the brain cuts out. As you’re going through that dying process, your head is most likely producing some psychedlic, drug, and you imagine you see a tunnel of light or the gates of heaven. Imagine you’re going through that relatively blissful drug experience, and some [f- c-] starts trying to reverse it […] your relatively pleasant death is turned into this brutal forty-minute procedure […] I feel sorry for the people for whom it’s their last experience on this planet.”
The ambulance teams have regulars – patients with complex issues that cannot be sorted by a visit to A&E. The drivers must also circumvent a bureaucracy that values public perception, targets and adherence to listed procedures over what may be of longer term benefit to the patient. There are run-ins with the police, with violent criminals, and with privileged office workers on a night out who require protection from the effects of their own idiocy.
When an ambulance is called – say to pick up an elderly person who has fallen over because carers are not allowed to lift people, or because a woman is suffering vaginal bleeding (monthly?) – that vehicle becomes, for a time, unavailable. This is rarely a concern as callouts missed are unlikely to be time critical. Knowing this the drivers are not always rushing to get back to work.
Although trying to act in a calm and professional manner drivers are human and can become enraged by the way they and the services they offer are treated, especially when they decline to comply with self-entitled expectations and problem shifting.
Written as a series of short and fascinating examples of cases, this book provides mordant entertainment through attitudes and reactions to incidents. It is also food for thought about how each reader would wish to be treated should they one day require an ambulance team’s skills and services.

- Jackie Law goodreads

I’m going to open with a confession and acknowledge that I missed a stage in the continued growth of Morbid Books.
The last time said publisher made their mark here on Triumph of the Now was about a year ago, when L. Parker, the publisher, and I had a public falling out over the tone of a fiction chapbook they published, Sex with Theresa May and Other Fantasies. This falling out was exacerbated by me – while in a suicidal depression tbf so I was not making the best decisions (bet you want me to add: “like not actually killing myself lolol” but I won’t because I’m happier now) – publishing some email correspondence between myself and Parker. That mess has all blown over now, I think, but as Parker will be reviewing my poetry collection Bad Boy Poet for this site soon, we’ll know FOR DEFINITE. Anyway, whether he’s still seething daily about our opposing politics or not, Parker and his press have both been busy. Since last Spring, Morbid Books have released two issues of a journal, two poetry collections, a record, some clothing and also this surprisingly masterful paramedic novella, Takeaway by Tommy Hazard.
Takeaway is – or at least should be – a significant book, though I think Parker does the text as it stands no favours by describing its protagonist as “politically incorrect” in the blurb on his website. Parker is, I think, one of those people I read about in the New Statesman who decry the “mainstream liberal agenda” and see things like “political correctness” as “an erosion of free speech”. It’s not: I am happy to admit to being a “virtue signalling” “social justice warrior”, if what that phrase means is that I try to make an effort to be less of a dick and feel bad when I fail at that, which is what I think the phrase means.
On Twitter – when I first commented that I was enjoying Takeaway – Parker expressed surprise, stating that he thought I may have been too “squeamish” to enjoy the text. What he meant by this, I feel, is that he expected me to be offended by Takeaway in the same way that I was offended by Sex With Theresa May. I wasn’t, because this is a very different text. Although both of the books share a certain tone of dark humour, in SWTM that humour manifests in a proper alt-right-4chan-anything-goes-free-speech kinda style, whereas in this novella the humour is observational, realistic, and – to be blunt – no one is sexually assaulted.
Takeaway is an impressive, nuanced, text that is apparently based on events that have happened to real life paramedics. Whether or not that statement is true, certainly the writing within the book evokes truth, and having read the text I now feel surprisingly well versed on the gritty reality of the London Ambulance Service.
The book is beautifully presented in a deliberate nod to “the Reclam pocket editions of Germany and Austria” and the author, Tommy Hazard, is a shared pseudonym for Parker and “someone who knows a lot more about driving an ambulance”. The text is a series of episodic responses to reported emergencies: some are serious, but most are an utter waste of time. These episodes are narrated bluntly and engagingly in the first person, and show a certain disconnect from society that feels like a very likely response to mostly seeing people in heightened states.

Even though it is selling itself as an un-PC picaresque tract, Takeaway is a genuinely impressive piece of literature that provides a believable and engaging literary exploration of the life of paramedics in London. In contrast to the self-conscious poor taste of Sex With Theresa May and Morbid Books’ multiple Oulipo-inspired tight-theme haiku collections, this is a book that is accessible in both form and content. I was expecting Takeaway to be dehumanising and possibly even dismissive of empathy, but it’s not: this is a rich and moving piece of faux-reportage realist fiction that describes the problems and the importance of the ambulance service. Overworked, understaffed and plagued by near-full-time timewasters, the narrator and his friends may be tough, angry and skiving when they can, but there is a willingness and a dedication to care that doesn’t come from selfishness, but instead from a kinda loose awareness of duty. Yes, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it, and these men and women seem to accept that the said someone is them.
This isn’t a paramedic picaresque where unconscious patients are robbed or assaulted, this isn’t a paramedic picaresque where the vulnerable are exploited, and the only sex the narrator has is with a fellow member of NHS staff. The paramedics aren’t angels, sure, but nobody is – not me, not L. Parker, not anyone.
In capturing this sense of duty, the importance of the ambulance service and the repercussions of underfunding the NHS, a clear traditionalist pro-NHS narrative could be said to underlie the book. In fact, maybe it is this traditionalism that underscores Parker’s other work and bubbles out elsewhere in such – to me – unattractive ways. “Remember when we could joke about anally raping the Prime Minister?” isn’t a huge amount of steps away from “Remember when ambulance drivers were tough bastards?”, both of which – I think – are statement en route towards “Remember when everyone in the street was white?” In my opinion, traditionalism and conservatism are the same thing, and I don’t like it. No one is better than anyone else, for any reason: there are no indications of merit, we’re all just sophisticated animals. Do as we would have other do unto us, like.
So, I stand by my assertion of last Summer that there is no political justification for violent sexual assault fantasies, and even though he’s a bit of a bloke, a bit of a lad, the central voice in Takeaway is a caring, generous, persona and far removed from the destructive, sexually exploitative voice that controls Sex with Theresa May. This is valid, important, urgent, writing, and I commend Parker and his secret collaborator for making it. HOWEVER, if the intention of Takeaway was to shock and disgust and appall sensitive snivelly liberals like myself, then perhaps it’s not the piece it was meant to be: there is nothing unjustifiably unpleasant about this text.
A great book. Very very much worth a read. - scott manley hadley

