English poet Hannah Lowe, amidst the health emergency that afflicted Italy, poured out her sentiments for 'il bel paese'. And has been awarded one of Great Britain's leading poetry prizes
When Hannah Lowe was asked if she'd like to write a poem for The Official Ferrari Magazine she admits that at first she was a little taken aback. “To be honest, I don't really know much about cars, so to be published in a car magazine, and by Ferrari, was something I'd never imagined,” says the 43-year-old English poet.
She was in the middle of the strict Covid-19 lockdown at her home in north London when the call came. Hannah, who has been writing poetry since she was aged twenty eight, admits to some initial trepidation. “I accepted the commission but then, I must admit, I thought, 'but what do I know about Italy?' ” she recalls, modestly. “But then, when I thought about it more deeply, about my life experiences, I welcomed the idea. I realised that Italy has never been that far away from me.”
Holiday visits to Sicily and to Sardinia had played a part in her 'Italian education', but it was winning a place on a writing course in Turin back in 2012 when 'il bel paese' really began to seep into her poetic consciousness. The work she produced for TOFM, In Italy, in Love, was prefaced by a three-line masterpiece by one of the country's most accomplished twentieth century poets, Salvatore Quasimodo.
“I'm a great admirer of Quasimodo”, says Hannah. “And, I also chose to write the poem in the three-line stanza format, as an homage to Dante Alighieri, who was known for writing in that 'terzine' structure.” Following quickly on from her successful debut in The Official Ferrari Magazine, Hannah has now received one of Great Britain's leading poetry prizes, in the annual Cholmondeley Awards. She is in exalted company. The Cholmondeley Award, presented by the Society of Authors to poets for a body of work rather than a single poem, has in the past adorned literary notables such as Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Vernon Scannell, Kingsley Amis, Ian Crichton-Smith and Roger McGough. Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate until 2019, is also a past winner.
“It gave me the chance to reflect upon the many positive experiences I've had in the country, and of Italians here”, from a University friend, Fabiano, and a longtime flatmate, Daniela, to her own excursions into London's Little Italy to sip coffee at the famous Bar Italia off Soho's Old Compton Street. “When I think of Italy I think of fashion and glamour, yes, but most of all I associate Italy with the essence of style,” she says. “And, of course, Ferrari is very much a part of that.”
Her description of Italy was intended to be “light, humorous. But,” she insists, “I tried to avoid slipping into cliché, and I put into it lots of things that I knew of the place. That scene of the people all gathered around the restaurant table, for example, was a memory of when I was in Turin. That's how it was.” Indeed, In Italy, In Love certainly succeeds in capturing the 'joie de vivre', the emotions, and the passion, at the heart of Italian culture. All things that are also the hallmark of Ferrari.
In Italy, In Love
by Hannah Lowe
In Italy, I decide to fall in love. It’s April,
a man writes me love letters, soft entreaties
that drift into my inbox like rose petals
and from my fifth-floor room of the Pensione Orizzonte
I watch the river flow steady and passionate
as my waiting heart. Each day I cross the city
to the airy white classroom where we sit
and learn to tell stories – which details matter,
how to deepen character, what to keep, to cut?
At lunch, I drink espresso with my teacher
in the smoky blue-tiled bar next door
where an old man tells a long garrulous saga
I think he’s told a hundred times before.
Back in my room, my love sends poems by Eugenio
Montale: portami il girasole. He wants me, he is so sure.
I re-watch clips from Cinema Paradiso,
fire, film, desire, love’s comfort, love’s pain –
I want a man, any man, below my window,
waiting in all weathers, in torrential rain
that makes his shirt transparent so I can see
the shining ruby of his heart below his skin.
At night, my class eat dinner at the Café Giovanni –
we’re strangers, but at the long table, the flow
of Sangiovese has us laughing and weepy
while the waiter shaves parmigiano as though
conducting an orchestra. I eat ribollita,
arancini, a spring green risotto –
so rousing, squisito, the taste, the texture,
I hide the bliss on my face behind a tissue.
Later, naked on the bedcovers, I wonder
what I am in love with, the man with his honeydew
of words, or this city, this country?
I watch the scene from A Room with a View
where the English girl is finally kissed
on a thundery hillside in Tuscany.
Where else could a kiss like that exist?
It needs wild flowers, Tuscan light, Puccini.
Oh I want to be kissed like that, to be kissed and kissed –