Q&A with with Hannah Lowe

  • Thu, May 19, 2022

  • This Thursday, May 19th 2022 - join us for an evening of poetry and performance with multi-award winning poet, memoirist and academic, Hannah Lowe.

    Hannah's latest book, The Kids, was a Poetry Book Society ‘Choice’ for Autumn, was shortlisted for the T.S Eliot Prize - and won the Costa Poetry Award and the Costa Book of the Year, 2021. Her first poetry collection Chick (Bloodaxe, 2013) won the Michael Murphy Memorial Award for Best First Collection. In September 2014, she was named as one of 20 Next Generation poets. Hannah undertook her AHRC-funded PhD in Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and now lectures in Creative Writing at Brunel University.

    WORD!s Lydia Towsey caught up with her ahead of her visit to see us in Leicester...

    Lydia: Have you always written? What first attracted you to the practice?

    Hannah: I started writing poetry because of teaching. I was in my late twenties, teaching six-form kids an anthology of 1000 years of Engilsh Poetry. I was surprised by how moving I found some of the poems we studied, and started writing my own in secret.

    Lydia: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Night or day? Feast and famine or little and often? Pen or laptop? Research or write what you know?

    Hannah: Definitely little and often. I used to write in notebooks but recently I’ve been writing on my phone then transferring to my laptop. In theory, I still love notebooks and writing longhand, but I’ve more often got my phone to hand.

    Lydia: Your Costa Award winning book, The Kids, explores your decade-long time of teaching in an inner-city London sixth form, and to quote one of the Costa judges '...the universal experience of what it is to be taught, to learn and to teach.' What was it like to be involved in the education system and how has the experience impacted upon you as a writer and person?

    Hannah: I’m still teaching now – the same kinds of kids, but a year or two older. I didn’t plan to be a teacher, but have found it to be the most rewarding and varied career, and a way to think through many questions of culture, heritage, identity, gender, social class. I believe in life-long learning, and am still a student now of all kinds of things, as an avid reader, as a yoga practitioner, and occasional piano player.

    Lydia: The Kids is divided into three sections and sequences of sonnets. What made you focus on this particular poetry form?

    Hannah: I love form because it pushes your imagination, and makes you reach for new language and ideas because of the requirements of meter and rhyme. The poems in the Kids – only a few at first – emerged as sonnet, and then I began to see how the form was memetic – the little box on the page looks a little like a classroom, or a whiteboard, a page in a book. Many of the poems are about classroom encounters, about reading, so it seemed like a good match of form and content. I was also aware of the sonnet’s status on the literary canon – its associations with elitism, ‘high’ culture, Shakespeare. I wanted to write about working-class experiences through this form – and show, I hope, that the sonnet is for everyone.

    Lydia: In The Kids you explore personal but also social, cultural and political narratives. How important do you think it is for poetry to engage in this broader way?

    Hannah: It’s important to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily important to all writers. I think I wear my politics quite directly in these poems. I can’t imagine writing poems that don’t in some ways speak to the society in which we live.

    Lydia: Who are your favourite writers? Do you have a favourite poem?

    Hannah: I love American poets – people like Philip Levine, Mark Doty, Marie Howe, Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux. Levine’s ‘The Mercy’ is a favourite.

    Lydia: What's the best writing advice you've been given - and/or what advice would give to other writers?

    Hannah: Don’t think a poem is ever ‘quick’. Occasionally poems fall into your lap, fully formed, but this is rare - most take weeks or months or ever years. Short never equates to quick!

    Lydia: Is there anything else to say?

    Hannah: I’m looking forward to joining you on Thursday in Leicester.

    Hannah Lowe will headline WORD! at Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester on May 19th, 7.30pm. To book your ticket(s) contact the box office on 0116 2522455 or visit the centre's website.