E. E. Nobbs, Melissa Lee-Houghton and World Suicide Prevention Day

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented. After an overwhelming response to my call for poems I am able post up work from a range of poets who have been touched in some way by suicide. To find more information about the day click HERE.

But for now sit back – read the first two poems and watch the film clip…

No one would ever call it suicide

& he didn’t either

but he kept working at the knotted
& punky blocked log from the fallen
worthless spruce, & he rammed
in the rusty, dented wedge, again — kept
at it — banged it with the butt end
of the old axe with the ash handle full of splinters

even when the heart pain struck him hard

— because the damned wedge
was jammed, again
& he wanted to finish
the job —

but couldn’t


E.E. Nobbs lives in Prince Edward Island and is the author of The Invisible Girl . Her day-job involves looking at insects through a microscope. Her still-too-quiet alter ego is Jonny Kane – Space Ship Captain. Follow their adventures at https://ellyfromearth.wordpress.com/ and @ellyfromearth

Love Smitten-Heart

I have bought a knife and I keep it
with me at all times. There is no-one I can call on
when the world turns black.

All night I thought of my cheated heart,
dead on the outside but very much alive in the middle.
I thought of how dearly I would tend to your dead body.

I have dragged people with me who need never have been dragged.
I have tethered people to my imaginary umbilicus.
I am dying cruelly in my love-smitten heart.

Coming out of Liverpool as the sun set
I begged my heart to stop but the train galloped on.
Everywhere I go and with whomever I leave myself wide open.

I write every poem as though it is my last poem,
expecting it to be my last. Often I’m duped into climbing down and living.
When I am unafraid then you really should worry.

I feel my eyes set deeply and painfully in my head.
Music keeps my empathy raw and lubricated, though I don’t care
that I am mortally pierced and will not survive.

I want my heart cold in a cold cage of a body in a cage.
I don’t imagine I will have the opportunity to regret it.
I have reached the very bottom darling and I know that you know it.

Because you won’t touch me I grow colder by the minute.
It is no-one’s fault that I am crawling around blind and dumb.
It is just my lot and I cannot find the strength or the cause to undo it.

So many empty beds.
Beds left alone and
beds climbed out of—your body still fighting the cold there.

I am going to book a hotel room in my own name.
The sun will come through the window when I am no longer there.
The sun will rise until it doesn’t.

The sun will set whether I rise or not.
Do the maths honey, nothing has ever been simpler.
There is constant pain I cannot manage and it won’t go away.

I call your number from the bench on the memorial park,
Pendle mounting fiercely in the background, and all the lights blinking.
Once there was a power-cut and I stared into the closed eye of the dark.

The police came this morning and threatened me.
They said nothing is so bad and they know what people like me do.
The policewoman went upstairs and talked to the kids.

We are all very unhappy because I am lost in the dark and although you call out to me
my sense of direction blind is limited and useless.
I dig down into my hole like a wounded marsupial.

I bring food to my lips and want it and as soon as I taste it I don’t want it.
I come to you to kiss you and hold you but as soon as you are in my arms I back away.
I play a song and half way through I run myself through silence.

The police woman said is there not somewhere else I can go, to someone else.
She said her mother had bipolar and she put her through hell.
I had to bite my lip and look in the other direction.

The policeman said I need to see a doctor, need to be sensible and take the medication
my doctor prescribes me, that Sunday mornings are not the time to ring the police.
My husband says bipolar disorder doesn’t stop beyond nine to five.

The policeman stands over me aggressively, says it’s just a blip
that if I go walkabout he will issue a high risk missing person’s report,
he uses the word ‘daft’ half a dozen times.

I can’t adequately describe my sense of abandonment, disappointment or the expectancy
of being let down. Mike liked my poem.
Mark liked the way I read.

I told Mike I am very unhappy.
Mike said it is very sad, but he enjoyed my company.
I kissed Adrian on the lips by accident.

I hate how my husband describes my suicide attempts, and how
the people who could help respond to them by being obviously unbothered.
I listen to him on the phone desperate and describing my suicidality.

I’d kiss him every minute of the day but it would make him sore.
I’d make him promises I can actually keep but they will become the promises I regret.
I need the freedom to go away and hurt

just go with the wave until it takes me out.
I survive on nostalgia and the promise of pain.
The pain is a plan where there is no real hope or vision of a future where I am not alone.

