Chick – Reviewed by Kayo Chingonyi

Lowe jacket

Hannah Lowe’s Chick is a refreshing take on the elegiac mode since the poems express not just a longing for the deceased to be restored to life but also a longing to have known him better. In the book the main focus of this not-knowing is in the secret life of gambling described in poems like ‘Five Ways to Load a Dice’, ‘Seven Card Stud’, and ‘Sharp’. In the latter poem Lowe inhabits the voice of one who has ‘played at many tables’ showing us the toll such a life can take on someone:

                        I have harboured a queen
                        in the curve of my palm
                        I have lost a thousand
                        on the horses
                        I have shaved the sides
                        of knaves and aces

                        I have wept in the car

This technique is one Lowe uses sparingly in the book which means that there is a sense of surprise when you read a poem and make assumptions about who is speaking only to have those subverted. This method also allows the poet to access certain spaces that are not otherwise open to her. This might serve to compound the sense of loss if this weren’t so empathetic a gesture.

The poems addressing the loss of the father are threaded between poems that celebrate formative places (from the hinterland at the edge of Essex and East London to Brixton to Santa Cruz). These poems chart smaller migrations, but speak to the experience of being the child of an immigrant parent and the attendant difficulties of that in a place like the Ilford of Lowe’s childhood. In a talk given at Goldsmiths College the poet and scholar Fred Moten said that ‘shame is the modality in which blackness is lived’ an assertion that brings a poem like ‘Dance Class’ into sharp focus:

                        […] After, in the foyer, dad,
                        a black man, stood among the Essex mothers
                        clad in leopard skin. He’d shake his keys
                        and scan the bloom of dancers where I hid

This expression of this shame is a refreshing note, since it complicates the picture, giving us a deeper insight of the significance of the loss. This poem shows us that grief, like so many things in life, finds its full expression in the fullness of time sometimes decades after the fact.


Kayo Chingonyi is a poet, editor, events producer and educator. His pamphlet, Some Bright Elegance, was published by Salt in 2012. Follow @KayoChingonyi

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