jingle jingle!

jingle jingle!

20.8.17

HOLYROOD


RICHARD STRAUSS
































The sky surrounds me.
Why have I walked so tall?
I rest my weary head
on this cold mountain,
milky pastures
wrapped around the hills
like scarves.

Snow falls in my hair,
melts into dandruff.
I am combing this mountainside for you
Richard Strauss
of the long locks,
whose private house dreams down below,
beneath the looming avalanche of Alps.

I have flown this far to touch you,
to scrape a hill with a fingernail,
to walk barefoot on Bavaria.

The military bands still bury the dead.
A raucous bell around your neck,
The music is not pretty.
It howls from the Russian front
and splinters the bones of a Garmisch churchyard.
And now, through the eyes of the Zugspitze, I watch
fresh battles conducted on your beloved soil,
GIs skiing patterns of another war.

In this time, I lie naked all night,
all ears to your drifting music
as it whistles across the valley,
telling the grumbling peasants that
you too were really a lonely man

who kissed the snow,
and Adolf’s freezing hand.





Keith Armstrong,
Garmisch

GRONINGEN POEMS









































 






KEEP AN EYE ON THE MARTINI TOWER FOR ME

(GRONINGEN POEMS)

KEITH ARMSTRONG



DANGEROUS TO BE SOBER IN GRONINGEN


dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too many sissy boys
on the loose
city poets
sweeping the streets
for verse
girls sticking their fingers
in my irish coffee
blobs of cream
on their lips

dangerous
to be sober in hotel de doelen
too much history
in the bathrooms
nazi tanks
rolling over it
or worse
supporters of f.c. groningen
in my face
teeth rattling with chants
from young throats

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too many doors revolving
in my eyes
undergound activists
digging up euros
for liquorice suppers
rights campaigners
stinking of fish
yesterday’s papers
under their feet

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too much to lose
too many egos
in the wind
guitarists shouting off
their helpless lyrics
whores
in the red windows
showing me their wares
when i’m drunk

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too much sleet
up your nose
pancake ships
sinking at night
in a sea of black moths
short skirts
troubling my fantasies
bottles in my mouth
and thirsty heart

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too many clocks looking down
on my words
the infernal ticking
of lost days
down the drain
the rain slashing
the cobbles of time
outliving my skin
and drenched soul

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too much warmth
in cafe marleen
the beckoning stools
of intoxicated moments
swirling by
the chatter of pigeons
gobbling up seconds
nibbling in my head
and my hungover poems

dangerous
to be sober in groningen

dangerous
to be sober in groningen




HUIS DE BEURS


Spinning and reeling,
days slipped by the window,
thudding clouds.
We rock in candlelight,
piano glows.
Sun’s sunk into the red carpet,
blood in the skin of the wine,
juicy dregs of another spilt day.
Old friends they have come
through this infernal revolving door
and gone on to evolve
long faces in the mist.
New vistas swing
through the old market
to make the lifelight
shine in our hearts.
Dragging on the stubs of years,
blowing out memory’s vague smoke.
Wet cobbles
glint with the dreams of fish,
flashing girls stream by
on darting bikes.
The crippled sunset
of war years,
the modern politics of fear.
Throw me another cigar
hand over your gear,
let us meet
in socialist song.
Your fleeting poetry
is a scarf tossed
round my neck.
My handsome northern mate,
I am going Dutch tonight.
That Mr Piano Man
flies across the bar
to catch an A Train again
for the fresh morning,
love’s daybreak.
My darling,
kiss my poet's lips,
let us greet the warm flesh
of Groningen
breathing.



GROTE MARKT, GRONINGEN


Grote Markt,
big as my heart,
your stones are wet
with all the kisses of my life.
Wide with welcome,
you open up the skies for me,
your face changes with the clouds.
Your winning charm
can sell me anything.
I embrace your openness,
your outstretched body
bears me fruit
and the raw fish
of morning,
sunshine memories
and the delicate touch
of the moon.
Dance with me,
there is light
in all your puddles
of yearning.
Smile,
all the blood
is washed
away.



