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This report is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

Paul Wilkins Gary McKeone

When a young Paul Wilkins took up a teaching post at St Columb's College, Derry in 1976, the arrival of this fresh-faced Englishman in the staff room did not pass unnoticed. One of the long time incumbents of that smoke-filled refuge wanted to know (a) what Paul was doing there and (b) why he wasn't wearing his school uniform. Just over thirty years later, on a cold, cloudless, radiant February Saturday, as Paul's remains were carried from St Eugene's Cathedral to the sound of Sibelius, a church that could hold no more people stood in silent tribute to a much-loved teacher, friend and poet.

Born in Surrey in 1951, Paul came to the north of Ireland in 1970 when he studied English at the University of Ulster in Derry and Coleraine. Derry became his home, a difficult Derry, a city of sirens and worse, where almost the only other English accents were those of British soldiers. Against this backdrop of civil unrest, Paul began a teaching career that was to give his life ballast and purpose, 'each day opening/My classroom door to hear the vowels of home/Lengthen'. That other home, south London, and indeed that other life, was a private place, uncovered deftly, if fleetingly, in his first Carcanet collection, Pasts (1979), and more unflinchingly in his second and final collection, Truths of the Unremembered Things (1999).

Pasts, which followed quickly from his Eric Gregory Award in ...


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