Donald Atkinson was born in Sheffield in 1931, the eldest of four children, growing up there and in Enfield, London, where his family spent the war years 1939-45. Since then he has enjoyed life in a number of places, rural and urban, the most peaceful of which was the village of Gravenhurst in Bedfordshire, where he planted and tended an orchard garden; and the most dramatic, the small island of Rousay in Orkney, where he lived with a fellow-poet from 1996-99. He is now back in the county he started from. He has a grown-up family of four daughters and a son, and many grandchildren.
After thirty years in teaching and youth theatre, he took early retirement in 1986, and his writing career starts from then. After the usual apprenticeship in poetry magazines, one of which he edited, his work first reached a wider public when, within six months of one another, he was awarded First Prize in both the Peterloo Poets and the TLS Cheltenham Festival competitions of 1988. The judges included A.S. Byatt, Tom Paulin and Carol Ann Duffy.
1989 saw the publication of his first full collection, A Sleep of Drowned Fathers (Peterloo), a long narrative sequence which won the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize for best first collection of its year, and was described by Peter Porter as 'a triumph of storytelling'. Three years later came Graffiti for Hard Hearts (Arc), a substantial book of shorter poems. In 1995, the writer was awarded a Writer's Bursary by the Arts Council of England for 'work in progress', a characteristically dramatic collection eventually published by Arc as Othello in the Pyramid of Dreams. In 2001, after returning from his three wind-tossed years in Orkney, he brought out his most recent full collection, A Constant Level of Illumination, which includes poems set to music by the composer Paul Robinson, and receiving regular performances in this country and abroad. Finally comes the new sequence of seven poems, a consequence of two visits to Mozambique, written in February 2004 and published here for the first time.