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Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Beautiful Girls

Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Beautiful Girls

Poet and short story writer, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s fourth poetry collection, Beautiful Girls (Penned in the Margins, 2013) retrieves the narratives of mental asylum girls in a sequence that marks the physical and social disintegration of lost selves. Here those with personality disorders know heaven as ‘the place between the sky and the planets’ and seek comfort as best they can. The poems draw the reader into their world.


The girls had been abused, the girls had been misunderstood.

The girls had been put there under false pretences. The doctors

fell in love with the girls. The nurses fell in love with the girls.

Madness was attracted to the girls, as they were to madness.


The narrator’s tattooed body, cut, hungry, forgotten, needy and dependent, is shown in relation to drugs, locale, family and others. The poems have a painful physicality, vulnerability and a movement towards healing that is always one step further on. There are some extraordinary poems, such as ‘Codeine’, ‘Belly’ and ‘Dimensions’, which define the comfort of body pain and hurt through absence and fear. ‘Erasure’, Lee-Houghton writes, ‘is never complete’ in a chilling riposte to healing. These are exceptional poems. Reading the sequence as a whole, individual lines stick out and carry more weight into the next part. Lines, such as, ‘The girls wished they were not girls’, with its idea of the trapped body, ‘I cannot cry; these girls are beautiful and dying’, and ‘We don’t have to worry about our insides / or being mistaken for someone else’ echo in other poems that show scarred, fractured and careless bodies and work cumulatively to reinforce the acute physical malaise.


When they told me I was mad, nobody wanted to touch me

in case it infected them too. The doctor had my mother

and father put their arms around me so I couldn’t move

and I squealed and they shouted, is this necessary?

They didn’t want to hold me and I didn’t want to be held.


The collection pivots upon two splits. One is the narrative between the self, including body image and pain, and others, including the sense of community between the girls. The other involves the narrative voice dipping away from controlled and beautifully sustained poetry into sloppy prose with odd and perfunctory breaks and endings. The latter mars what is an exceptional and, at times, extraordinary work.


David Caddy January 4th 2014

Hannah Silva’s Forms Of Protest

Hannah Silva’s Forms Of Protest

Sound poet and playwright, Hannah Silva’s long awaited debut collection, Forms Of Protest (Penned in the Margins 2013), admirably illustrates the variety of her poetry. Her range encompasses sonic repetition, sonnet, collage, monologue, list, SMS messaging symbols, and probing text and is never predictable. There is a great sense of musicality and of contemporary language use. Indeed my sixth-form students love her work both on the page and read aloud.  One of our favourites, ‘Gaddafi, Gaddafi, Gaddafi’, echoes childhood playground chants, and works through its long, flowing, circular lines, as if on a loop, as much as the repetition of the word Gaddafi.


I am going to tell you my name Gaddafi but I am

Going to tell you my age Gaddafi my age is ten

Gaddafi and I am going to tell you about a game

Gaddafi a game that I play Gaddafi I play with my

Friends Gaddafi you can play it alone Gaddafi

Or play it with friends Gaddafi. GO into a room


Hannah Silva’s work positively blurs the edges between voice-in-performance, theatre and poetry. She is a contemporary sound poet of distinction, building on the work of Maggie O’Sullivan, Bob Cobbing and the neo-Dadaists, employing patterns of sense and sound in waves of overlapping textual layer that echo and stay in the mind. Her best work engages with political discourse exposing the limitation and mediocrity of its tropes as well as implicitly indicating the need for deeper communication, as in the long dramatic poem, ‘Opposition’. Here Silva’s playfulness finds full rein and her text cuts through the sense and sound of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ speech delivered on 19th July, 2010 at Liverpool Hope University.

Liberalism it can call

Empowerment call it call it

Freedom can it can it

Responsibility (titty) can

I call it: ‘Er Ih Oh-ay-ih-ee’


Her work recalls Bill Griffiths’ poetry in its attempt to undermine the sources of political power and effectively allows the reader to hear the repetitions and patterns of political speech.


You can call it liberalism

You can call it empowerment

You can call it responsibility (titty)

I call: ‘Er Ih Oh-ay-ih-ee’


Her poems of direct speech, such as, ‘Hello My Friend’, ‘The Plymouth Sound’ and ‘An Egoistic Deed’ are as exciting as the cut-ups and broken speech. Reading through the collection one derives a sense of the Kafkaesque emptiness that is contemporary politics. This collection is in the great tradition of radical poetry and deserves to be widely read.



David Caddy 29th December 2013





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