James Knight's review (pdf)

Melissa Lee-Houghton - a sharp shot of misanthropy and degeneracy. The often-bleak reality is the price worth paying for continued access to the dual desires that rule them - each other, and heroin.

Image of That Lonesome Valley - a novel by Melissa Lee-Houghton

Melissa Lee-Houghton, That Lonesome Valley, Morbid Books, 2019.

Melissa Lee-Houghton’s debut novel is destined to become a classic of degenerate literature. It ranks alongside Trainspotting and Burroughs’ Junkie as a pre-eminent text on drug addiction and destitution.

All lovers have something in common, something which ties them together. For Morgan and Florence, the dual narrators of the ouroboros-like ‘That Lonesome Valley’, that something is heroin.
Split across two sections, each told from the point of view of one half of the couple, That Lonesome Valley by Melissa Lee-Houghton is in many ways not an easy novel to delve into.
Its protagonists are unreliable, often frustrating and sometimes deeply unlikable, and the cyclical nature of addiction means that there is little plot progression.
Yet the deft use of language by Melissa Lee-Houghton — she made her name as a poet, and her mastery of the form often leaches into her prose, too — makes That Lonesome Valley a fascinating and, well, addictive read.
If you’re looking for a book with an anti-drug or moral stance, this is not that book. While both of the main characters are honest about the devastation their drug abuse has brought into their lives at times, there is a sense of inevitability about it.
For Morgan and Florence, the world is simply too cruel, intolerable or just plain tedious to truly consider any other form of living. Their dependence on each other and on drugs are an attempt to escape their surroundings and themselves. After all, why would people turn to drugs in the first place if not because the world feels impossible to live with sober?
While it’s too simplistic to call That Lonesome Valley a love story, these twinned obsessions form the spine of the book itself, with each section mirroring the desire for escape through devotion and narcotics back at the other. Indeed, often I was left wondering how much of their relationship would survive if the addiction which links them to each other so symbiotically was taken away.
For all it avoids taking an entirely condemnatory viewpoint, Melissa Lee-Houghton doesn’t shy away from portraying often-harrowing reasons addiction can take hold, the gruesome effects of withdrawal and the reality of everyday life as an addict.
Her writing is vivid and immersive, the endless grimy bedsits and the misery of the comedown sketched with startling clarity. Yet, to its inhabitants, the crux of the decision they have made (and of the book itself) is this: the often-bleak reality is the price worth paying for continued access to the dual desires that rule them — each other, and heroin.
Overall, though it’s occasionally a frustrating read (I have to admit I preferred Florence’s ‘half’ of the narrative, harrowing as it often was, over Morgan’s more introspective and somewhat self-absorbed section), That Lonesome Valley is beautifully written and not without a streak of hope.
There are moments of grace and tenderness scattered throughout the squalor, with the characters finding moments of joy and strength within a system set up to see them fail. Its cast of characters feel startlingly real, and despite its subject matter it avoids becoming either an apologia or a moral tract. That Lonesome Valley is a raw and honest book which will stay with me for some time.
- http://forbookssake.net/2019/07/23/lonesome-valley-melissa-lee-houghton/