GRONINGEN HORSES


Groningen horses
drag me here,
run wild in my brain,
leap in the imagery of the artist Werkman,
trot through my memories of wet streets,
jump over bars to greet me.
Their hooves clopping
through the shit of war,
they dart in the night along Guldenstraat,
wake in me dreams of the sleeping fields,
the swish of old tales
gone out of our minds.
Their withers are broad as Uncle Loeks’ back,
their haunches like a woman’s arse
I once knew.
What do they think of it all,
the fantasies in the Town Hall,
the pall of depression over Europe?
Stride on my sturdy Groningen beasts,
may your cannon bones,
your barrels,
your flanks,
roar with energy
zoom across this yawning,
dawning market square
and treat these sobbing days
as if they were not there.


VISMARKT
(for Rense Sinkgraven)

The Mayor is bothered
about the litter in my brain;
the dross of poems
spilled out onto bar floors
and the fishy streets of Groningen.
He prowls the gutters
of my verse,
seeking to tidy up
the rhymes
and times I slopped
erotic images
between the lines
of council meetings.
The detritus
from lost poetry readings
gathers up
in windy corners
on this market day,
curled up
into sodden memories,
dark with crumbling print.
This city’s flags
continue
to flap proud,
defiant
in the rampant northern breeze,
fingers of lost empires
forlornly
waving
at laughing girls
and daring boys
dashing headlong
over stinking bones.
You will not make me clean,
I am a dirty poet
whose head aches
with dark subversive thoughts.
I am not tidy,
my very speech
remains unruly
as a mad professor in the Huis de Beurs.
I will mess up your streets
with a dynamic anarchy
until a true democracy
makes a clean breast of things
and the road sweepers
and dreamers
of the Vismarkt
share a green and wondrous world.



KEEP AN EYE ON THE MARTINI TOWER FOR ME


Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me
while I struggle with my life.
I still miss the smell of fish
and the smoke of the Huis de Beurs.
I will be back, with another song,
for Mister Wilcox’s Liberation Tour.
I will be ready for that Pancake Ship
and the drunken stools of O’Ceallaigh’s.

Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me
while I work out which view to see.
I will be shouting in a twin town
and killing my time with romance.
I will be smashing through politicians
and drowning in red lights.
I will be rehearsing poems,
forgetting how real life hurts.

Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
I’m tearing up coasts to greet you.
You’ll see my ghost in Schipol,
with a pint of strong blood in a glass.
I’m on my way back to Groningen ,
with the smack of three kisses on me,
to shake the warm hand of a city poet,
to piss in the face of a heckler.

Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
I was happy in the Land of Cockaigne.
I could see clowns on a dismal day
and blondes in a sea of black.
I met a Grey Man with a girl of nineteen
and I asked him to show me the way.
I saw an old hand hack the guts from a beast
and sucked a cigar to be kind.

Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
don’t let her fly away.
I need her to hold my life together,
I crave her to show me the way.
I want her to lean my fragile bones against,
I need history to guide my feet.
I have left a careworn scarf with you,
keep it warm for when I come back.



GRONINGEN GUITARS


Oh the groaning
of Groningen guitars,
the twang
of its gutters
and bars,
rolling of memory,
filling up dreams
of canals,
cracking with ice.
Gestapo days
and dead poets
swimming
in music;
the roaring days,
the roaring boys
and gorgeous girls
strummed away,
dancing
out of my eyes
into graveyards
of songs sung.
Spilt notes
and words
weeping for forgiveness
and joy.



