Sophie Hannah is a poet and crime fiction writer. Her crime fiction frequently appears on bestseller lists and her poetry is praised by her contemporaries, readers and critics for its comic and off-centre observation of our world combined with an often poignant undertone of heartache or inadequacy. Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie calls her a 'jewel of inventive cleverness', noting that her 'command of forms is unarguable, her glance is oblique, her grasp of situations unusual'.
Hannah was born in Manchester in 1971, and has been a Fellow at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Her poetry is studied at GCSE and A-Level in the UK. She writes often from her own experiences, including things she comes across while giving readings and workshops. 'Occupational Hazard' is one such example; she lampoons a man who 'has slept with the rich and the poor / But he sadly admits that he's never / Slept with a poet before'. To be the subject of Hannah's mockery is not a position one should want to be in; her wit very amusing, but merciless.
Her debut collection, The Hero and the Girl Next Door
, demonstrates Hannah's distinctive style and preference for blithe and (apparently) wry reflection. There is a playful nature and predilection for the absurd, for example 'The End of Love' which proposes 'The end of love should be a big event / It should involve the hiring of a hall'. Later poems continue to tease the expectations of art. 'Wells-Next-the-Sea' from First of the Last Chances
, which is included in this recording, takes an ungrammatical approach to a seaside town by following the rules its title suggests. Exaggeration, particularly taking metaphor or imagery a step beyond what we might expect, is the mode of expression Hannah favours. This is exemplified in 'Next Door Despised', also included here, which takes to extremes the classic neighbour-feud as the neighbours make 'plans to follow you to group / therapy, pinch / your problems, change their characters and looks'.
There is no pretension in Hannah's poetry, but the formal command suggests that lightness of thematic touch should not be mistaken for lack of skill. The metre and rhythm are carefully controlled throughout, and time and again it is the form which is manipulated to add effect to the jocund concluding lines. It is this unusual mix of frivolity and formal prowess that make her verse so commendable; few poets can manage to write with the ease of speech and humour of anecdote within strict rhyme patterns.
In her recording for the Archive, Sophie Hannah introduces with characteristic humour some of the inspiring instances behind the poems – including university exams, failed relationships and cancelled poetry workshops in Derbyshire. The poems themselves are comically delivered, emphasizing verbal virtuosity, yet not eclipsing the deeper emotion.
This recording was made on the 26th March 2010 at the Audio Workshop London, and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.