Hannah Lowe was born in Essex in 1976 to an English mother and Chinese-Jamaican father. Chick (Bloodaxe, 2013)is her debut collection and was shortlisted for the Forward and Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prizes and the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. She has followed this with two pamphlets, R x in 2013 and Ormonde in 2014. She teaches Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University and her family memoir Long Time, No See will be published by Periscope in April 2015.
A former English teacher, Hannah Lowe published Chick, her first collection, in 2013, following an earlier pamphlet (The Hitcher) from The Rialto in 2011. Chick takes its title from the nickname of the poet’s late father who, as a career gambler, was an elusive presence in her youth. The book’s affecting poems balance the ordered progressions of childhood (piano lessons and ballet classes) against the myths and stories (the loaded dice, the hidden rolls of cash) which swirled around this charismatic man. Lowe is currently at work on a new chapbook for Hercules Editions.
We talked about you all the time.
Dan said he saw you ironing cellophane.
I said you’d let me hold a thousand pounds.
We found a hollow-soled shoe.
My cousins loved your tricks.
They’d follow the lady, search your sleeves,
blow luck into your fist. Mum called you a croupier.
At school I said you drove a cab.
Most days you were back at dawn.
I watched through a crack as you slept,
a hump of blankets in the purple light,
the smell of sweat.
I saw you once Dad, knelt over cards,
strewn on the floor, panic in your face.
For God’s sake, Chick, you said.
You couldn’t do the marks.
Then, each Tuesday, £16.30 – a paper,
tobacco, one hand of Kalooki. You sunk
into the settee like you’d been kicked there,
shouted in the bathroom, asked me for money.
At the wake, a ring of phlegmy men
with yellow eyes and meaty skin, told me
what your name meant, placed the ace of hearts
across your coffin, flowers shaped as dice.
The best girls posed like poodles at a show
and Betty Finch, in lemon gauze and wrinkles,
swept her wooden cane along the rows
to lock our knees in place and turn our ankles.
I was a scandal in that class, big-footed
giant in lycra, joker in my tap shoes,
slapping on the off-beat while a hundred
tappers hit the wood. I missed the cues
each time. After, in the foyer, dad,
a black man, stood among the Essex mothers
clad in leopard skin. He’d shake the keys
and scan the bloom of dancers where I hid
and whispered to another ballerina
he’s the cab my mother sends for me.
When my brother put his fist through a window
on New Year’s Eve, no one noticed until a cold draft
cooled our bodies dancing. There was rainbow light
from a disco ball, solver tinsel round the pictures.
My brother held his arm out to us, palm
upturned, a foot high spray of blood.
This was Ilford, Essex, 1993, nearly midnight,
us all smashed on booze and Ecstasy and Danny,
6 foot 5, folding at the knee, a shiny fin of glass
wedged in his wrist. We walked him to the kitchen,
the good arm slung on someone’s neck,
Gary shouting Danny, Darren phoning
for an ambulance, the blood was everywhere. I pressed
a towel across the wound, around the glass
and led him by the hand into the garden, he stumbled
down into the snow, slurring leave it out and I’m OK.
A girl was crying in the doorway, the music carried on,
the bass line thumping as we stood around my brother,
Gary talking gently saying easy fella, Darren
draining Stella in one hand and in the other, holding up
my brother’s arm, wet and red, the veins stood out
like branches. I thought he was dying,
out there in the snow and I got down, I knelt there
on the ice and held my brother, who I never touched
and never told I loved, and even then I couldn’t say it
so I listened to the incantation easy fella
and my brother’s breathing,
felt him rolling forward, all that weight, Darren
throwing down his can and yelling Danny, don’t you dare
and shaking him. My brother’s face was grey,
his lips were loose and pale and I
was praying. Somewhere in the street,
there was a siren, there was a girl inside
who blamed herself, there were men with blankets
and a tourniquet, they stopped my brother bleeding,
as the New Year turned, they saved him,
snow was falling hard, they saved us all.