CITY POET
(for ronald ohlsen & rense sinkgraven)

i am this blue barge
the pancake ship
the casino of flashing neon
i am the light in a fish’s eyes
the icy herring down the throat

I am the city poet

i am the unknown lanes we stalk along
a red shirt
the stripper of paint
i am death waiting at the railway station
a duvel in the old buffet

i am the city poet

i am a museum of children
an irish pub out of place
the ancient bard etching odes
i am the word stuck in your head
the drugs from last night

i am the city poet

i am the next call
the starlings wheeling in the dusk
the darkness she brought you
i am the sober priest in the drunk’s tower
the bus stop you kissed her at

i am the city poet

i am a walking cinema
the empty library
the last one for the road
i am the finger in her pants
a frightening glance of yourself


i am the city poet

i am this laughing church
this gas factory
the football game from hell
i am a cracking goal
the free man in a prison

i am the city poet

i am a scream in a dull meeting
the chairman of the bored
the councillor for happiness
i am a stinking canal
the giggle in her blouse

i am the city poet

i am a yellow train
a flash across the countryside
the bearer of state grants
i am a brilliant dustman
a spade amongst hearts

i am the city poet

i am a word swimmer
a shipbuilder who rhymes
the planner of good times
i am an evil messenger
the dart in his face

i am the city poet

i am these streets
a fag in the pewking gutter
the ministry of obscure diseases
i am your filthy town
the tears in your homesick eyes

i am the city poet



IN GRONINGEN MUSEUM
(in honour of John William Waterhouse, 1849-1917)

Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers.

Pictures of the weary traveller
sleeping on a train,
slipping slowly down,
sipping seeping rain.

Images of a little boy
learning how to speak,
lips leaking words,
lilting leaping streets.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly.

Eyes floating in the museum
glance from another day,
gorgeous girls on fire,
glaring golden rays.

Flames of a shattered light
bursting on the walls,
buds blazing with life,
blooming beauty curls.

In her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights.

Strands of a lover’s hair
playing in my face,
painful pangs of lust,
pulling parting lace.

Curves of a winter’s bones
thread through my breath,
tears trickling away,
teasing threadbare dress.

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.

Shards of sunlit ale
flickering in my throat,
feelings filtering in the air,
fear framing boats.

Canals of soaking memories
drowning in my eyes,
drifting darlings of the past,
draped delicate thighs.

A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high.

Tunes from the fields
call a city’s voices,
coursing chords of love,
crazy calming noise.

Choirs of Groningen fish
hollering in the dawn,
heavenly hearts of folk,
history’s hopes are torn.

They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.



FOR MARIEKE


I always thought
that, when you smiled,
Groningen seemed a prettier place
to me
and the Grote Markt,
beneath my unsteady feet,
hugged me
like my father did
in his strong and quiet way.
It is always good,
when I am travelling,
to know
that I have friends
in many strange and different cities
and keys to many doors.
For nothing is ever fixed
or permanent.
Smiles are only fleeting
but one like yours
shines bright
in the very beer of sunlight;
especially,
in the anxious heart
of this Newcastle poet.



THE PLOUGH/DE PLOEG
(for Haren 850)

We plough on,
bearing the years on our frail backs,
across wide fields,
wild with history.
We carry our paints
and canvases
over the grass,
in order to capture
a moment’s beauty.
We write it down,
we proud poets and local historians,
our vivid past makes our poems wiser.
There is an old bird
flying overhead,
above the windmill of dreams
its beak points towards the distant barn,
showing us where
the ancient wounds are.
We must suffer
over and over again,
850 times if necessary,
in order
to celebrate,
to be able
to dance
along this town’s
narrow streets,
teeming
with memories
of brutal wars,
deaths
and fresh births.
Show me some joyous flowers,
ring tunes on the bell,
and I will show you
the scars of battles.
But today
let us sing
in our old church,
play local hymns
on this fine organ.
With a death defying love
of our great heritage,
we will feed our little children,
all the joy
in our heartfelt Haren lives.


I AM THE UNSUNG SINGER (to Isaac Gosschalk)

'A conflict between God and the Devil is raging in the Museum, a conflict between life and death, between heaven and hell, a struggle in celestial realms.'
(L.P. Dovenbos)

I am the unsung singer
begging for the bones
of a tune
at the feet of the barrel organ
of E.F. van Polen.
Scouring the plains,
that stretch from Groningen to the Urals,
I am looking for a song
in this strange land.

