A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL MY FRIENDS!

A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL MY FRIENDS!

25.1.15

VAN GOGH (1853-1890) 125TH ANNIVERSARY POEMS


































VAN GOGH

(1)

Years ago Van Gogh the marksman
hijacked a low flying plane and
forced its pilot to fly to the sun:

a few Dutch masterpieces were all that survived,
a few flakes of experience,

sunlight
trapped on the wing.


(2)*

His canvas bleeds,
black gun lies frozen by his side.
His heart falls
broken
from the butcher's cart,
slides
onto the infested street
and in his paint
metal vultures skid,
Van Gogh
stirring it up again.


*The original inspiration for this poem came from a chance observation of what looked like a sheep's heart lying in the middle of a Newcastle street. Evidently fallen debris from a passing vehicle, its blood spattered the road as cars darted over and around it. The following quotation from Artaud's essay 'Van Gogh, the man suicided by society' discovered shortly after the completion of the poem is also relevant: 'Van Gogh was terribly sensitive. To be convinced of this just look at his seemingly panting face, which is also, from certain angles, the spellbinding face of a butcher.'



KEITH ARMSTRONG

JINGLING WITH ROBBIE BURNS!

























THE DIVIDED SELF

‘When’er my muse does on me glance, I jingle at her.’  (Robert Burns).


Such an eye in a human head,
from the toothless baby
to the toothless man,
the Edinburgh wynds
bleed whisky.
Through all the Daft Days,
we drink and gree
in the local howffs,
dancing down
Bread Street.
Like burns with Burns
these gutters run;
where Fergusson once tripped,
his shaking glass
jumps
in our inky fingers,
delirium tugs
at our bardish tongues;
dead drunk,
we dribble down
a crafty double
for Burke & Hare,
heckle a Deacon Brodie
gibbering
on the end
of the hangman’s rope.

In all these great and flitting streets
awash with cadies,
this poet’s dust
clings
like distemper to our bones.
We’re walking through
the dark and daylight,
the laughs
and torture
of lost ideals.
Where is the leader of the mob Joe Smith,
that bowlegged cobbler
who snuffed it on these cobbles,
plunging
from this stagecoach pissed?
Where is the gold
of Jinglin’ George Heriot?
Is it in the sunglow on the Forth?
We’re looking for girls of amazing beauty
and whores of unutterable filth:
‘And in the Abbotsford
like gabbing asses
they scale the heights
of Ben Parnassus.’

Oh Hugh me lad
we’ve seen some changes.
In Milne’s, your great brow scowls the louder;
your glass of bitterness
deep as a loch:
‘Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun.’

Oh Heart
of Midlothian,
it spits on
to rain
still hopes.
Still hope in her light meadows
and in her volcanic smiles.
And we’ve sung with Hamish
in Sandy Bell’s
and Nicky Tams’
and Diggers’,
a long hard sup
along the cobbles
to the dregs
at the World’s End:
‘Whene’er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.’

Bright as silver,
sharp as ice,
this Edinburgh of all places,
home to a raving melancholia
among the ghosts
of Scotland’s Bedlam:
‘Auld Reekie’s sons blythe faces’,
shades of Fergusson in Canongate.

And the blee-e’ed sun,
the reaming ale 
our hearts to heal;
the muse of Rose Street
seeping through us boozy bards,
us snuff snorters
in coughing clouds.

Here
on display
in this Edinburgh dream:
the polished monocle 
of Sydney Goodsir Smith,
glittering by
his stained inhaler;
and the black velvet jacket
of RLS,
slumped by
a battered straw hat.


And someone
wolf whistles
along Waterloo Place;
and lovers
kiss moonlight
on Arthur’s Seat:
see Edinburgh rise.

Drink
from her eyes.




KEITH ARMSTRONG


(from Imagined Corners, Smokestack Books, 2004). 

17.1.15

A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO DURHAM & KOSTROMA!





























I'm currently taking part in a poetry exchange with Durham's twin city Kostroma in Russia with the support of Durham County Council's International Relations Office. On the morning of Friday January 16th, I discussed my poetry in a live video exchange with the Russian twin. Kostroma is one of the oldest Russian cities. It is located 330 km to the North East of Moscow on the confluence of the 
Volga and Kostroma rivers. Its population is c270,000.

The following are the poems I read and discussed in the video exchange:


TWIN THE WEAR WITH THE VOLGA


Twin the Wear with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Durham Revolution,
let a peaceful breeze blow here.

