Poetry Choice of the Month
Compassionate, self reflective and honest, this excellent collection is really a series of love poems to the whole experience of learning through life – be it as a teacher, student, parent or child. Hannah Lowe approaches every situation with open-hearted curiosity, making this a joyful and insightful book.
The first third, inspired by her work as an inner-city sixth form teacher, can take anyone back to the intensity and claustrophobia of their own classroom days. In ‘The Art of Teaching II’, Lowe describes with hilarious accuracy the joy, boredom and repetitiveness of school hours – her weary teenagers reaching for the ‘unchanging’ task of exams:
Each page we read is a step up a mountain
in gluey boots. Even the clock-face is pained
and yes, I’m sure now, ticking slower. If gloom
has a sound, it’s the voice of Leroy reading
…like spending years chasing a monster
you yourself created…
Alongside this impending doom and worry, in ‘Red-handed’ there is the undercurrent and energy of the students youthful wit – their agility to misbehave, and answer back – and get away with it:
And if you set the kids exam practice
then excuse yourself – even for five minutes –
…don’t expect when you come back
to find twenty pens in motion, and the tap
of erudition flowing, but know how quick
the kids can zip their chat, though leave it hanging
in the air so you can smell it…
It’s a brilliant choice to place these poems in the sonnet form, bringing together the position of the poet with that of the teacher. If attempting to write a sonnet the task of creativity is different because of the pre-existing ghost lines of rules and rhythms of the sonnet form already there on the blank page. The challenge for the teacher before a fresh set of students demands the same imaginative scope and invention. There is the syllabus, the goal of a set exam – the right answers – and the tight space of a class hour and the school walls themselves to adhere to.
‘One is called upon to reach further and deeper into the imagination to describe and inspire, succinctly within a tight space’ Hannah Lowe
A favourite among us is ‘Sixth-form Theatre Trip’ for the deeply affectionate eye it casts on her class – protective of an unruly mob as they are taken out – like pets – exposed in public for the first time:
You’ve got more dogs than you can count. Big dogs
and small. One badass dog in headphones mooching
up the aisle. A dog who’s smuggled in a hot dog.
the curtains lift, and your dogs are hypnotised –
their ears like little hoisted sails, the wag
Lowe is confessional and bravely open in recounting her own experiences of lust, love and teenage desire for her teachers in ‘Dear Professor’:
I wanted to be the ashtray in your office, the ash,
the slim cigarette you bit between your teeth, the flash
of smoke thrown from your mouth in laughter…
to have a glamours name, a desk, so many books…
to be pushed the way you pushed me…
Even the more jokey poems like ‘Sonnet for Darren’ contain beautiful descriptions of the true physicality of emotion. There is a real understanding here that all human interaction is a fluid and fully sensual experience:
Men don’t look at me like this anymore –
the way this tall young man is looking at me.
I feel my heart swing open like a door.
Equally thoughtful and observant, the second half of the book is devoted to her son Rory, and her mother and father. In ‘The River’ Lowe remains curious and caring about her parents even after their deaths:
Not another poem about my father,
as though he’d been forever running through me,
…At poetry readings,
I perform him, hope for sighs or laughter.
I want applause, but see the real man standing
at the door. There’s something he wants to say.
And nothings been forgiven…
I appreciate the confidence with which she includes a poem for yoga – acknowledging the profound impact of this discipline and the importance of learning from silence. What shines through most in this collection is a happy gratitude for all life teaches us along the way.
Colourful and fun.