Writer wins national prize for poetry about teaching and learning

Poet Hannah Lowe

Hannah Lowe studied at Barking and Dagenham College. - Credit: Lealle Brady

A poet and teacher from Ilford has won a national award for her sonnets about studying in Barking and Dagenham.

Hannah Lowe came top in the poetry category of the 2021 Costa Book Awards with her collection The Kids.

The 45-year-old began to write the poems which became a collection of 66 sonnets in 2016; they are on teaching and education, specifically her time studying at Barking and Dagenham College.

She said: “The classroom I think is really like a microcosm of the world, the poems are about facets of lived experience.

"I hope it's really relatable to students and to teachers as well.

“The students are perfomers, the teachers are performers but at the end of the day it's just a room full of humans.”

Always interested in poetry and writing, Hannah said teaching students “thousands of years of English poetry and trying to make it engaging,” brought it alive for her as well.

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One of the poems, The Register, reflects on Hannah’s first day as a teacher aged 22. Another, Pink Hummingbird, is on an English teacher Hannah had at the college.

She added: “He loved poetry and he taught us black American literature, experimental writing, so there's a couple of poems in the book for him but there are also poems about some absolutely awful experiences, especially in secondary school.”

Reflecting on her experiences growing up, Hannah said: “The Ilford of my imagination is so strong and it comes through…it's there in all of my writing."

Speaking of the years spent building the collection, she said: “I think I needed the space, the time to reflect back on how teaching had really shaped my thinking

“The political, personal and particularly about the kind of look that multicultural London and the legacies of the empire are still so alive and well in the education system.”

Sonnet form is 14 lines with a shift around number eight, Hannah said.

“They took me a long time to write - a lot of shaping, crafting, editing - but in limitation I think we find possibility."

Hannah added: “I just felt delighted, I very much didn’t expect to win, it was a strong field.”

After teaching English at a sixth form college for a decade, Hannah left teaching to study for her PhD in creative writing from the University of East London.

She now teaches creative writing to undergraduates at Brunel University.

2021 marked the 50th year of the the Costa Book Awards.