I was born in Newquay, Cornwall, in 1936. My parents were 'show-biz' people. My maternal grandfather had been a gold miner in Johannesburg in the 1860s, my paternal grandmother a ladies maid in Ludlow. My parents worked in summer shows in seaside resorts, my father a pianist and my mother a singer. Both had studied at the Royal Academy of Music. During the war they did no professional work, but immediately after peace came they worked with ENSA in Germany and Palestine (which included what is now Israel). One of my 'uncles' in the show was a son of the great music hall comedian Dan Leno.
In the war my father was stationed at Cosford RAF camp where he was a physical training instructor, reaching the rank of sergeant. We lived at Albrighton, and for those years I enjoyed the Salop countryside, and the relatively conventional life with Mum at home, Dad back in the evening. They kept up their practising, and popular songs of the time filled the house.
After the war, when they had to spent a lot of time touring, I was sent to a prepschool, Hillsbrow School, in Redhill, now long since defunct. I hated this school and was very homesick, but learned the skills of being the 'good chap' and was in fact very popular, good at both cricket and 'rugger'. The experience of this school made a life-long impression on me. At one time I saw myself as a lion who lived in the 'jungle' which was the school woods. The me doing Latin and cricket wasn't real at all. The influence here was a book I've never been able to trace, called African Tales, one of which was called Jummy, the name of a lion who tells the tale in the first person.
I then went on to Blundells School, in Devon, a public school, which I liked even less, and unconsciously felt my petty bourgeois roots against the upper crust 'types' I came into contact with. I persuaded my father to let me leave as soon as it was legal, when I was sixteen.
I'd vague ideas of being a journalist but no success, so went into the RAF on a three year stint roughly equivalent to the National Service which was just coming to an end.
There, especially at Creden Hill near Hereford, I began for the first time to actually enjoy books, and did some Stanislavsky type drama, and found out about art mainly from Fred Gettings, the now well established writer on the mystical. At the end of my service I took a correspondence course and got an A level, which was enough to get me into a teacher's training college, King Alfried's College Winchester, where I learnt to be a primary school teacher.
I used my teaching qualification to get into Southampton University and was tutored by F T Prince, whose influence I've only recently begun to recognize.
I became a primary school teacher, then a teacher of teachers at Trinity and All Saints College in Yorkshire, and then a university teacher at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria where I stayed for eighteen years. Being in Zaria was, at last, my real education.
During this time my first book, Sabon Gari (1974), was published by London Magazine editions, and a book under the Nigerian name of Idi Bukar, First the Desert Came and then the Torturer (1986), was published by Rag Press in Zaria but hardly circulated at all because of admin problems.
I came back to England in 1988 for family reasons and eventually settled in Cowplain, in Hampshire where we nursed my father until his death, when I inherited the house there.
My Nigerian wife (now a British citizen) cared for my father in his last years. Our children were born in 1989 (Tabitha) , and 1995 (Tristan).
Since returning I've worked in English as a Second Language and class teaching in primary schools, as a team leader for English as a Second Language in Croydon, as an advisory teacher in English Language (East Sussex), and more recently as a sixth form and FE teacher doing A levels and GCSE, some media studies and politics. I occasionally do talks at Winchester University.
During my time at Zaria I'd done a PhD part-time with Stirling University, writing on free verse and studying all kinds of versification. On returning to England I began to want to learn to write in traditional forms, and set myself to do this.
I won prizes in the National Poetry Competition and the Arvon Competition and one or two others. And I've been in a number of anthologies.
My book-length poem, Letter to Patience (Seren, 2006), won the Costa (formerly Whitbread) Award. This poem was begun in 1992. My next book, You (2010) was short-listed for the T S Eliot Prize. I also won the Troubadour poetry prize in 2007.
I'm now just completing a new book, called Accompanying, and working on another one, Tales.
Hillsbrow Preparatory School for Boys
My house in Zaria, Nigeria
Mum and Dad on stage.
Garden in Cowplain where I live now