Is it in the heart of gorgeous Annemarie de Groot?
Or in the pen of poet Jaap Pijper?
How many more times must I trail
my clapped-out fingers
over the luscious skin of a girl called Nynke
to feel the happiness I had as a child?

If I feed my voice with the guts of the sea in the Vismarkt,
if I scrape my fingernails along bleeding Folkingestraat,
I might find a lyric,
a drunk ballad,
a play of passion,
to set the Drama Department ablaze
with true music.

My God! Is there no end to it?
This lust to suck harmony from women's throats.
It takes me trudging down Sledemannerstraat,
it makes me grope doorways along Turfstraat to find her,
to squeeze the good fruit of her.

You may say that I'm a hopeless drunk,
swept along by the irate Groningen wind,
who throws death down his neck in O'Ceallaigh's,
who throws lighters at burnt out musicians;
who dances naked in a Casino of Torture,
who lies locked in the warm arms of a student,
with the curtains rattling
like snakes in the soaking night.

Well, I claim the right to destroy myself
before your Great Army of Culture gets me
and traps me in stone.
Look! It's a picture of me!
Snogging a pretty lesbian in the Concert Hall,
as the blazered ranks of your Male Voice Choir
mime another folk song.

'Panis Angelicus,
Oh bread of Angels,
prepared for men'.

I'm the Devil in the bowels of the Martinikerk,
I am sweet and I am dry.
I'm the kind of kind guy,
with a Metworst in my angry mouth,
who robs a beggar of his poetry in Tuinstraat,
who snatches the melody from street singer Jan Roos.

Come with me,
Kees Korenhof
and Herman Finkers,
down Nieuwstad in all the strangled darkness,
to grip that Frisian whore's suspenders,
lift guilders from the canal banks
and jenevers from the Sea.

City of Knowledge,
your hooded man
is always at my shoulder,
and your songbird's always
pecking at my heart.
Let the warm breath of your tired farmers
sigh in the breeze
and teach me
to sing an anthem again.



IN DICKENSIAN HAREN
(for Henk & the Dickens’ Library)


In Dickensian Haren
this curious day,
we are men with a careworn mission;
impersonators of ill fortune,
scraping our feet
through the back lanes of Groningen,
in search of the famous beard
and the dribble of trashed dreams.
We are reciting the great lines of Charles
on a stumbling Sunday
and we wonder why.
Why does the suffering go on?
The inequality of chance,
the dirty rhythm of brass
rattling in banks?
The Scrooge days
the days of mindless Self,
the selfish?

For Dickens is alive and vivid this minute,
Dickens is witness.

We slaver out our words,
whip out our tongues for the public
and wonder as we wander
through the pages of Nickleby and Hard Times
what men ever learn.

We go on to admire
the bound copies
in the sacred library,
toast a last one for Charleyboy
and his mighty quill,
knowing that we’ll end up tucked on shelves
but never great,
just dust in the swollen stacks
of Mister Dickens.

But treasure the sunlight on this day,
worship the brilliant beer in the glass,
each second he told us
is precious.

He is modern in his self.
He is a star.



BLUES FOR HENK

The day opens its doors to set a poem loose,
the sun beats hard on the skin of the sluice.
A passing bridge blinks to let a boat break through,
it’s time to leave English and sing something new.

From Lauwersee to Dollard
and from Drenthe to the Wad,
I follow a passing seagull’s cry
and teach my father’s voice to sigh:

Vivace la flambardo
Fugere le mansardo
Parforce la Camargo
a doso kwatrupardo

Monete penicardo
Pericula san pardo
Finate par retardo
Etcetera ce fardo (H.N.Werkman)*

Another night sleepless in Hotel Simplon,
the creaking bedhead and the simpletons.
Shot bolt awake by the drill of the dawn,
who cares what these unswept streets will spawn?

We’re walking the lanes that Hendrik Werkman dredged,
chipping the gems from the pavement’s edge.
Past a man fishing, heron stood by his side,
to the dark Huis de Beurs where all hope has died.

This Groningen wind belts poems in my face,
I’d trade in old guilders to buy out of this place;
my brain’s pickled with Duvals,
and there’s blood on the walls.