...The novel is split into two halves, each one narrated by the perspective of a person within the same romantic couple. Though there are flashbacks within both, the text tells a chronological narrative of people struggling with addiction (and other health and personal problems) as they try to move forwards/sideways with their lives. Lee-Houghton’s personal life has not been without its own tragedies, and these are directly referred to in the blurbs at the start of this book. But this isn’t autobiography: this is fiction, and the overlaps or similarities between Lee-Houghton’s own experiences and the story she tells here are fucking irrelevant. What her own life gives is the justification for telling this story, because it’s about poverty and addiction and mental illness and trauma, all of which are topics regularly fictionalised by people who’ve had barely any fucking connection to any of these things. This story isn’t Lee-Houghton’s because [things like] it happened to her, it is her story because she wrote it and it’s very well written.
Lee-Houghton is an incredibly talented writer and able to evoke pain and horror and addiction as well as she can write joy and excitement and pleasure and love. This is a dark novel, but it is dark because it speaks honestly to the world in which we live: quite often the bad bits of life outweigh the good bits, and a less skilled/nuanced/talented writer would have rendered this narrative as far darker than it has ended up. Life is not an unrelenting torrent of terrible things, and most of us (not all of us) can easily make our lives sound like they are if want to. A weaker writer would have written about a romantic relationship with mutually-perpetuating cycles of substance use and substance addiction as an unequivocally negative thing. Of course, though, this isn’t the case in reality.
Traditionally, people would fall in love because of a shared interest in status and money, whereas more recently a shared interest in the same holiday destinations, in binge-watching the same TV shows, in reading the same books, in listening to the same music, in eating the same food, whatever, are considered good, solid, things to initially bond in a relationship over: why shouldn’t a shared interest in intoxication be equally as valid? Yes, a relationship that is entirely reliant on this is maybe not likely to last, but nor is a relationship entirely reliant on Game of Thrones (it’s over) or anything else external. Sometimes we can be brought together by things that do not sustain us: sometimes we find friends or lovers when we are together in bad places, bad spaces, but we are able to walk out of them together.
Falling in love and being in love is a wonderful thing, but this can happen in the midst of all manner of other personal tragedies. We do not lose the ability to love when we are sick, when we are addicted, when we are depressed, when we are grieving: life is more complicated than that. If you still have any friends in adulthood who you met when you were a child you are definitely not enjoying each other’s company in the same way now as you used to: likewise friends you met in fresher’s week or other fucking party scenes. And in long-term relationships, too – for most of us – every night isn’t like the first date. And if it’s a good relationship, then that isn’t a bad thing.
Lee-Houghton’s writing explores what it is like to live with addiction, to feel abandoned and abused, to grieve, to hurt, but also to not lose the capacity for pleasure in life that comes from places other than the immediate and visceral.
The comfort of heroin – which, like in Trainspotting, comes across as overwhelmingly pleasureable – is a comfort that prevents the existence of other comforts. As the protagonists make clear, you can sustain the comfort of a relationship while both are addicted to heroin, but other potential comforts of life – creativity, health, a social life, a career, a family – are of necessity shed.
That Lonesome Valley is a novel about the choices we make and the things we must sacrifice to make ourselves content, especially the coping mechanisms that we use that threaten to overwhelm us. I’ve been on a heavy dose of SSRIs for two years now, and my emotional responses are inevitably dulled, but I wept at this novel, at several points. It is not only beautiful in its tragedy, but in its hope.
Why do we push on with living, with engaging with society, with speaking to other people and trying to create when we’re all just going to die eventually and intoxication can be such a perfect pleasure? Maybe there’s no truly right answer, but there are plenty of murky ones that offer something towards one. Getting to read beautiful prose in beautiful novels about love and the challenges we face as real humans is very much one of them. For me.
This is more discursive than I’d meant it to be, but fuck it. I had a deeply inappropriate rejection from a minor poetry magazine today that basically told me they thought I had no business writing anything. As a result of that, I’m feeling unapologetic for my creative output, which upwards of twenty people seem to enjoy at least a little bit, lol.
Anyway, this novel is wonderful and sad and happy and human. This is a strong recommend from me. - scott manley hadley
Slikovni rezultat za Melissa Lee-Houghton, The Faithful Look Away,

Melissa Lee-Houghton, The Faithful Look Away, Rough Trade Books, 2019.

In The Faithful Look Away, the acclaimed poet Melissa Lee-Houghton brings her full imaginative force to bear on a short fiction with all the hallmarks of her singular talent. Exploring domestic pressures, mental health, addiction and issues surrounding body image with a caustic wit, an almost physical delight in description and a wellspring of empathy, this story is yet another marker laid down by one of the most exciting authors currently writing in English.
Slikovni rezultat za Melissa Lee-Houghton, Sunshine,

Melissa Lee-Houghton, Sunshine,  Penned in the Margins, 2017.                                         
sample (pdf)
read it at Google Books

Sunshine is the powerful new collection from Next Generation Poet Melissa Lee-Houghton. Continuing the stark confessional style that has garnered critical acclaim and a growing fanbase, Sunshine is at times explicit, at others tender, sexual and dangerous. These poems ooze confidence and demonstrate Melissa's ability to shine a light on human emotion with startling precision.

Sunshine is the new collection from Next Generation Poet Melissa Lee-Houghton. A writer of startling confession, her poems inhabit the lonely hotel rooms, psych wards and deserted lanes of austerity Britain.
Sunshine combines acute social observation with a dark, surreal humour born of first-hand experience. Abuse, addiction and mental health are all subject to Lee-Houghton’s poetic eye. But these are also poems of extravagance, hope and desire, that stake new ground for the Romantic lyric in an age of social media and internet porn. In this new book of poems, Melissa Lee-Houghton shines a light on human ecstasy and sadness with blinding precision.
Includes ‘i am very precious’ – Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2016.

