Review published on December 7, 2016.
Despite its seemingly joyous title, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Sunshine is a dark, confrontational and provocative collection. Rather than easing readers in gently, the poet immerses readers straight into the raw, visceral world that the poems inhabit. Indeed, there is nothing gentle about this collection, dealing as it does with issues of mental health, suicide and drug abuse.
As a reader, the poems can’t help but get under your skin, and unsettle you, and oftentimes the lyrics push beyond the point of what is generally deemed safe and tolerable, refusing to give a sanitised version of reality in favour of offering up a truly intimate and starkly honest private confessional, without airs or graces. It is more like being privy to the poet’s inner life than anything that I’ve read in a while and sits amongst the likes of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton in laying one’s soul completely bare.
It transpires that this collection was written after a suicide attempt by the poet, which instils the words with even more meaning and poignancy. Often, poetry can be said to be life-affirming but never has that description felt so real and so powerful as in this collection. And whilst the collection offers up the poems for public consumption and judgement, it is a bit like casting scrutiny over an individual’s diary. These poems literally helped the writer to survive and nothing I can judge the book on is as important as that.
Sunshine by Melissa Lee-Houghton
Penned in the Margins 978-1908058386 pbk Sept. 2016
Shortlist, 2016 Costa Poetry Award
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