Oh to die in the trash of this town,
ode-money tumbling from pockets of time.
Think I’ll whistle a tune straight from home,
and slash the pale wrist of my very last poem.

Last night I put a piper to bed,
music dripped from his heart and his worn fingers bled.
And I couldn’t get that woman out of my dreams,
and I couldn’t hear my dreams for her screams.

So the day leaps to life and a hymn springs to mind,
I’m just a poor down-and-out hoarding words that I find.
Drunk conversations swim round in the bowl,
I’m drowning with language this lonely old soul:

Vivace la flambardo
Fugere le mansardo
Parforce le Camargo
a doso kwatrupardo

Monete penicardo
Pericula san pardo
Finate par retardo
Etcetera ce fardo*

* Improvised verse by poet and graphic artist Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1882-1945)




GRONINGEN/NEWCASTLE LITERARY/ARTS TWINNING 
Keith Armstrong first visited Groningen in 1992 with poet Julia Darling to set the ball rolling. Since then there have been readings in pubs, universities, libraries, and schools and at breakfast parties, festivals, cabaret clubs and civic centres in both cities.
Successful events were held in Newcastle in October 2007 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the literary twinning between the respective cities, including a poetry and music evening at the Bridge Hotel and a reception with the City's Lord Mayor.
The then Groningen City Poet Rense Sinkgraven took part, along with fellow Groningen poet Willem Groenewegen, and Nick J. Swarth (City Poet of Tilburg) added colour to the celebrations.
The poets were joined by twinning pioneers Professor Helen Wilcox and jazz performer Allan Wilcox (on double bass and piano) and Groningen Cultural Officer Marieke Zwaving.
Keith Armstrong led the team of Newcastle performers with fellow poets Paul Summers, Poetry Jack, Catherine Graham, Ian Horn and Mick Standen. 
A Groningen delegation made up of poets, publishers, journalists and cultural officers and headed by Councillor for Culture Jaap Dijkstra visited Newcastle in September 2008 and a special performance evening was held at the Ouseburn Boathouse with readings by the Groningen poets and their Newcastle counterparts incuding Keith Armstrong, Paul Summers and Ellen Phethean. 
Groningen City Poet Stefan Nieuwenhuis jetted in September 2011 to join Newcastle poet Keith Armstrong at a launch of Keith's new books.
After which, Armstrong and folk musician Gary Miller appeared again in schools and cafes in Newcastle's twin city of Groningen at the end of September following on from successful appearances in 2010 where they presented their unique poems and songs in the International School, Haren Library (with a specially commissioned performance for Haren's 850th anniversary and a recital of the poems of Charles Dickens) and O'Ceallaigh's Irish Bar. During the September stay, Armstrong performed his sequence of Groningen poems, written after many visits to the city, with some settings by Miller.
The links between Groningen and Newcastle continue with Keith Armstrong planning another visit to Groningen in 2017.
For the record, here's a list of those artists who have made it happen so far:
Groningen literary/cultural visitors to Newcastle since 1992:
Rense Sinkgraven, Marieke Zwaving, Jaap Dijkstra, Tine Bethlehem, Albertina Soepboer, Tsead Bruinja, The Poets from Epibreren (Bart FM Droog, Tjitse Hofmann, Paul Jainandun Singh, Jan Klug), Sieger M. Geertsma, Ronald Ohlsen, Anneke Claus, Willem Groenewegen, Anton Scheepstra, Eric Nederkoorn, Herman Sandman, Emiel Matulewicz, Jeroen Engels, Entre'acte jazz duo (Allan Wilcox, Sina Keuning), Janny Boerma, Helen Wilcox, Henk Muda, Klaas Drenth, Emmeke Schurink-Plas, Willem Smit.
Newcastle visitors to Groningen since 1992:
Keith Armstrong, Julia Darling, The Poetry Virgins, Paul Summers, Ian Horn, Tony Whittle (photographer/musician), Ann Sessoms (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Ormston (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Hartnett (singer/songwriter), John Earl, Alan Clark (Nod), Dave Gaston, Michael Standen, Marie Little (singer), Gary Miller (singer/songwriter).
FURTHER INFORMATION: NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS, TEL. 0191 2529531.