I feel I need to take a deep breath before trying to describe Melissa Lee-Houghton. The poems in Sunshine, written after two and a half years in psychiatric hospitals, out-Plath Sylvia – they are harrowing, raw and so charged with pain that at the end of each poem, literary comment seems beside the point.
Stunning … Lee-Houghton’s poetic world is the underside of mass culture – the black economies of porn, child abuse, prostitution and drug use, and the hidden economy of institutionalisation … Sunshine thrills, and sickens.
Anthemic and surprisingly glorious.
Distilled and achieved … There’s a sense that you’re always teetering right on the edge of something but Melissa pushes you a little bit further than most writers would. And yet the writing always feels very controlled.
Sunshine isn’t always an easy read. It’s heart-breaking, visceral, often sordid or hurtful … But it’s also a life-affirming book, open and freshly honest about the mess of being human, about female masturbation, about self-harm and cold unloved dingy rooms where women find themselves.
Brilliant, alarming, and as funny as it is sad.
Simply astonishing … it overflows with expansive, intense and troubling poems that leave a lasting impression.

‘I was born to love / a megalomaniac or an addict, and all I got was this t-shirt’ (‘Hella’)
Mephistopheles: Isn’t the real problem that this poetry scares you, because what it describes is so far out of your field of experience? You don’t have any authority over it, so you’re trying to abrogate authority through criticism.’ (John Clegg, ‘I’ll Find You’ – Essay’, Prac Crit 3)
‘We can all be kind to each other and can all love each other. It’s the pinnacle of human endeavour – everything that we strive for, everything that we do, is about the pursuit of love.’ (Melissa Lee-Houghton, interview with Michael Conley, Prac Crit 3)
Disclosure: Have not met the poet, friends on FB; review copy provided by Penned in the Margins. As with Clegg in his essay, much of the matter of Sunshine is outwith my experiences. While this is almost always the case, it’s more starkly so with Sunshine. In the linked interview Lee-Houghton states, ‘it’s an art form too. And a performance. It isn’t just me voicing my experience like a journalist or an autobiography’: the poet’s life and the reader’s encounter with the poem are not continuous, and the literary artefact should not be mistaken for historical fact. It would also be a mistake to assume a merely lit-crit approach would be a sufficient means toward a full understanding of the book.
I think this book is special, I’m not the best person to talk about it, I’m talking about it because I think it’s special; I hope this is worth something to you.
Review: In her keynote speech to TIFF a few months ago, Transparent creator Jill Solloway argued that at some level, almost all art contains the message ‘it is okay to be me’. From the endless superhero movies propagating white male saviourhood to the trans characters in her own tv show, art may be understood as, in Solloway’s words, ‘propaganda of the self’, which can preserve existing social hierarchies or challenge them, merely by presenting a particular way of being a body in that society. By doing so without passing judgement the artist challenges (or reinforces) what is acceptable, what is ‘normal’; as writer and critic Saladin Ahmed recently tweeted, if artists want to make a difference about Islamophobia, include Muslim characters in stories that aren’t about terrorism.
Sunshine is a difficult book to read. I read it more or less in one sitting a few months ago, and struggled to will myself to read it again for review. To be blunt, I’m attached to my sense of comfort, and Sunshine has no time for it. Its much-cited first line, ‘If Disney made porn they would pay us well for our trouble’, is typical of the book in that its ostensible brashness gives way to something more nuanced with repeated reading. These poems ask the reader (this reader, more to the point) to acclimatise, to keep responding beyond whatever initial shock one might experience, to allow each scene’s emotional complications to percolate. As ‘Video’, the book’s second poem, asserts, ‘There’s nothing final when you can play it again’; this opening tableau of a couple having apparently passionless sex in the bath is worth thinking over, and seems to shift on repeated reading:
‘we used to talk but now I just pull sad faces and you sympathise.
I was thinking about abstract things, like what distance means to lovers […]
I fit inside love like the breath in a flute. I will escape
at the slightest pause or hesitation. You need to clasp me.
You need to tie me down. Please. I want to go nowhere.’
What on first exposure might feel simply detached or affectless (‘[you] watched me clean / my pussy, and dry my body, and grow cold and silent again.’), emerges as one of its quieter, more peaceful moments after reading the whole book. The invocation of Disney (‘Immediately, a dozen bluebirds flew in and tidied your hair, / a gentle and spritely music soothed your brow’) exposes an unattainable, naïvely simplistic set of values; the poem seems to imply that there are other ways of loving and being loved, and sometimes the best case scenario is not the culturally affirmed, Disneyfied norm about romance. This is also okay. It is okay to be me. The speaker can be clasped. The speaker can go nowhere. Sometimes this is what love looks like, and it’s not necessary to understand it completely.

