Camden Close - Up: Hannah Lowe

Picture: (C) Hayely Madden

Love Camden loves its local talent. We aim to celebrate everything cultural in the borough, from Hampstead to Kilburn, from the British Library to that little café around the corner - we are always out to show what Camden has to offer. As part of this we launched our Camden Close-Up series: interviews with artists, thinkers, entrepreneurs and downright interesting figures that live, work or are inspired by the borough.

This month we interviewed Hannah Lowe, who is the current Poet-In-Residence at Keats House, and the author of several books of poetry and a memoir, Long Time, No See. Much of Lowe’s work takes the life of her Afro-Chinese Jamaican father, a professional poker player, as a jumping off point to explore migration histories, multiculturalism and hidden London  

1. What would you would do if you weren’t doing this? What would your parallel life look like?

I’ve got several! But they’re all creative lives. At six foot tall, it’s unlikely I was ever going to be a ballerina, but I loved dance as a child and still love to be physical – so in another life, I’m a dancer. And in another, I’m a singer, and in another, a painter! Some of the artists I admire most, move between mediums. I’m thinking of Joni Mitchell particularly, who always painted alongside making music. If I ever get more time, maybe I’ll bring my parallel lives together…

2. What do you think is most important: luck, chance, opportunity or hard-graft?

Opportunity. I believe luck and chance have a little bit to do with it, but opportunity dictates how your life will progress and where you’ll end up. Which is why people from upper and upper-middle class backgrounds are in so many of the powerful positions in this country. Hard graft can get you so far, and some people transcend their class circumstances, but the odds are stacked against you if you come from a working class background. This is something I feel passionately about. Things must  be done to address these kinds of structural inequalities.

3. What has been your most career defining moment to date and why?

The publication of my first collection, Chick, was a defining moment. The collection explores my relationship with my father, mining the rich detail of his life story, his work as a card-sharp, my Caribbean-Chinese heritage. The book was well received and opened doors for me professionally, but personally, it was a huge milestone – to have found something I loved doing – writing poetry – and to have paid homage to my dad, a man I didn’t understand growing up, but whose struggles and experiences as a Windrush migrant deserve commemoration.

4. What are you most proud of and what are you least proud of……and why?

I’m proud of my little son! He’s five, and just been in the school nativity as a purple-robed king. He’s been practicing the songs for week. I’m proud of all the little kids in his class too – the sheep, the shepherds - singing their hearts out, so sweet.   

There’s plenty I’m not too proud of personally, but I’ll keep that to myself! On the broader stage, I’m not feeling very proud of old Blighty at the moment. The Windrush Scandal, the fiasco of Brexit, self-serving politicians. These are bad times.

5. Tell us a secret

I’ve got a new book, The Neighbourhood, launching at Keats House, on 31st Jan?!

I hate cheese?

I can’t whistle?


Artist bio:

Hannah Lowe’s 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. She has also published three chapbooks: The Hitcher (Rialto 2012); R x (sine wave peak 2013); and Ormonde (Hercules Editions 2014), and her second collection, Chan, is published by Bloodaxe. (2016). A new chapbook The Neighbourhood will be published in January 2019 (Outspoken Press). She is the current poet in residence at Keats House and a commissioned writer on the Colonial Countryside Project with the University of Leicester and Peepal Tree Press.