There’s this comrade in the Market Tavern,
looks like Nikita Khrushchev.
There’s a Moscow moon on top of his head,
his face is all ruddy and red.
Back in Russia, 
there’s a border reiver,
a wild vodka look in his eye,
he’s riding a horse like a cossack
from Kostroma to Crook Town and back.

Reach across water me darling,
it’s worth it.
Spread out your nets and your arms.
You might get a hot Russian lover
and Igor a sweet Wearside lass. 

So twin the Wear with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Durham Revolution,
let a peaceful breeze blow here.

There’s this strapping lad in the Kremlin,
he’s from an Easington back lane.
He’s wearing old Lenin’s disused fur hat,
there’s a Marxist tattoo on his chest.
Back in Durham,
there’s a soviet cosmonaut,
with a fishing rod in his hand,
he’s trying for a catch in the gathering dusk
as the river slides from yellow to black.  

Share a strong jar with me sweetheart, 
it’s warm now.
Hold the smile on your face.
You can sail light on the Baltic
and fly to the Urals with me.   

So twin the Wear with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Durham Revolution,
let a peaceful breeze blow here.



KEITH ARMSTRONG




NOTES TOWARDS A POEM ON RUSSIA


1

Red star night.
A badge in the sky.
Banners at the cross-roads.
Oh Mother Russia,
your past bleeding,
we are driving to the future
in a black limousine.

2

Rubbing hearts
in the lift
with travellers,
an atlas in microcosm,
all telling us,
by their accents,
the rooms
that they were born in.
In the Ukraine Hotel,
the bathrooms drip
with voices
and many tongues
sleep,
with the last words of the day
melting away on their lips.

3

Vodka is as warm
as a kiss.
It thrusts a burning finger
down your throat.
After a few,
we embrace.
Our arms surround
the World.
Warm Russian that he is,
Igor kisses me.
After fish and caviar,
the kiss
tastes good!
He signs away his writing:
To Keith,
who is both happy and sad.'

Another night
spurts into a dream.
In and out of trouble,
people will always
dance.

4

TO A FELLOW WRITER IN RUSTAVI

Last night we swopped our shirts.
They didn't fit our bodies too well
but they fitted our mood exactly.

5

WHITE NIGHTS

The huge spread of Leningrad.
Cold courtyard heart.
The winter is hard,
but the nights are turning,
from black to white,
to red and back again.

6

Circus,
and I'm dazzled;
not by the slender sway
of the supple trapezist
but by the spotlight
of a girl's blonde hair.
Shining from the audience,
she smiles
and all Russia smiles at me.
Such tricks in this moment.
I know I'll never see her again.



7

ZAGORSK

All the wailing
behind fine railings.
The seminary domes like suns
catch the sun
and priests, with long nights in their beards,
harmonize brilliantly.
Their voices,
polished gold,
sound out the walls
as a rocket
glints in the sky.

8

RUSTAVI STEELWORKS

It's hellish hot in here.
Beneath the Earth,
these are
men and women
sweating steel,
forging
futures for
their children.
Steel bars for prisons,
steel bars for playgrounds.
It's hellish hot in here.
Like a heart,
burning.

9

Three swaying silhouettes.
Three bureaucrats.
Along the street,
they joggle towards us.
In their cases,
they carry documents with drink
seeping between the lines.
And now they are laughing,
and now the words are laughing.
They are peace documents.
Messages.
Meant for bottles,
meant for oceans.






Keith Armstrong





Elvet Bridge 

(inspired by Guillaume Apollinaire)


Under Elvet Bridge the rain
flows with our loves.
Must I recall again?
Joy always used to follow after pain.

The days pass, the weeks pass
all in vain.
Neither time spent nor misspent
nor love comes back again.

Under Elvet Bridge the rain
flows with our loves.
Must I recall again?
Joy always used to follow after rain.




Keith Armstrong



SPIDER: A MEMORY
 
Spider's in
The Half Moon afternoon,
eyes beaming under the peak of his cap;
a drinker's smile
from the salt of the earth.
He's dreaming of the raging sea
and he sups a fretting old pint;
getting ready to walk
over the teeming hill.
A drool in The Shakespeare,
a let-slip of a grin,
academic locals
jawing themselves still
in dark rooms
of a Durham past;
brass bands blessed
on rampant days,
waves tumbling
from a balcony.

Praise be to Spider,
honour his life,
and the days spent
twinkling
through a city of bars.




KEITH ARMSTRONG































Reception for Kostroma delegation at Durham Town Hall. 
Photos by Tony Whittle.








the jingling geordie

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poet and raconteur