Melissa Lee-Houghton is a poet, fiction writer and essayist. Her short fiction was recently broadcast on BBC Radio Four and she was awarded a Northern Writers’ Award for her short fiction this year. A poem from her forthcoming collection, Sunshine (Penned in the Margins, September 2016) ‘i am very precious’ is shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Her poem ‘The Price You See Reflects the Poor Quality of the Item and Your Lack of Desire for It’ is published in Granta 136: Legacies of Love. She shares five things she’s reading, watching and thinking about right now.
1. The Beautiful Work of Apocalyptic Devastation
I first saw the harrowing work of Hipkiss (formerly Chris Hipkiss) at an Outsider Art exhibition at Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, alongside Henry Darger and Marge Gill. The drawings were meticulous, infinitely disturbing and obscenely imaginative. Hipkiss is not one person but a marriage of two artists; they are not mentally ill and are more autodidacts than ‘outsiders’, and they often listen to Slipknot while they work. Their work is beyond magical, and so beyond the limits of the average person’s visual imagination. I also get the work ethic of the artists – it fills a whole life, and overflows beyond it.
2. Selling Sex Necessitates Dissociation
Paid For by Rachel Moran is an autobiographical account of one woman’s experience of prostitution, entered into as a teenager, and endured into womanhood. The writing itself is incredibly powerful, uncompromising and lucid. Her authorial command of her subjective experience of prostitution shows her experience to be undeniably authentic and in many ways, universal. I wish I could hand a copy of this book to every single person I know because what it tells you about the current landscape of the widespread acceptance of prostitution and pornography, and the subsequent overwhelming scale of the accepted degradation of women, is of vital importance to us all as human beings. In particular, I think the whole world needs to hear her expression of the misery she was subjected to and the ways in which she had to justify to herself the work she was involved in, just to survive. I can relate to her dissociation and how this became the damaging route to bearing her horrific experience. Ultimately, the message is clear: no woman who ever prostituted herself enjoyed it.
3. Nobody Does It Better
My vertigo-inducing, high opinion of the poet Luke Kennard is invariably biased, since our books sit side by side on the same publishing list this year, and I’ve known him for years. But regardless of our friendship, for me, he remains at the very apex of contemporary British writing. In his new collection, Cain, published by Penned in the Margins, there’s a sense that the poet is horrified; that the absurdity and the banality of the daily lives of our generation could be stripped back to reveal the gaping wounds in our side; a lack of spirituality, a negation of the complexity of our inner lives, the repression of imagination under the political regime we are now suffering, and the selfishness that proliferates every level of what it means to be human today.
4. Stab Out Your Own Eyes
Yorgos Lanthimos is fast becoming one of my favourite film directors. The Lobster was released this year, and billed as ‘an absurdist, dystopian comedy-drama’ – it satisfied my every cinematic need. His films pulverise our idealistic notions about relationships; how love itself often invites manipulation and coercion. They’re also about language and communication, dominance and political control, and how totalitarian persuasion is achieved through the subtle language of conformity that such domination reinforces, to make sure the rebellious don’t break free.
5. Stage-dive Time-warp Throw-back
I’m a YouTube junkie. It thrills and delights me that I can now watch concerts I would’ve given several fingers to go to in the ’90s, wonky though these videos are. It’s a musical time machine for me, and every day of my writing life is punctuated by ’90s grunge amateur video bootlegs; in particular Courtney Love’s performative self-flagellation, Chris Cornell’s heroin years, Jeffrey Lee-Pierce’s Hacienda gig, and the MTV Unplugged series watched while stoned as a teenager, now fully appreciated as a (semi-)responsible adult.
Photograph © mario arruda