Poetry - The Kids

Tony Cross is reading all the books shortlisted for this year's T.S. Eliot Prize. Here are his thoughts on The Kids by Hannah Lowe...

I really enjoyed this collection from Hannah Lowe.

It's split into three sections, each of which deals with a different kid or kids. The first section is based on Hannah Lowe's experience of inner-city school teaching. The second is mainly about her own childhood and growing up. The third is mainly about her own child, Rory. Although there are links between each.

For example, two poems in the third section deal with her encounters with two of her former pupils grown-up. But within that over-arching theme Lowe talks about responsibility, about growing up; about loss and grief; about sex, love, and loneliness; about class and race and other things.

These are poems anchored in the real world. Their language is simple, but right. There's no pontificating. I found myself underlining several lines that I will try - and fail - to memorise.

I will absolutely try to memorise "The Size of Him" because of how Hannah Lowe uses Doctor Who watching as part of a poem about her son. Now, I’m not the sort of person who gives additional credit to writers that use Doctor Who in their work*, but I loved the way she managed to make the interaction around watching Doctor Who an insight into her son’s way of seeing the world. It’s rather charming.

The other thing I should praise Hannah Lowe for is writing that manages to be poetic and straightforward. I have read a lot of poetry over the last couple of days and poets seem to fall into two broad categories: the impressionistic almost abstract and the solid straightforward. Now, I hold no banner for either side. There is a time and a place for both. There are dangers with both. The former can drift into incomprehensibility and pretention, the latter in clunkiness and boredom.

Hannah Lowe manages to be straightforward and poetic. To go back to that Emily Dickenson quote that I might end up using as often I do the Anna Akhmatova one: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.” And this is poetry.

So, yes. I enjoyed this a lot. It’ll definitely get a re-read.

* I absolutely am.

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About the T.S. Eliot Prize

The T.S. Eliot Prize, for the best new poetry collection written in English and published in 2021 in the UK or Ireland, is run by The T.S. Eliot Foundation. This year's shortlist "celebrates ten books that sound clear and compelling voices of the moment" and includes one debut collection; work from six men and four women; one American; one poet from Ireland; as well as poets of Zambian and mixed-race ancestry, including Jamaican-British and Jamaican-Chinese.

Raymond Antrobus - All the Names Given (Picador) - Read Tony's Review
Kayo Chingonyi - A Blood Condition (Chatto & Windus)
 - Read Tony's Review
Selima Hill - Men Who Feed Pigeons (Bloodaxe) - Read Tony's Review
Victoria Kennefick - Eat Or We Both Starve (Carcanet) - Read Tony's Review
Hannah Lowe - The Kids (Bloodaxe)
Michael Symmons Roberts -  Ransom (Cape Poetry) - Read Tony's Review
Daniel Sluman - single window (Nine Arches Press)
Joelle Taylor - C+nto & Othered Poems (The Westbourne Press) - Read Tony's Review
Jack Underwood - A Year in the New Life (Faber) - Read Tony's Review
Kevin Young - Stones (Cape Poetry) - Read Tony's Review

The winner of the 2021 Prize will be announced at the Award Ceremony on Monday 10th January 2022. For more on the shortlisted poets, including videos, readers’ notes and reviews, visit the T.S. Eliot Prize website.

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