August 8, 2012 § 1 Comment
Interview with Melissa Lee-Houghton by Laura Hackshaw.
1. Do you have any regrets as a writer?
I can never understand people who reach a stage in life and look back and tell people ‘No regrets, non je ne regrette rien!’ etc. I have so many regrets it’s unquantifiable. I suppose looking back on work previous to ‘A Body Made of You’ I feel less connection with it. I also feel like a lot of it wasn’t successful, except perhaps for Patterns of Mourning, a book-length sequence, published by Chipmunka Publishing. I know I won’t live to regret ‘A Body Made of You’, it’s something I’m very proud of, and I’m working hard on my second collection so that it won’t be something I live to regret. There was a poem published recently, online, that in retrospect I think is really terrible. It was a case of submitting work before that breaking in period where you begin to see the errors and the failed metaphor.
2. When you wrote your poem ‘Carbon’ can you retrace your thought process when either writing or editing it?
I suppose I was conveying a sense of emptiness, or neglect even, a sort of waking dream, of the impossibility of love, self-love, marriages that fall apart through ambivalence. A lot of that sequence was quite graphic. I wrote about a father hitting his daughter and then stuffing her face with chocolate. I wrote about sexual abuse. In the end the strongest poem, if less traumatic, was ‘Carbon.’ I had thought about throwing it away, but while I tried to edit the other poems in the sequence it became clear that I could go no further with them, that they were spoiled by my hunger to bring all these terrible things to the surface for her and commit them to language, to avenge her.
3. What advice would you give to young writers to encourage them with their love for poetry and writing?
A number of years ago a writer I rather admired took me to one side at a book launch and said, if you want to write, just write. Just write. I’m basically self-taught, if there is such a thing in the poetry world. Some would say ‘untutored.’ Most would say ‘amateur.’ I don’t really care. The advice I would give is to read widely. You will eventually root out those writers that will stay with you for the rest of your life, whose poems you will get lost in time and time again. If you can’t afford the fees for a university course and can’t for any reason attend a university, don’t lose heart, though you may have to accept it might take you many years to build your writing foundations. I learned a lot through submitting to magazines. I found that when I was starting out a lot of editors gave me helpful advice. I had many rejections back then but that spurred me on to improve. You have to have dedication, and the ability to recover fast from rejection. These days, social networking can play an important part in finding a writing community and give you a platform for expressing yourself as a writer.
4. What has it felt like having your work in publications such as Succour?
I am always thrilled when a magazine or anthology prints my work. It is always amazing, that feeling of validation, recognition, and pride. I was published in Succour four times before they folded due to finance. Whenever someone wants to publish your work it feels as though someone is reassuring you ‘you can do this.’
5. Would you say you are more of an introspective or an observational writer? And if the latter do you ever feel overly exposed when you poetry is released?
I think I’m both really! I think my work is pretty varied. When my work is due to be published I become extraordinarily anxious. The whole period around A Body Made of You being released was fraught for me. I was excited it was happening but I had explored difficult themes, such as sexual abuse and mental illness, and in amongst all the portraits I wrote there were some very frank and stark lines describing my own emotions and state of mind. I was afraid that people would hate the book. That’s a natural fear I’m sure. I had a launch in Manchester…when I had to read my nerves were shot. I hate reading as a general rule, people staring at me, all alone, on a stage, with all this emotion and trauma and manic depression. After I’d read at my launch, someone came up to me and said, ‘I think I would prefer to read it on the page.’ I’ve been given a platform to express myself, and that is a wonderful opportunity when so many people in the world are silenced.
6. Through my reading of your blog and some of your inspirations its clear so many realms of art inspire you personally and creatively. How did you come up with the idea to use paintings and turn them into words as part of you “A Body Made of You” work?
Though I never wrote single poems solely based on paintings, it all added to the imagery and the tone of the book. I used a photograph of each of the sitters to work from. When you are a writer, you draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere…a poet should be able to turn anything into language.
7. Do you ever feel like writing could be your sole income one day and what are some of the financial stumbling blocks of being a published writer?
Writing will never be my sole income until I publish a bestselling novel. I doubt that will ever happen, so I have to be realistic. Anyone expecting poetry to make their fortune is sorely deluded. There are exceptions, when you are being published by the major publishing houses, but even then I think you may want to keep your day job.