We all die, is what I want to tell them.
We all know this though grief is irrational and impossible and also unavoidable.
I won’t be able to hold you through it.

My half of the bed will remain cold and my face indented on the pillow.
Your bare back and its pains will crease and fold.
In the morning I will be a shadow barely touching your body.

Melissa Lee-Houghton is a Next Generation poet 2014. Her two collections, A Body Made of You and Beautiful Girls are published by Penned in the Margins, and a third collection is forthcoming for 2016.samaritans



Interview with Tom Chivers – Penned in the Margins

pitm_logoWhen was Penned in the Margins set up and where did you see yourself in the poetry publishing market?

Penned in the Margins started life as a poetry reading series in a converted railway arch in Herne Hill, South London. I set it up in 2004, shortly after graduating, and for the first two years I ran the events as a hobby alongside my full-time job. Then in 2006 I quit to set up the company properly. So we’ve been running as a business for seven years, and over that time have organised over one hundred live events, toured five spoken word productions, and published thirty-four books.

The ‘poetry publishing market’ is almost small enough to be a contradiction in terms! There was a statistic flying around a few years ago that suggested that living poets accounted for only 10% of the poetry market, and of that proportion 90% was Seamus Heaney. I’m not sure if it’s still accurate, but it certainly gives you a clear impression of how small the cake is. It’s also very mixed, with tiny start-ups and tenacious hobbyists jostling alongside government funded presses and imprints of large commercial publishers. Having said that, plenty of people are reading poetry (often online) and are excited and challenged and entertained and unsettled by it; one of my roles as a publisher is to find new readers for the work I believe in. Each new book is an opportunity to do just that.

Can you tell me something about your titles and successes?

I hope our output is characterised by its radical diversity and openness to experimentation. Some may discern a house aesthetic, but if so it’s not deliberate but rather has developed organically. I’m interested in the whole spectrum of poetry, from lyric to performance to textually innovative.  It’s hard to compare, say, Luke Wright’s Mondeo Man with Emily Critchley’s Love / All That / & OK, but I’d like to think they both fit comfortably within the press. A good proportion of our catalogue has been debut collections and many of those by younger poets, though that’s by no means a hard-and-fast rule.the-shipwrecked-house1

The past month has been good to us! First, Claire Trevien’s poetry debut The Shipwrecked House was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award as their Readers’ Choice. Then, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s second collection Beautiful Girls received a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. We’ve had some previous successes with awards – a PBS Recommended Translation for Meghan Purvis’s brilliant translation of Beowulf, and a Special Commendation for Adventures in Form – but mostly I measure success by the quality of the book, and by our effectiveness in reaching new readers. Every book is different. Some sell very well, whilst others struggle. We’re ambitious with each new title, but you never know what’s going to be a big hit. Our best-selling and most widely reviewed book is the anthology Adventures in Form, which I edited; but I remember being very nervous when it was released. I wasn’t sure if I’d done a good job or not, or if anyone would actually enjoy reading it!

I should also note that we don’t only publish poetry. I am also interested in what I rather vaguely call ‘experimental fiction’. So in the past year we’ve released Holophin, a very funny and disturbing science fiction novella by Luke Kennard; Count from Zero to One Hundred, another novella by Alan Cunningham which is very much in the tradition of experimental European literature; and NOT AN ESSAY, a limited edition text by poet and artist Heather Phillipson.

What do you look for in a collection and how many submission do you receive a month/year?

We receive about twenty-five submissions a month, which is a very manageable amount. I reply to each one individually. Most books are commissioned, but every year I will publish maybe one or two unsolicited manuscripts.

It’s hard to say exactly what I’m looking for. A distinctive use of language ranks pretty high. Assured deployment of tone and voice – or voices (I’ve never believed all that rubbish about ‘finding your voice’). I like to see that the poet is experimenting, and by that I don’t mean ‘is writing experimental poetry’ in the generic sense, but is looking for ways of extending their range, testing the boundaries of what a poem might be, taking risks, even risks the poem does not quite pull off. I’d much rather read something that fails, that is deficient in some sense, than a poem that is so confident in its own voice that it forgets to listen.

