Biography

I was born in Belfast in 1944, the first child of Doreen and Colin Corkey. He, known as Tony, was a Padre in the RAF, stationed in Corsewall, Lincolnshire, where we lived for a while. I am told that, learning to talk, I said 'Hello' with a very precise English accent, which amused.

Poetry was important from the start. From infancy I was read to - I knew by heart much of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. When ill in bed, I had, like Stevenson, the magic land of counterpane for company.

We moved to County Tyrone, the heart of Ulster. In Garvetagh National School I learned the music of the Times Tables, and drew letters on a slate with chalk. There was a wealth of playground games and rhymes: Rappy-tappy-tappy on the left-hand-shoulder. At home, a major influence was Noel, the young local woman who looked after us children. She was a teller of tales, a source of popular song: Rings and things and buttons and bows. She was magical and mysterious and full of fun. She would say, Put up your hands to catch the stars and hand me down the moon - a perfect iambic heptameter. I didn't know that fact and neither did she, but we knew it was good.

The whole world went to Church in those days. Ours was First Castlederg Presbyterian Church, otherwise known as Garvetagh Church, and Dad was the minister. My developing sense of the music of language was moulded around the hymns we sang, the resonances of the King James Bible, the prayers we said every night.

When Dad was called to Albert Street, a big church in the Shankill/Falls area of Belfast, we moved from country to city. A brief, rigorous spell at the Model Primary (where Miss Robinson and Miss Dodds taught me all the English grammar I was ever going to need for the rest of my life, and all the Algebra and Geometry too) saw me into the 'A' stream of Belfast Royal Academy. School was suddenly unbelievably easy, and fun, except for hockey. Latin, French and German opened up the world. When I got to Form Two, Mr Mitchell read my essays aloud to the class with great emphasis and enthusiasm, making my characters live. I could write! In Form Four, Johnny Kane, whom we thought of as very old, paced the classroom reciting Gray's Elegy. I can still remember that whole long poem myself. Milton and Shakespeare entered my head and never left, as did the poetry of Villon and Verlaine and Goethe. Such is the power of good teachers.

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