18.8.17

EDINBURGH SEQUENCE




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.





LEITH WALK, EDINBURGH


Leith Walk it was
where Thomas Carlyle realised
that God did not exist:
Leith Walk
where Stevenson lit
his student pipe
and leched
after a shopgirl’s arse.
He spat
at dashing businessmen,
faces gripped
by hate,
and he loved
the night
did RLS:
the swinging hips,
and lifted dresses;
the tartaned whores spread
over a wild Scots wasteland,
showing their floodlit thighs,
keys flashing
in expert hands,
ready to unlock,
tease out,
the strangest dreams;
in full sight
of a devilish moon,
Leith Walk,
and a nonexistent God.





DEACON BRODIE



The whisky’s on my breath again,
Deacon Brodie.
The High Street’s soaked in sunshine gin,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve forgotten what it is to pray,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve pilfered more sad lines today,
Deacon Brodie.
Why does she touch my heart that way?
Deacon Brodie.
I thought I’d thrown her love away,
Deacon Brodie.
The moon scoffs at my life tonight,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve lost my way in this fading light,
Deacon Brodie.
Thrown away the keys to fortune,
Deacon Brodie.
Lost the gift of a brilliant tune,
Deacon Brodie.
It’s dark in this infested room,
Deacon Brodie.
Each night I sleep in a cold museum,
Deacon Brodie.
I’m looking for a lifting swagger,
Deacon Brodie.
Somewhere to stick a nation’s dagger,
Deacon Brodie.
It’s a stab town we’re living in,
Deacon Brodie.
Can’t catch the truth in my begging tin,
Deacon Brodie.
Oh what’s the point of a lifetime’s pain?
Deacon Brodie.
All it leaves is a useless stain,
Deacon Brodie.
Whatever the heartache they track you down,
Deacon Brodie,
Tear the shreds from your fancy gown,
Deacon Brodie.
Catch you with a lovely flame,
Deacon Brodie.
In an electric chair or Amsterdam,
Deacon Brodie.
We’ve missed the ship to Freedomsville,
Deacon Brodie.
We’re drowning in this poetry swill,
Deacon Brodie.
On the streets of bloody Europe,
Deacon Brodie.
Running away from the hangman’s rope,
Deacon Brodie.
Dead or alive it’s stuck in history,
Deacon Brodie.
Whistling away in Edinburgh’s mystery,
Deacon Brodie.
How can we hide the dark inside?
Deacon Brodie.
We need the thrill of one last ride,
Deacon Brodie.
And what lurks within that smile?
Deacon Brodie.
I see stars dying for many a mile,
Deacon Brodie.
Aye, and pay the price the very next time,
Deacon Brodie. 
It’s still a crazy pantomime,
Deacon Brodie.



Deacon Brodie's tavern is named after William Brodie, one of the inspirations for Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde. Born in 1741 Brodie was a deacon of the Guild of Wrights. By day, he was a respectable citizen, a member of the town council but by night, he consorted with lowlife; gambling and drinking. His dark side meant he had to take to burglary to pay his gambling debts, leading to his hanging in 1788.


STELLA OF ROSE STREET



(in memory of Stella Cartwright, 1937-1985)



“Dear George, it is so strange, our souls seem to fly together joyously over mountains and seas while each of us in our mutual way suffers agonies.”
(Stella Cartwright)

"An orgasm with Miss Cartwright was metaphysical, transcendental, like nothing else you can ever imagine. She seemed built for love."
(Stanley Roger Green)

“You placed me on a pedestal / according to my lights / but what you didn’t know, my dear / I have no head for heights.”
(Norman MacCaig)


It was so much gabble,
fantasies of genius in the Little Kremlin.
Once, I fell for it myself,
tottering along the red carpet,
poetry dribbling into my own vomit,
or maybe it was Hugh’s,
all mixed up
in the whisky of empty promises.

