Supported by the TS Eliot Foundation
The Coronet Theatre
5th April 2022
I have to confess that apart from seeing this wonderful poet, I had an ulterior motive to exorcise memories of that former flea pit The Coronet. A cinema I frequented in the late seventies, a grim setting with unforgettable films like Jubilee. It was a dive, don’t be fooled by that sanitised image above.
Despite The Coronet now a theatre and beautifully cleaned up, the winding corridor still gave one the claustrophobic aura that a small cinema exuded. It was oddly appealing and something one once took for granted.
In the Coronet bar, where the reading was to take place, there was such gothic splendour and bohemian detail that complimented the fitting intimacy for this occasion.
The bar itself operated over a grand piano, which made it worth buying a gin and tonic. A dimly lit ambience embraced the audience who, like me, were eager to see Hannah Lowe, the 2021 Costa Book Award for Poetry winner. Having seen her read previously in 2019 at the Slip Off festival in South London, I looked forward to revisiting her work.
The radiant former teacher, incredibly modest about her prestigious award, greeted us on the stand and warmly began to read from the award winning The Kids, her collection of sonnets from her experience as a teacher in an inner-London school. This rang out clear with strong pieces like Simile, with the quote Timothy Winters has ears like bombs and teeth like splinters but it really focused on a girl no-one liked, Bobbi Bonniwell who the poet couldn’t forget – and now, neither would we. The startling All Over It opened the doors to the poet’s own family life with pupil, Dwayne. We were urging him not to back out the room as he does exactly that in the last line.
After the humorous and descriptive Pepys where classroom roles were reversed, Hannah Lowe gave us the joy of The Sixth Form Theatre Trip and the comparison of taking out dogs. Troublesome ones, disruptive ones but ones a teacher truly loved. Then we come to The Only English Kid where the pupil John is just that, his young shoulders carry the brunt of alienation and racial identity.
On this vein British Born gave us the irony of children bought up in cities of England and the bitter tang of racial prejudice. Very cleverly written and read. My heart lifted when the Art of Teaching was read, my personal favourite of this collection and the audience wallowed in such rich detail of this profession and pupils she knew so well, and looked into their souls. As a summary the theme was how to deal with bored kids, and lovely details of London slang.
I was so dreadfully moved over In H&M, and a teacher recognising a former pupil and how it stayed with them, and the girl shutting down before her. With great yoga class imagery and questioning the term Masterclass, Kathy, Carla was slickly projected and an ideal way to wind down this delightful session of poetry. A powerful book of sonnets and I would say parables too.
The Kids by Hannah Lowe published by Bloodaxe Books is worth a read and I’m pleased to say we’ll see a lot more of this prolific and talented poet in the near future. The next Poetry Club at the Coronet will be on 14th June. Well worth a visit.