The opening poem is titled ‘And All the Things That We Do I Could Face Today’; it implicitly focuses on what can be faced, while that ‘and’ gives the impression that the reader has been abruptly included in a private moment, one that was happening before we arrived and will continue after we’re gone. It’s difficult to know to what degree the reader is being addressed in the lines:
‘I love you baby. I love all of you and I will never love myself.
This book is gonna be a killer. It’s gonna suck me dry,
suck me white, suck my insides out and leave me hollow and high.’
Those ‘gonna’s give me the impression what in pop music is merely read as highly marketable bravado is being harnessed here to the poem’s emotional reality. There is plenty of textual evidence in Sunshine to suggest its production was not a pleasant experience. Lee-Houghton seems to be couching this fear or anticipation in the familiar idiom of rock stardom, maybe in self-parody, maybe suggesting that such sentiments have been co-opted for mass consumption. This may also suggest that our position as readers is not innocent. It seems to me that unlike art in which our awareness of the artist’s real-world suffering is hidden or disguised, there is some kind of responsibility to be taken in how we read work like Sunshine. Not to treat it with kid gloves, but to witness it to the fullness of our abilities, to read as if the stakes were our own, to read as empathetically as we do critically.
Even if it were not the case, even if I was reading Sunshine like any other book, the quality of the literary work here is outstanding. Lee-Houghton writes at a level of emotional intensity that few single poems maintain, let alone entire collections. What’s striking about Sunshine is how little space it has for downtime, for moments of peace – how that opening poem starts to seem such an island of calm. These poems are repeatedly marked by moments of stunning lyric clarity:
‘The White Path was where the suicides went and where we sat on benches to get incredibly stoned and see through the history and the fog and the debris, the death that will come for us all in its most imaginative ways.’ (‘Hangings’)
‘From the hospital you watched the sun come up and I watched it break
its Day-Glo light on our half-empty bed. It was beautiful, you said –
it told me your shadow fell somewhere else; it consoled me
because it lent a colour to your bright and sincere absence.’ (‘Cobra’)
‘Give me hope, because hope will undo the eye-hooks and lay down
its black lace. Give me hope, because love aims always above our heads:
at sunshine.’ (‘Mad Girl in Love’)
I could go on. The book is full of these sudden, beautiful, unsettling flourishes, and a dozen readers could likely choose a dozen such passages without overlap. Perhaps the book’s most salient quality is not so much its urgency as this fullness, this tension between being overwhelmed by sensation or sensitivity on one hand and the poem’s attempts to maintain formal or narrative control on the other. It’s a powerful dynamic, and nowhere is it better exemplified than by ‘i am very precious’. In an interview at Prac Crit, Lee-Houghton described how ‘the poem is about men and women and the tensions between them and men being dominant,’ and how ‘In real life, these things are hard to put into words, but when I do it in poetry I build and create a safe haven for it to exist.’ As the poet also notes, ‘i am very precious’ inhabits a near-ecstatic state: ‘it’s wild and it doesn’t go any quieter’. The poem perhaps dramatizes the lengths necessary to create context for such a discussion to happen at all; if ‘rational’ discourse precludes our ability to say that ‘rationality’ is irreparably formed of dysfunctional gender biases, then other rhetorical forms must take over. Which is an inaptly dry way of noting that ‘i am very precious’, even in its title, goes to extraordinary lengths to assert its right to cultural space, its right to be heard, to be considered whole and valuable.

The poem itself navigates a series of sexual questions about the speaker and the culture in which she speaks, the poem’s ‘I’ and its ‘some people’:
‘Some people don’t actually want to be wanted.
Some people actually want to be harmed. I used to fantasize
about being annihilated.’
This easy movement between the personal and the general sets the speaker in the middle of her cultural moment, not an outlier or fluke but a logical conclusion. The poem plays out how that same culture (the one we’re sitting in right now) has deeply unhealthy attitudes to sexual desire, and how those attitudes diverge along strict gender binaries. The men in the poem are violent, numb and limited: the poem’s ‘you’ tells the speaker not to talk about her trauma, which she interprets as a kind of solidarity, but in context it reads as unwillingness to perform emotional labour. Men’s sexual advice to her extends as far as ‘pace [your]self’, ‘it’s easy to get consumed and the main thing is to hold out’. The recurring pornographic images are prompted by the speaker’s boyfriend, and are marked by an unflagging opposition to sincerity: ‘it’s the lack of perceived sensation, / their bodies just seem numb’. These figures stand in opposition to the dynamic, creative, often grimly hilarious narrative voice (‘Handjobs just don’t do it for me, I’m sorry – / maybe if I really like you, you can tell me about it’), whose will to communicate her needs and desires truthfully, however culturally stigmatised, form the heart of the poem’s rhetorical achievement.
That said, there are several moments at which the speaker’s voice seems to snag on a particular image or phrase:
‘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’
‘I want the voice of someone with a heart that knows about hearts
that know about hearts that know’
‘You’ve got to hide the mirror, you’ve got to hide
the mirror. […] and look in the mirror
and in the mirror and in the mirror I saw
a girl, a little younger than me’
The poem incorporates these un-grammatical, almost musical, phrases without breaking stride, rendering their non-verbal meanings as valuable as their more conventional counterparts. The poem’s closing lines seem to confirm a connection between literary expression and expression of desire:
‘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.’
The poem’s radical act of claiming ownership over her cultural space is here connected to the radical act of claiming ownership over her sexuality, and the final line might refer to the saying of her poems as well the saying of her name. It’s worth noting that this poem is deeper and more complicated than I’m confident about discussing, and I do worry that in trying to make sense of it to myself I’m erasing a lot of the messiness, nuance and compromise that makes this poem what it is. Perhaps, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we can fully or convincingly explain the poem or the book to ourselves; perhaps as important is our ability to read everything Lee-Houghton gives us in Sunshine and acknowledge it as a way of being, as whole and legitimate as any other. To acknowledge that this is okay, without qualification. ‘i am very precious’ deserves a great deal of close attention, hopefully from readers better equipped for the task.
Perhaps the fact that one can spend so much time unspooling just two of the poems in Sunshine is an indicator of the depth the book holds, just how much it has to tell you. I’ve not even touched on the book’s sensitive, complex handing of mental health and the social structures around it, its discussions about family, about austerity politics and its victims, the heartbreaking hopefulness of ‘Mad Girl in Love’, how ‘sunshine’ appears in all its various guises throughout the book. There’s a lot more to be discussed than what I’ve touched on here.
Sometimes, consciously or not, I treat the writing of criticism ultimately as a capitalist venture, a function of the publishing industry or of an artistic ‘career’ first and foremost, rather than a function of being alive, a function of a need, will, or desire to express one’s self publicly. Sunshine has the feel of a book that was compelled into existence, that would have happened whether or not there was an industry to support its publication. It’s a book unlike any other I’ve read, and as a community of readers we’re far the richer for it. - Dave Coates

