Poems and Other Prose Writings
By Melissa Lee-Houghton
Key Themes: poetry, prose, bi-polar disorder, manic depression
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.
About the Author
Melissa Lee-Houghton was born in Wythenshawe 1982 to a young mother whose unstable relationship with her husband caused the family to uproot. Melissa has no recollection of her father. She enjoyed a childhood made magical in its promise and naivety but the happiness was equally matched by disturbing and abusive experiences. By the age of 11, Melissa had seen a psychiatrist as she would no longer attend school and had begun a severe depression which lasted the duration of her school years and made it impossible for her to attend. Instead, she was treated and admitted to psychiatric services for anxiety, depression and self-harm, and the makings of what turned out to be full-blown Bipolar Affective moodswings and psychosis. She feels her illness is an enduring trauma with which she chronically battles with medications. Writing, to her, is necessity. Melissa has two children, and suffered PNI and Puerperal Psychosis following their births. Melissa’s debut book, Patterns of Mourning is available through Chipmunka. Melissa is currently working on a new project focussing on composing literary ‘portraits’ of some wonderfully diverse people from all walks of life.
At the turn of a new millennia I struck a bargain with madness and clambered into the cocoon of the good old women's ward for the last time. Armed with a chewed biro, an NHS toothbrush, a nightgown and a VHS of the year’s Glastonbury highlights sent in by college friends, I set out re-establish ‘wellness’ there, clocking up a couple of thousand benzodiazepines on the way.
Of the other women, at least one was an ex-con. There was a pseudo-Russian, (nobody could tell where she actually came from), actively seeking prostitution. While dressing a young girl to kill, with leopard-print leggings and a too-big bra, others looked on worshipping the exotic parade they displayed. Open mouths gaped and whooped for the first time in what might have been weeks or even years, as they strutted on their self proclaimed stage of the ward gangway. Their coupled chronic speed addictions united them in force as sassy outsiders. The nurses were far less attentive to the street drug cases, I came to presume. Clothes, belts, scarves (infinitely dangerous in the wrong hands) were strewn over the bed area while the girls applied lip-gloss, nail polish, hair wax; slapping it all on, like queens in a cabaret dressing-room. Some laughed as they posed, lapping up the ‘fuck you’ virtues of their sinister intentions; the uproarious rebellions of mini-skirts and thighs against the strict regime of the starched psychiatrists. After leaving on day release, the ward grew uneasy with the periodic squawkings from medication queues where ladies fluttered and fidgeted like unsettled birds. By evening they returned inconsolably depressed, the colour and vivacity of their dressed indiscretions leached from their older-looking frames and faces. The Russian paid the girl for her trouble, slipped her a fiver-bag of white powder and stripped her of her costume. Easy money.
There had to be an element of fiction in each woman’s story to keep our real beliefs firmly rooted in home. Maggie and June’s histories intertwined with religious stories. They were like stragglers from a crucifixion that had been dressed in lost property outfits, for their own good. Only God could know how long they’d been around, waiting to witness miracles. Their ‘truths’ the blind men who had abused them and who they cured with their psychosis-fuelled furies; their hypochondriac sicknesses made better by their flawless bibles. (June could make a single pot of coffee go a hell of a long way in the hospital canteen.) Smashed plastic ashtrays and their remnants could often be found hailing the walls of the smoke-room, their holy place, any time it became hard to hold faith. On bad days we got spit in our coffee.
The older girls, the teenagers, the women going through the menopause, all had certain unusual auras. Days inside were either overtly melancholic or vague, or blazed with storytelling and personalities, quirks included. Truth was often absent but what it lacked, mystery made up for. I heard of the lady who went to a high-class dinner party for her executive colleagues in her pyjamas and spent a night in the cells for indecent exposure. The pressure at work had been too much and she’d left that night leaving a trail of undergarments and expletives. I heard about the lady who was sectioned for believing a taxi driver was her personal chauffeur and was highly indignant at his refusal to personally escort her to lunch and later, a psychiatrist’s appointment. She believed he had been stealing sweets from her pocket and shouted to passers by to have the police called. I listened to the one about the girl who was riddled with scars and tattoos of her hallucinations, the one who made the headlines by starting fires; the one with an evil twin she’d sworn existed. Tragedy and irony became part of daily living.
Through the summer months I becalmed and basked like a great cat out on the hospital lawns, tapping my right foot, getting my share of the air. During a heat wave women fainted on days when the electric fans broke and we had to suffer the greenhouse effect of forty people in one room with imperishable, perpetually locked windows. The shrieks of the ladies in thick saris and head scarves suffocated and troubled, on a nightmarish day when June was plagued by hallucinations. Someone made a break for it. I was outside the ward when I saw her. I’d been allowed an hour in the sun in drugged serenity. Layla, eighteen years old, had climbed the impossible walls of the hospital and was dancing like a one-woman Broadway on the flat of the summit of the roof. There was a surreal magic to the way the entourage poured out and the alarms sounded and woofed and the fellas on the men’s ward pounded on their windows with excited fists, howling like mad wolves. The sun beat on her and her wild blonde hair lit up like a huge dandelion clock. She was plausibly seraphic. A twist in time saw her manic energy change, turn, turbulently into a contemplation. A desire to fall, to jump. The gathered crowd held still while one man kept her concentration with bursts of guidance, the ‘don’t look down’ strategy. June and Maggie knelt and prayed at the foot of a bed. The Russian gestured silently and wildly through a window to her mouthing ‘no,’ with her fire-engine red pout, shaking her head, her frazzled auburn mane. I heard sirens harp and was ushered inside to a crowded foyer, tears stinging, because I’d understood her desperation
This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday 03 November, 2010.