I talked in Milne’s Bar to a shop steward
who’d help build MacDiarmid’s bog.
He said the workmen had their tea in Grieve’s posh wee cups
and saw the reckoning in the leaves.
He yapped as auld poets glowered from their photos
and we downed chilled ale
to drown the memories of a Juniper Green girl
with a pint of that Muse again.

They must have seen joy in you our Stella
to wrench them from their word play,
to take a lovely shag to brighten up their anxious lines.
Och the happiness and the pain
of drinking
that smiler with the knife
come to get us all.
And that lonely honey George
must have driven you nuts
romancing you in the Pentland Hills
and kissing you full on your lips
one damp Saturday afternoon
by the Water of Leith.

They say ‘the best poem is silence’
but you were a shriek in the ecstasy
of loving and of agony,
a naked drunken howl.
The saintly saviour of hurt animals
and a shopper for the sick,
you wanted to wrap yourself around
something you could trust,
wanted a photograph of a true poetry lover
held to your lovely breasts
to make a change from the piss
of Milne’s Bar
and the daily Abbotsford drivel.

What you found was madness in a Zimmer Frame at thirty,
splashes of alcohol and tears lit
by the sudden flashes of beautiful orgasms,
the sunshine today
in all the muck
along Rose Street.





HOLYROOD

(1)

We stand concealed in roped-off rooms.

Dead eyes of the blind old monarchs of Scotland 

hang out

from frozen palace walls.

No one lives in this giant doll’s house,
no one lusts any more.

The furniture lies draped in frost.

Stiff dummies of the lingering past
hunch drearily in padded chairs;

the electric veins of Kings and Queens
become dead rivers, frozen streams.

(2)

They dragged Rizzio’s punctured body through here,
trailing the thick claret wine
across floorboards
now worn bare by footsore tourists
who have gouged out chunks
of the bloodstained wood
and slipped them
into suburban drawers:

souvenirs
in the debris of their murderous minds;
splinters
of a hunchback’s blood.

(3)

This is a disinfected past.
The sheets on the bed are dry.

The monument stands like a broken tree,
tugged dead by howling Lothian winds.

As thistles wilt on the backs of bent hills,
another party shuffles round:

in one ear,
out the other,
they go;
flies crawling
through the head of a corpse,
ringed by the flashing crown of Edinburgh:

a throb of a city
alive in the evening sun.
(4)

And cloud drifts, 
life dashes
on 
past Holyrood:

spear of our history,
sucker of our blood.






CASTLE STAIR REEL


Down all these steps,
I reach with my feet
for a moon
I know isn’t mine:
a spiral fall to a last gasp,
an early death,
a rushed breath;
aware that my next step could be my last,
a trip into Edinburgh or into hell,
with only a mothering guard-rail to save me,
only my steep inhibitions to save me

from something I want and don’t want,
something, some shadow,
flickering,
waiting
at the foot of these cascading stairs

for me to hit it,
out of step with life,
for my feet to run
out of steps.







I HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH THE FORTH BRIDGE





Strapping girders,
lusty arches:
the span of my ambition,
shore to shore
you link me with the old bones,
the new ways,
the true trains that take me
down the path of all my loves.
You lift up your wide arms
to take in the tide,
roll with the shaking wind
that whistles in the rushes
of the wild banks.
You thrill me with your size,
your strong embrace;
you roar with achievement,
you make me proud:
I could hug you.
Let me take the Queensferry train,
slide through you to freedom.
The pipes play
and the kilts sway
to greet us.
You are the opening,
the gap we streak through
to the woolly wilds
of Auld Reekie
and Bonnie Old Dundee;
to the sea of workers’ blood,
the red rust of the past that clings
and hugs the bones of dead engineers.
In the Albert Hotel,
tucked up, I hear you moan in the darkness.
Naked, 
I pull back the curtains
and see you floodlit 
in all your entrancing glory.
Shine on, shine
you crazy bridge.
You have my devotion,
you have my deepest darkest love.
I would climb you stripped;
I would feel you breathe in the Firth wind.
I give you my heart and soul,
I am frail against your depth.
You will outlive me,
do not mock me,
you are superb.
You are my outstretched lovely;
I will breathe through you,
long for you, 
die for you.
Rock me, 
go Forth 
and inspire me.                                                                