An oft-repeated cliché in screenwriting is that a writer ought to hook an audience with its opening, so the punters don’t lose interest. The opening line of Melissa Lee-Houghton’s third full-length collection, Sunshine, is ‘If Disney made porn they would pay us well for our trouble.’ Yes, well. Start as you mean to go on.
A danger for writers, especially those who receive a great deal of praise for a certain aspect of their style, is the trap of self-imitation, or even accidental self-parody. For years now, Lee-Houghton has been lauded as being not for the faint-hearted, unflinching, unforgiving (certainly words I wouldn’t hesitate to ascribe to her earlier books, Patterns of Mourning and Beautiful Girls). Whilst Sunshine is absolutely all of these things and then some, there is no sense that the poet is settling comfortably into her style or subject matter. The poems here are brutal, furious, sexual, and step far beyond anything she has written before. ‘I write like I masturbate’ she says in ‘Z’, ‘A million living things in the city and only one has to take / a deep breath to say my name. Take a deep fucking breath.’ The fire in this book – the fire of a history of manic depression, sex, drugs, and time spent on a psych ward – is not one of destruction, but of purification. There is intense detail into private life that feels close to being something we should not be overhearing, and simultaneously something we cannot tear ourselves from, going beyond the bounds of confessionalism without resorting to exhibitionism. Nothing is just for shock, yet simultaneously nothing is hidden; she doesn’t spare us or herself.
Despite the sobriety of its personal confession, there is much to say about the humour in this book. It is self-conscious and wily, frequently addressing its own poetic nature. Michael Donaghy once said that when he considers writing a poem about poetry he takes a cold shower, but Lee-Houghton handles the topic with such deftness and humour that it’s nearly impossible not to smile. The book is full of tricks and wry nudges; in ‘Elm Street’ she directly addresses ‘the publisher who won’t want to take this poem’; or, in ‘Hella’, ‘My work / is bereft of all ownership now. I refuse to take responsibility’; or in the middle of ‘i am very precious’ (recently nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem) where there comes the sudden explosion of ‘This is no longer the poem I expected.’ The lowercase of the title of this latter poem is deceptive, displaying itself as something timid before delivering a poem where every line is a punch to the gut. Lee-Houghton is anything but precious in this poem, which fills up most of the pages it goes across, and takes almost 15 minutes to read aloud.
A word of praise is also due to Penned in the Margins for making this the stunning release this is. The book as an object is beautifully designed, as are other recent titles from them (Simon Barraclough’s Sunspots and especially Luke Kennard’s Cain come to mind), and one can only hope that this is a part of the rise of independent poetry publishers – along with Nine Arches Press, The Emma Press, and many others – since, lord knows, certain established publishers will not keep modern poetry afloat on their own for much longer.
I am hesitant to sound like I am trying to advertise a horror film, stating how harsh and unforgiving a piece of work this is – people should not to come to this book for quick thrills. The poems in here are long, brash and difficult, and some prose poems – ‘A Good Home’, ‘Elm Street’, ‘Woodlea’ – are too crushing to even quote from, but love, sadness, wit, the frenzy of sex and the darkness in life are all illuminated in such clarity that it leaves you stunned long after the last poem has ended.  The last time I was this blown back by a book of poetry was by Vahni Capildeo’s Forward Prize-winning ‘Measures of Expatriation’ when it was released back in January – such a combination of dexterity, skill, power and complete commitment to subject is rare to come by. I can’t stop thinking about Sunshine. Buy it, read it, realise you haven’t been breathing for the last couple of hours, and read it again. ‘This book is gonna be a killer.’ Lee-Houghton states in the first poem, ‘It’s gonna suck me dry’. It certainly is, and there’s no doubt that it did. - Dominic Leonard

There’s a received wisdom in modern poetry that says that you use as few words as possible to say as much as possible; a kind of austerity of the word. Every word has to earn its place in the line, has to be filled with meaning. Hence, you get the narrow, imagistic poetry of William Carlos Williams, and many others have followed on from that. Short lines, intense images and everything “loaded with ore” as Pound would say. It can be brilliant but it can also be thin and distant.
The poems in Sunshine, however, are almost the exact opposite of that. Here’s the first few lines of the first poem, ‘And All The Things That We Do I Could Face Today’:

If Disney made porn they would pay us well for our trouble.
We share baths together because we get bored and it’s cold and
we used to talk but now I just pull sad faces and you sympathise.
I was thinking about abstract things, like what distance means to lovers;
physical distance, emotional distance and the distance
between us in the bath in our heads.

