by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger
Chick, published by Bloodaxe Books in 2013, is a first collection of poetry that doubles as a complex character study: a portrait of the poet’s father, Ralf Lowe, a Chinese-Jamaican migrant making his way in 1940s London, dabbling in a variety of jobs but proving himself ultimately as a skilled card shark. During her childhood, the poet grew accustomed to hearing her father referred to by his gambling moniker, Chick. The world of risky chance, of poker games and beneath-the-table wagers, dominated Lowe’s early remembrances of the man she writes up in these sometimes tender, sometimes feral pieces. In the poem “Thunder Snakes”, she conjures up clues to the secrets at the heart of her dad’s dodgy trade:
“A gambler is never lonely. There’s another man
who wants his money. He keeps the company
of kings and knaves, lies awake and flips them over
in his mind, while the rain is spitting on the glass…”
Lowe’s work places a London she knows intimately in both the forefront and the emotional background, depending on the focus of individual poems. In snapshots of Brixton, of car rides through a city her father can navigate seamlessly, of mums weeping in Sainsbury’s, a sense of place unfolds, drawing the reader into an intimacy of setting that feels unforced and organic.
A first collection that is immediate, Chick is carved from a deft, confident alignment of images, places and reflections on one man’s life, as well as his death. It buoys up the reader’s spirits just as much as it summons the need for quiet pause, and as with all powerful poetry collections, it prompts examinations of our own selves: our relationships with our parents, our navigations of the places we love, with the people we can’t bear to leave behind.