At fifteen I was a punk. I don’t have the spiky hair anymore (don’t have any in fact) but I still like to think I have a little bit of the ethos. My son is fifteen and into much the same type of alternative music, although his relates more to the various genres of heavy metal. It is only now, however, I have spotted a contradiction in our choices, for although I reveled in being different, I also wanted to be part of a group who looked and felt the same.
What we all have in common, whatever identity we feel we have, is the need to belong to something. It may only be with four other boys playing Warhammer in Games Workshop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or as in Hannah Lowe’s poem Dance Class, being with ‘the best girls posed like poodles at a show‘. But it is often not that easy to fit in, you may not be good at the game; you may be ‘a scandal in that class, big-footed/giant in lycra‘.
Gender, age, heritage, class, weight, or the colour of your eyes or jumper, can all set you apart and make it difficult to ‘fit in’; in Hannah’s case it was what the other children would think of her having a ‘dad,/a black man, stood among the Essex mothers/clad in leopard skin.’ As such we may go to great lengths, or even tell an easy lie just to be part of something we feel at that time is so important, as she does in the final line of this poignant poem.
It is of course, much harder for children who will try to shape themselves into something they’re not as they grow up. But it is true also for adults. We should not forget that there are some things we can’t change; where we were born, our parents and siblings, where we grew up and all the demographic baggage that comes with. I reminded here of the Serenity Prayer.
As you can see below from the lovely reading of the poem, Hannah felt really embarrassed having to go to a dance class where she was a ‘bad ballerina‘ and was even called a ‘fairy elephant‘. But this wasn’t all that she felt embarrassed about.
Hannah Lowe was born in Essex in 1976 to an English mother and Chinese-Jamaican father. Chick (Bloodaxe, 2013) is her debut collection and was shortlisted for the Forward and Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prizes and the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. She has followed this with two pamphlets, R x in 2013 and Ormonde in 2014. She teaches Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University and her family memoir Long Time, No See will be published by Periscope in April 2015.
A former English teacher, Hannah Lowe published Chick, her first collection, in 2013, following an earlier pamphlet (The Hitcher) from The Rialto in 2011. Chick takes its title from the nickname of the poet’s late father who, as a career gambler, was an elusive presence in her youth. The book’s affecting poems balance the ordered progressions of childhood (piano lessons and ballet classes) against the myths and stories (the loaded dice, the hidden rolls of cash) which swirled around this charismatic man. Hannah was recently named one of the twenty Next Generation Poets, 2014. She is currently at work on a new chapbook for Hercules Editions.
The best girls posed like poodles at a show
and Betty Finch, in lemon gauze and wrinkles,
swept her wooden cane along the rows
to lock our knees in place and turn our ankles.
I was a scandal in that class, big-footed
giant in lycra, joker in my tap shoes,
slapping on the off-beat while a hundred
tappers hit the wood. I missed the cues
each time. After, in the foyer, dad,
a black man, stood among the Essex mothers
clad in leopard skin. He’d shake the keys
and scan the bloom of dancers where I hid
and whispered to another ballerina
he’s the cab my mother sends for me.