The lines are long and clausal; the subject matter is closely personal and the language emotive. This is not thin poetry; it’s full-bodied and very much in your face. I can hear the objection already: isn’t this just prose cut up into lines? And I can’t think of a good riposte to that, except for Pound’s dictum that poetry should be at least as good as prose; and this is as good as the best prose.
When I read these poems, I can’t help but think of the Ginsberg of Howl and Kaddish. The long sentences give the poems an energy and drive that is rare in contemporary poetry. The subject matter is often confessional, fixing on her own experience of mental illness; it’s often sexually explicit and the language is both direct and metaphorical. Just the reference to porn in the first line will shock some readers.
But this is essentially a poetry of the anti-austere, and in a time when our lives are supposed to be constrained both economically and emotionally, this book comes as a shot in the arm for British poetry. Here’s another quote, from ‘i am very precious’, shortlisted for the Forward prize for best single poem:

 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;

These are just the first few lines of a sentence that goes on for 15 lines, twisting and turning down the page like a swimming-pool flume, full of images and clauses to do with desire and sex, and altogether too much information. I find it glorious and challenging in equal measure.
Not everyone will like this book. Some will be repelled by its explicitness, others by the anti-austere forms; but I think this book is actually part of a kind of unconscious movement among poets who are tired of the austerity of modernism and want to expand the poem, the line, the subjects and the syntax of poetry again. - Steven Waling 

To mark World Mental Health Day, the Forward prize-shortlisted poet talks about how writing has figured throughout her psychiatric recovery

Read 'i am very precious'
  • Visit Melissa Lee-Houghton's website
  • Listen to Melissa Lee-Houghton read 'i am very precious'
  • Forward Arts Foundation in conversation with Melissa Lee-Houghton

  • Melissa Lee-Houghton, Beautiful Girls, Penned In The Margins, 2013.

    Slikovni rezultat za Melissa Lee-Houghton, Body Made of You

    Melissa Lee-Houghton, Body Made of You,  Penned in the Margins, 2011.           
    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

    “Reading [these poems] reminded me of being on a roller-coaster: you go up, you come down, you lurch, you think you might be coming off, you don’t quite know where you are going next.” - Sheila Hamilton, Tears in the Fence

    “the most fascinating, beautiful poetry collection I have read in years … so damn beautiful that it made my chest physically hurt” - Jen Campbell (also, interview with Melissa here)

    “[Melissa Lee Houghton’s] words are soaked in this tension between body and mind, between who we are supposed to be and the god-awful gorgeousness of who we really are.” The Hipster Book Club

    “The fearlessness of the voice in these poems is exciting, as is the wealth of surreal imagery, which – like the images in a dream-world – make a strange, sideways sense.” - Amy McCauley, Ink Sweat & Tears

    “A kind of echolocation or sonar is employed here – often lengthy, the poems return again and again to the human body, building off its peculiar there-ness, its mixture of solidity and elasticity.” - Jon Stone, Dr Fulminare

    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
    laid out

    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
    is underused
    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).

    Slikovni rezultat za Melissa Lee-Houghton, Bite Your Tongue When you Give me My Name:

    Melissa Lee-Houghton, Bite Your Tongue When you Give me My Name: Poems and Other Prose Writings, Chipmunkapublishing, 2010. 
    read it at Google Books

    Following her debut book, 'Patterns of Mourning' Melissa Lee-Houghton has written a new collection of original, raw-edged poems that are concerned with all things both abject and sublime. Love meets violence, death meets clarity; the theme of sex dominates many of the poems as for the writer, it always brings about the question of domination and submission, of the will, if not the senses. She writes to try to find answers as to how we are to love; and if we can maintain loving relationships after abuse has happened. Early recollections and experiences find powerful resonance now that the writer is in her mid-twenties, and the newness of family life and marital love have given her the space to understand herself and her addiction to writing.
    Many of these poems were composed during periods of 'illness' as Melissa's Bipolar symptoms have worsened over the years. She has also been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder; and the intense, confessional, blunt and argumentative tone in her work is her way of expressing her personality and her identity outside of medicine and psychiatry, outside of stereotypes and stigma.
    Slikovni rezultat za Melissa Lee-Houghton, Patterns of Mourning,

    Melissa Lee-Houghton, Patterns of Mourning,
    Chipmunkapublishing, 2009.
    read it at Google Books

    Patterns of Mourning began after a tragic bereavement and takes the course of a damaging love-affair in which the narrator becomes increasingly unstable and detached from reality. Written by a young mother coming-of-age, suffering the trauma of a severe Manic-Depressive Episode, this vivid account of grief, loneliness and love is a sprawling, relentless confessional poem, composed by pastiche of deconstructed emails, letters and delineated manic, longhand prose. Written over the course of the narrator's breakdown and whilst in psychiatric care, nightmares both lived and imagined conjure obsessive hallucinatory manifestations to form an ecstatic and melancholic diary of all the inner processes of one going mad, alone.

    Melissa Lee-Houghton (b. 1982, Manchester) was named a Next Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society in 2014, and winner of the Somerset Maugham award, as well as being shortlisted for the Costa Book Award and the Ted Hughes Award.

