Born 1942 in Southgate in northeast London; father a clergyman. Subsequent translations to other North London suburban contexts, interspersed with boarding school episodes in a more rustic setting . . .

In ‘Dreaming Arrival’ I’ve described how, under the influence of Eliot’s ‘Waste Land’, I started, quite abruptly, to write poetry when I was fifteen and at boarding school: ‘That first poem I wrote I still have, set out very neatly in the back of the Chemistry Notebook. I wrote it very quickly, something half-shameful and not fully believable . . . And later that day in the school dining hall I remember looking down the table and thinking, I have done this, and none of them knows I have done it. I became a library-haunter, reading in there through the long ache of afternoon sunlight. I read Webster's plays in the old Mermaid editions, this again because of the lines Eliot quoted: 'Keep the wolf far hence that's foe to men / Or with his nails he'll dig it up again'. . . . It was a question of how to fill those afternoons as the day's structure sagged and threatened to collapse. In the library I found books that sought to explicate this ‘modern’ poetry, Eliot and Auden in particular. This was the 1950s and it had been around for a while of course, but it was new to me. There was a sense of something important being brought forward to one’s attention. The library had a liberal policy whereby you checked out your loans yourself, simply writing them in a book and taking them back pretty much when you felt like it.’

I became a haunter of second-hand bookshops as well. There was one, the White Horse Bookshop, in the town, and one of the two women who ran it was a poet, Joan Barton, but I did not find this out until many years later. Before long I was invited to join the school’s Literary Society. Once a term there is the Literary Society's 'original contributions meeting', where we each read something we had written ourselves. These sessions had a sort of hushed, embarrassed intensity. There was no immediate criticism – we just each read in turn, poems or prose. The secretary, one of the boys, did compile minutes where he commented on what was read. There had been other poets at that school – Betjeman and Macneice, also Bernard Spencer.

In 1962, after a ‘gap year’ – though it wasn’t called that in 1960 – attached to a school in Lahore, in Pakistan, and a breakdown which kept me out of circulation for a year, I went to Cambridge where, as far as poetry went, I was a sort of semi-participant, publishing a few poems in Granta and other student magazines. I think I overlapped by one year with Andrew Crozier but didn’t encounter him till much later, when I published him with The Many Press and I was not at the time part of that upsurge of poetic energy focussed in significant part on the university.

Then a year at Southampton doing a PGCE, a teacher-training course, which for me was blissfully ordinary after Cambridge which I had experienced as an uncomfortable prolongation of public school. There didn’t seem to be any poetry at Southampton (apart form my own of course). Moving back to London, living in a bedsitter and making a living doing odd bits of part-time teaching, I sought to make connections. Also living in that house was a Canadian poet Charles Hatcher who had previously been part of the expatriate scene in Paris, Trocchi, Beckett and so on. I’ve written elsewhere about him and the Canadian would-be novelist who lived in the house as well, two marginal people. I brought out my first publication, a pamphlet which I produced myself under Charles’ guidance. Elsewhere I made contacts, going to Norman Hidden’s Writers Workshop in Covent Garden, and Guerrilla Poets that met Jim Haynes’ Arts Lab – Donald Gardner, resident for a long time now in Amsterdam, was our leader.

In 1969 I went to France – I’d contrived to get a languages degree, main subject French, without ever living in the country. You could do that if you went to Cambridge back then. I spent a year teaching in Lyon, then back to London and part-time teaching, French this time. An encounter, just after I got back from France in 1970, with Anthony Howell was a turning point. In ‘Being There’, an article published in issue 28 of Jacket magazine , I wrote: ‘Our Workshop met every week in Antony's flat in Hampstead. It started at the beginning of the year and ran through the summer. Afterwards we would go and have a curry and then I would walk home. I had a bedsitter in Kilburn and I would stride along in the Summer night, down the hill under the huge trees. Walking alone across a city late at night can give one a feeling of owning it. My room when I got home had a balcony from where I could look up towards Kilburn. Looking out over the city I could contain it all, contain it and body it forth. I was writing unrhymed sonnets – the arbitrariness of the form, however vestigial, as a container. For the several months that the workshop carried on – it met once a week and was intense – I existed in a shared verbal exaltation. It was like re-living the excitements of modernism, a feeling that anything was possible.’ So in this roundabout way I became that much more aware than previously of other varieties of writing, and of that peculiar gulf that divides ‘mainstream’ from ‘experimental’, ‘avant-garde’ or whatever one likes to call it, in the poetry world.

In 1973 we moved to Hackney, where I’ve lived ever since. In 1975 I started working for the ‘English Language Service’ in Waltham Forest in East London, a specialist team of teacher formed to teach English to school students recently arrived in Britain, a job I was to do for the next twenty seven years. That same year our first child was born, and I started The Many Press. And in 1984 my first full-length collection of poems, ‘Out Walking’ was published by Anvil.