                                                                                                        



KEITH ARMSTRONG

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Doctor Keith Armstrong now resides in the seaside town of Whitley Bay. He has organised several community arts festivals in the region and many literary events. He is coordinator of the Northern Voices Community Projects creative writing and community publishing enterprise and was founder of Ostrich poetry magazine, Poetry North East, Tyneside Poets  and the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series.

He recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and the heritage of North Tyneside. He has been a self employed writer since 1986 and he was awarded a doctorate in 2007 for his work on Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham where he received a BA Honours Degree in Sociology in 1995 and Masters Degree in 1998 for his studies on regional culture in the North East of England. His biography of Jack Common was published by the University of Sunderland Press in 2009. 

He was Year of the Artist 2000 poet-in-residence at Hexham Races, working with artist Kathleen Sisterson. He has also written for music-theatre productions, including ‘Fire & Brimstone’ (on painter John Martin), 1989, and ‘The Hexham Celebration’, 1992, both for the Hexham Abbey Festival. He appeared again at the Hexham Abbey Festival in 2008 reciting the poetry of Hexham poet Wilfrid Gibson.

His poetry has been extensively published in magazines such as New Statesman, Poetry Review, Dream Catcher, and Other Poetry,  as well as in the collections The Jingling Geordie, Dreaming North, Pains of Class, Imagined Corners, Splinters (2011) and The Month of the Asparagus (2011), on cassette, LP & CD, and on radio & TV.  He has performed his poetry on several occasions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at Festivals in Aberdeen, Bradford, Cardiff, Cheltenham (twice at the Festival of Literature - with Liz Lochhead and with 'Sounds North'), Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Greenwich, Lancaster, and throughout Britain. 

In his youth, he travelled to Paris to seek out the grave of poet Charles Baudelaire and he has been making cultural pilgrimages abroad ever since. He has toured to Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, Iceland (including readings during the Cod War), Denmark, France, Germany (including readings at the Universities of Hamburg, Kiel, Oldenburg, Trier and Tuebingen), Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica and Kenya.

He has read several times in Limerick and in Cork, Dublin, Kinvara, Fermoy and Galway. His irish adventures have inspired him to write a sequence of poems based on the places he has visited and the people he has met. With Dominic Taylor, he co-edited the anthology ‘Two Rivers Meet, poetry from the Shannon and the Tyne’ which was published by Revival Press as part of the exchange between Limerick and Keith’s home city.






'In another part of the field, another field, let's
face it, sits Keith Armstrong's rakish gaff. (His)
poems are rooted in the Tyneside music hall tradition,
closely behind which was the august balladry of the
Borders. His is an unashamed bardic stance, actor
rather than commentator. His politics are personal.
Throughout the collection the authentic lyrical note
of this northern poet is struck.'  (Michael Standen,
Other Poetry).



'I really enjoyed reading your Edinburgh poems, all your work to me is always full to the brim with enthusiasm about the particular subject and I always get swept along with that enthusiasm and really do enjoy reading the poems. You have a great love and excitement for your native Newcastle and this is always evident in your work and I did sense the same experience when reading the Edinburgh work, your love for the place is quite obvious. To be honest, the name Armstrong is often to be found in the Northumbria/Border region, even when I crossed the border  into Coldstream (across the same bridge as Robbie Burns himself ) I ran into the Armstrong name quite often and I thought then of the Celtic nature contained in your work. I found the poems a great pleasure to read and I will re-read them at various times, you have to in order to fully appreciate their content. I am a great fan of your work Keith and I think maybe you should include the Edinburgh poems in your set.' 

(Robert Lonsdale)

the jingling geordie

My photo
whitley bay, tyne and wear, United Kingdom
poet and raconteur