10:04 17 January 2022

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

Hannah Lowe topped the poetry category at the 2021 Costa Book Awards with her collection The Kids.

The 45-year-old started writing the poems that became a collection of 66 sonnets in 2016; they are about teaching and education, particularly his time studying at Barking and Dagenham College.

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

“I hope it’s really relevant for students and teachers too.

“Students are performers, 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 appealing” also brought her to life.

One of the poems, The Register, evokes Hannah’s first day as a teacher at the age of 22. Another, Pink Hummingbird, is about an English teacher Hannah had in middle school.

She added: “He loved poetry and he taught us black American literature, experimental writing, so there are a few poems in the book for him, but there are also poems about absolutely horrific experiences, especially in high school.”

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

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

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

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

“They took me a long time to write – a lot of formatting, making, editing – but in the limitation, I think we find possibility.”

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

After teaching high school English for a decade, Hannah quit teaching to do her PhD in creative writing at the University of East London.

She now teaches creative writing to undergraduate students at Brunel University.

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