Skip to content

An Interview with Becky Houston

houston 1

Becky Houston is a former social worker turned poet who has been scribbling angsty musings in corners with night lights since she was a little girl. Her poetry explores themes of mental health, desire, sexuality, relationships, motherhood, feminism, and social justice. Her poem “Cold Floors and Blueberry Bread” was published in the anthology Song of Ourself: Voices in Unison, which was awarded the Bronze Medal for General Fiction/Literature in the 2020 Living Now Book Awards. Originally from the U.S., Becky is now based here on Ngunnawal Country. You can find more of her work on Instagram and Facebook @alittlespacetoholdalot.

Becky is part of Arts Capital’s Emerging Artist Studio Program at Gorman Arts Centre.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I was born a poet, but denied this for a very long time. I spent my adolescence filling journals with angsty musings, but this was always something I hid away in secret. I was raised in an Irish Catholic household, and went to Catholic school, where I was taught to work hard at something useful; something that would contribute to the world. I loved poetry but didn’t think it fit the bill. Until I read Nikki Giovanni. Her work as a poet and activist opened a little corner of my mind (one that would take years to fully develop) but one that whispered ‘this work is important’. Her poem “You Came Too” is a particular favorite of mine, and is what is inspired me to stop squirreling away my work in journals and start sharing it publicly: “I went from the crowd seeking you I went from the crowd seeking me I went from the crowd forever You came, too.”

What inspired you to start writing this book?

This manuscript is a cumulation of years of writing that I had been doing, largely in secret. Something that enrages me about modern society is how much of ourselves we are often forced to hide away in order to feel safe and accepted. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my early twenties, and a big part of my writing inspiration comes from learning to be radically transparent about my mental health but also the needs of my body and the needs of our collective body. This book of poems is about that process of learning to be radically authentic in a world where this is often penalized, and can sometimes be dangerous, but is revolutionary really.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The title of my manuscript is Open-Mouthed: Poems on Womanhood and Wanting. I was inspired by Muriel Rukeyser, American poet and political activist, who wrote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

I love this question! Florence and the Machine absolutely, especially “King.” Also “The Mother” by Brandi Carlile and “Anxiety” by Julia Michaels and Selena Gomez. Some others: “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter, “All too Well (10 minute version)” by Taylor Swift, and “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes.

Describe your dream book cover.

Once on a whim I took a selfie of myself screaming into the void, but you can’t see my face, only my mouth. I edited it to be black and white, so it is just my sharp white teeth and lips in an open scream. I think it looks badass and cool and represents how we feel when we finally let out all the shit we’ve kept in for too long, which is what this book is ultimately about.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I have my Master of Social Work degree and worked as a social worker for six years before quitting during the throes of the pandemic to move to Australia and pursue writing. Readers might not know that I still carry some shame for giving up this career where I was out in the real world ‘making a difference’ to pursue poetry. Working in the social work field ultimately led to me experiencing burnout and moral injury, which I am still recovering from. I am immensely aware of the massive privilege I have in being able to take a break from paid social work employment, and feel a huge responsibility to use this time wisely and for some greater good, so I put a lot of pressure on myself most days.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

I was immensely influenced by Adrienne Maree Brown and her books Pleasure Activism and Emergent Strategy. I also read and re-read Audre Lorde’s essay “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.”

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

As a poet my ultimate hope is that readers take away something that resonates with them and that makes them feel like “Yes! Me too!” If I hoped too much about what I wanted readers to take away it would be defeating the purpose of the message of this work, which is to be radically yourself in a world that often tries to shut that down. So I hope readers take away whatever feels radically authentic to them and to their experience. I don’t envision a perfect reader, poetry is for us all, and to interpret however we choose.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

atmosphere press

Atmosphere Press is a selective hybrid publisher founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome. Our books have won dozens of awards and sold tens of thousands of copies. If you’re interested in learning more, or seeking publication for your own work, please explore the links below.