    Melissa Lee-Houghton is at the forefront of a new strand of confessional poetry in the UK. Her writing is intense and authentic, tackling trauma and taboos. With total emotional investment, she evokes loss, love, grief, hope, abuse, sex, mental illness and survival in artful poems which communicate without losing raw power. Her work is both personal and political; an act of defiance in the face of shame and shaming, silence and silencing. Her significance was recognised in 2014 when she was named as a Next Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society. In 2016 her poem 'I am very precious' was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. In the same year, her collection Sunshine was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award, and she received a Northern Writers' Award for her fiction. She lives in Blackburn, Lancashire
    Melissa Lee-Houghton has been open about the personal experiences which she draws on in her poetry: violence, sexual abuse, poverty and addiction. These subjects dominate her work and she speaks of poetry as a 'safe-haven' where it is 'okay to talk about these things'. She is open in her discussion of her own sexuality, emotions and aspirations, saying 'Everything I feel, experience, desire – everything is in my poems.'
    Patterns of Mourning (Chipamunka Publishing, 2009) was produced directly from notes made in a period of institutionalisation. The fragmentary sequence is haunted by grief, but also by literary and philosophical echoes, notably T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Full of unexpected jumps, puns and double-meanings, it gives us a first glance of Lee-Houghton's characteristic deep intellect and dark humour, as in 'Telekin-Isis':
    You should consider this is postmodernist literature;
    Entirely dysfunctional families such as these
    Can only begin to multiply
    Through the beams and conversational pitches
    If you get the yolk

    Her first full collection, A Body Made of You (Penned in the Margins, 2011) is also influenced by the author's experiences as a patient in a psychiatric hospital, although here the approach feels more formal. Lee-Houghton creates intimate portraits of 'other writers, artists, strangers, lovers and friends', working from initial one-on-one interviews and then photographs and paintings of, or by, the individuals. Mental illness and trauma are central. There is variety in tone, but the description is unflinchingly vivid:

    your foreign bread smell
    boiled bagels shoulders
    round like potato, oily
    inner fish skin sweet yeast

    ('laid out')

    Such descriptions illustrate a cloying intimacy and these poems make no pretence of objectivity. Links between the protagonists in individual poems emerge as the book progresses, revealing an overarching personal narrative.
    The poems in Beautiful Girls (Penned in the Margins, 2013) mark yet another approach. The subjects are, again, traumatic – suicide, mental illness, rape – and Lee-Houghton's language keeps its blunt edge, but the effects are less fragmentary, more 'finished'. Here her music is at its most spare, stripped back like the skeletons of the girls in the title poem:

    … We're
    lovely in the mud
    that fit boys have dug
    for a council wage

    Again, a personal narrative threads the individual poems together, but these events have already happened and equally will never happen; time is flattened and folded and elegies occur before living encounters. The gaze is personal and the description is coloured through the perspective, with the choice of imagery often only understood through later poems:

    I can see colours in the back of my eyes
    the world is the colour of pig's liver –
    there's a sheen over everything
    as though something violent just happened …

    ('In My Sleep I Try To Wake You')

    The poetic constraints offer a relief to the passages of breathlessness, but it is perhaps in the longer poems – where this restraint is cast off – that Lee-Houghton is at her most powerfully unique.
    In 2016 one such long poem 'i am very precious', was featured in Prac Crit and became the first poem published online to be shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. It is a sustained meditation at a high pitch, a virtuoso performance of desiring and being desired in all its beautiful and abject forms. 'i am very precious' became the central poem in Sunshine, Lee-Houghton's latest collection, which has been shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. In an interview with Poetry Spotlight she said that she felt 'finally able to write significantly and unguardedly about violence, rape and childhood abuse, and … able to write about female sexuality in a way which felt completely real.' She explained that she 'wrote Beautiful Girls as a heavily sedated person. I always felt I wrote what I needed to at that time with as much lucidity and clarity as I had at my disposal, but it was constrained by many forms of repression and oppression.' Liberated, Lee-Houghton has embraced the less polished and adopted longer lines and longer poems to create a book which is an unapologetic, immersive experience. The opening poem 'And All The Things That We Do I Could Face Today' makes a statement of intention:

    … this book is gonna be a killer. It's gonna suck me dry,
    suck me white, such my insides out and leave me hollow and high.

    The challenge to a polite readership is constant: 'You know, the person I am writing this to, the publisher who won't want to take this poem, I have swallowed a lot of come' ('Elm Street').
    The sunshine of the title, which we might associate with healing and warmth, plays a far more complex role. It often exposes, with agonising clarity: 'My sun-god, pain, illuminates all the damage and the rot' ('Cobra). But even in the same poem it shows it is untrustworthy: 'Even if you are a rotten snake / tulips can look lovely in a certain light.'
    In 'Letter to Dr. Moosa Regarding My Inconstant Heart' Lee-Houghton sheds light on the treatment of patients by medical practitioners:
    you say,
    this is the worst state a person can be in, a mixed state, see (like I'm
    not in the room) she suffers…
    you need to remind the ward to section her as soon as she's there,
    you know,
    she's very persuasive with
    junior doctors.

    We are reminded in those last words that language can be used to manipulate. Lee-Houghton is an artist and, though she is generous in the access she allows us to her life, poetry is a construction, and we cannot know the author as we might feel we do. This is poetry that is authentic, without pretending to be able to replicate reality.
    Every Lee-Houghton poem is a precarious balancing act at the extremes of human experience; a coherent communication of a sense of incoherence; a controlled expression of lost control. There is an urgency and necessity to her work: 'Writing poetry for me is a vocation. Without it, I wouldn't cope, wouldn't survive.'
    Lee-Houghton is also a successful prose writer. 'Inertia', a short story, was commissioned for Radio 4 and broadcast in June 2016, and a memoir is forthcoming with Rogers, Coleridge and White Literary Agency.  - Emily Hasler for The Poetry Society

    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.’


    Release date: spring 2019