Increasingly, too, I am attracted to poetry that, either individually or by accumulation in a collection, approaches an idea or a subject, that says something about the world outside and not just general musings of its author. A good example is Tim Cresswell’s book Soil, which manages to be both a miscellany in the grand tradition of the debut collection but also a pretty tightly honed investigation of geography and language.

Melissa Lee-Houghton’s latest collection is a Poetry Book Society recommendation – what does this mean to you as her editor and when is the book out?

I’m really delighted for Melissa – she’s a wonderful writer, really ambitious and risk-taking, and she sits slightly to the side (I think) of the main currents of contemporary British poetry. Her work draws on personal experience in a way that is both refreshing and uncompromisingly dark. Some of the best individual lines of poetry I’ve published are Melissa’s – she’s got an ear for the strange.

Digital image

The PBS Recommendation is a great thing to get, as it will extend the profile of the book to those who might not otherwise have heard about it. Generally I will expect a small uplift in sales – some directly through the PBS – and it’s also something that I can use to pitch the collection to bookshops. I’m helped in this respect by Inpress, a sales and marketing agency that represents independent publishers. They work tirelessly to sell my books to the likes of Foyles, Waterstones and the big wholesalers. It’s so important to have the right processes and partners in place if you want to actually see your books on the shelves.

Beautiful Girls is out in November.

Penned in the Margins isn’t simply about publishing, what are the other areas you are involved in?

That’s right, the company has always combined publishing with producing live events. These are not always conventional poetry readings – they are more likely to be collaborations between artists working in different artforms, or spoken word theatre shows, or site-specific commissions, or even performances that exist digitally. The most recent project we produced was called Electronic Voice Phenomena and was a collaboration with Liverpool-based curator Mercy. We jointly commissioned about 15 new performance works, including four core pieces by poets Ross Sutherland, Hannah Silva and SJ Fowler, and music act Outfit. The result was a pretty sinister but I hope highly entertaining multimedia show that toured to eight venues in May, including the Sage Gateshead and Norfolk and Norwich Festival. There’s also a very active website which showcases new writing in response to the themes of sound, voice, ghosts and technology.

Thanks Tom.

Find out more about Penned in the Margins here


Melissa Lee-Houghton: Featured Poet


Portrait of the Man as a Warm Body

Your face is civilised, like Plaster of Paris, and your mouth
is a strawberry, dying to shrink. Your blood is descended
from bears and lions. Your bones were built from fossils, the fossils
of the sea, of whales, and whale song reaches you through forests
as though your ears were attuned to only the big sounds, echoes —
the hugeness of things. Your feet were built last, from man-made
materials, from concrete blocks, and the mafia watched
as Jesus raised you, crafted and chipped your toes.
Your mother and father drew vials of blood
from hardened embers where the dinosaurs fossilised
and gave you thighs like a Roman, to make sure
you would not fall at Pilate’s feet. They picked new berries
for your eyes and stole oyster pearls for your teeth,
gave you the flayed tongue of a martyr to remind you
of the importance of being quiet and sharp.
On the last day, a skin was stretched for you
from the bellies of all creatures, and made white
by the spiritual alchemy of a progressive British scientist.
The grey matter in your brain was flushed with rainwater and holy
water, and you cried when they snapped your feet and held you
like a fisherman’s catch. All the dust fell off you and devoted
eyes smoothed off the rough edges and wept with joy
at the piety of you; the effable creature with blue blood
thicker than magma and ready as gunpowder
to kick-start, to give you a Greenwich pulse and a map
of the world and the determined imagination of an English explorer
waiting an age for the deep sky to open and roll thunder.


Melissa Lee-Houghton was born in Wythenshawe, Manchester in 1982. Her first collection A Body Made of You was published by Penned in the Margins and has been hailed as ‘a must-read for 2011.’ Her poetry and short fiction have been published in literary magazines such as Poetry Salzburg, The New Writer, Succour, Magma and Tears in the Fence. Her poem, ‘Jim’ was recently included in Starry Rhymes, a chapbook published by Read This Press, to commemorate what would have been, the 85th birthday of Allen Ginsberg. She is a regular reviewer for The Short Review, a website dedicated to showcasing short fiction collections. Her work is forthcoming in La Reata and The Reader.