Hannah Lowe and “Chick”

Much as I love poetry it is rare that I enjoy hearing it read aloud and often I’ll reach for the off-switch of the radio when a poet takes his or her first breath to begin reading. Why? I guess I like to hear the words internally, the cadences and rhythms are perfect in my head. Hearing poems read aloud the reader sometimes adopts a peculiar or ‘special ‘ voice which is just irritating and annoying (I am very easily irritated, as my family will tell you.)

On Midweek on Radio 4, a poet called Hannah Lowe was introduced and my heart sank but she spoke so interestingly about herself and her family that I listened .. and then the dreaded words “Would you like to read your poem, ‘Chick’, Hannah?” I couldn’t get to the off switch quickly enough and before I did I was captured by Hannah’s poem about her father, a half Chinese, half Jamaican man who had married late, and had supported his family as a professional gambler.

Here is what Bloodaxe Books writes about her:

Hannah Lowe’s first book of poems takes you on a journey round her father, a Chinese-black Jamaican migrant who disappeared at night to play cards or dice in London’s old East End to support his family, an unstable and dangerous existence that took its toll on his physical and mental health. ‘Chick’ was his gambling nickname. A shadowy figure in her childhood, Chick was only half known to her until she entered the night world of the old man as a young woman. The name is the key to poems concerned with Chick’s death, the secret history of his life in London, and her perceptions of him as a father. With London as their backdrop, Hannah Lowe’s deeply personal narrative poems are often filmic in effect and brimming with sensory detail in their evocations of childhood and coming-of-age, love and loss of love, grief and regret.

Chick opens with a powerful sequence of poems centred around the poet’s memories of her Chinese/black Jamaican father – a complex, larger than life character who came to London in the late 40s and eked out a living as, among other things, a gambler. But the book is very much more than a personal reminiscence and family history. This is a collection cross-hatched with myth and history, a hymn to London as much as to its characters. Though all the poems have a strong, vividly cinematographic line, they are also beautifully lyrical – sung stories, offering us the glimpsed lives of strangers and lovers. But however poignant and moving it may be, the collection remains doggedly celebratory of life itself, of people and place, loved and remembered. Each poem takes us a little further into the mystery of lives in a world that is as incomprehensible as it is unforgettable. This is an outstanding, unputdownable first collection’ – John Glenday.

‘Here is a poet with a commanding style; her voice is entirely her own, both rich and laconic. These are poems springing from the page with vitality, rue and insight. Her elegies are restrained and devastating. An extraordinary debut’ – Penelope Shuttle.


The poem ‘Chick’ comes about eight minutes into the video.


  1. Isabel Lunn

    Here’s a poem you might appreciate – only short, but to the point and made me smile

    Special Needs by Wendy Cope

    Some pupils here have special needs
    Which must be borne in mind,
    We monitor them carefully,
    In case they fall behind:
    The dyslexic, the dyspraxic
    And the disinclined


      1. Isabel Lunn

        Yes, and I’m hoping to meet her next week. We’re going to an Oldie literary lunch where she’s speaking about her latest collection of poems “Family Values”. Also there will be Virginia Ironside author of “No I don’t Need Reading Glasses” and “No I don’t want to join a book club”, both novels about life in your 60s. The final speaker is Simon Hoggart, Guardian columnist whose latest book is “House of Fun” and is about the House of Commons.


  2. Isabel Lunn

    Well I met Wendy Cope on Tuesday and she signed my book of poems. I told her how much I liked the Special Needs one and she said she nearly didn’t include it as she wasn’t sure how it would be received.so was glad to hear my favourable comments. Apparently her partner is a retired special needs teacher. In her after lunch speech she read both from that anthology and also from her most recent one which I must get hold of. She also talked of their fairly recent move to live in Ely, a place she likes very much.


    1. Lois

      Oooh, Ely! I shall be there in April, I must check I know what she looks like and remember to take a copy of her poems in case I bump into her. There is a brilliant books hop there, also a very good wine merchant… couldn’t be better!


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