JINGLE ON MY SON!

JINGLE ON MY SON!
A doughty champion of his local culture. (Poet Tom Hubbard)

18.10.19

POEM FOR PETE








































POEM FOR PETE


The lines on our faces
show us testing times
we survived,
scrbbling poems and drawings
often against brick walls,
pleading for the funds
to make our crazy dreams happen.
Down the back lanes of home,
in Spencean Holborn,
tacky Amsterdam
and surreal Den Bosch,
we have trudged
with our artistic gifts;
on to the ancient boulevards of Prague,
inside the boozy nooks of Tuebingen,
on Isle of Man steam trains,
we fearfully hawked our pamphlets
hoping that they’d make
someone’s little life a little better.
Now, catching a moment of oral history
in the sunshine of our days,
we drink for the moment
to be done with pain,
brief as a kiss
in a sudden poem
or life-sketch.
Expressing ourselves endlessly
in a way that lights up others’ lives
we carry on planting
bolts of joy
on the banks of the sloshing Tyne.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

12.10.19

HUIS DE BEURS































































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.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

10.10.19

POEM FOR THE COMMUNITY




































POEM FOR THE COMMUNITY


The purpose of life
is living,
walking, running,
dreaming, loving.
No more than to create
with others.
No more than to live, drink, eat, share
with others.

Life is community.
Community is to link as lovers,
to give until your heart can give no more.

Caress that seagull’s wing,
lick the dew from the grass,
grow the most beautiful flower,
protect the ugliest weed,
hold the hand of a cripple,
wave to the sea and the sky.

Go on
making stories of a lifetime,
taking from the past the best love songs.
Don’t ask what life is -
it’s in you,
it’s the breath you breathe
into others.




Keith Armstrong


I love this poem, Keith! It means a lot to me. Thanks!
Yours, Henk

8.10.19

IN A PALACE BAR AFTERNOON



































Picture of Brian O'Nolan

 








IN A PALACE BAR AFTERNOON

‘When I first came to Dublin in 1939, I thought the Palace the most wonderful temple of art.’ (Patrick Kavanagh)


Dead conversations
and dud cheques
litter the gaps
between the gawping portraits
in this literary back room.
Here in the afternoon of Irish culture,
I hear the creak of Kavanagh’s knees
going down the steep bog stairs
pissing words away,
holding another conversation
in his clumsy hands.

So what’s a poetry boy to do?
Sozzle through another day,
dance betwen the lines of pints of plain,
wallow in the crevices of Beckett’s genius,
creep around the Palace floor,
scraping for scraps of dead oral histories?

For today,
I’ll put away my pen
worn out with trying
to trap the City of Limerick
in groping poems.
I’ll sit back
and crack with Lonsdale and the lads,
let Bertie Smyllie’s barking patter
wash over my weariness.
Leave it to the shawlies
in the huddled snug
to set things right,
I’m flying without a passport today,
buzzing along with Jimmy Joyce on board
this Ryanair Ulysses jet,
At Swim Two Birds.

And what’s the point
of lies in ink
when real poetry
should make a woman come
with the touch
of bird song on the lips of this hour?
Give your tongues a break,
Behan and Houlihan
and the rest,
we’re dust
on a skin of Guinness.

And yet
and yet,
the twinkle of light
through the old smoke of patter
does make the breath
in the lungs
of a Dublin dancing day
as worthwhile
as the sweeping kiss
of that gull’s wings
stroking the mouth of the Liffey. 




KEITH ARMSTRONG

5.10.19

WE CHANGE AT LIMERICK JUNCTION










































WE CHANGE AT LIMERICK JUNCTION
(for Rense Sinkgraven)

We change at Limerick Junction.
Rain knocks the smiles off our faces,
the sun glows and exposes the dust in the faint traces of our poems.
We change at Limerick Junction.
Weather makes our eyes fade,
the hours grow tired of breathing in the pain of the world.
We change at Limerick Junction.
Hearts thunder along the crazy rails,
the weight off our feet lands with a thump on the daily platform.
We change at Limerick Junction.
Carry gifts for old friends,
the urge to go on trailing poetry along the lines.
We change at Limerick Junction.
Girls get too young for us,
the flesh weakens with the passage of whiskey.
We change at Limerick Junction.
Air races in the manes of horses,
the money drains from our exhausted pockets.
We change at Limerick Junction.
Jump from one train to another,
the inexhaustible desire to write a better verse.
We change at Limerick Junction.
Words are why we laugh,
beauty is what makes us want to live.
We change at Limerick Junction.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

28.9.19

SOON TO BE IN IRELAND!


23.9.19

BERLIN BERLIN!




 

 ON BRUNO WINKLER’S BOAT


‘BERLIN,
my ruined BERLIN,
where else have we been ruined as in BERLIN,
yet your ruins, BERLIN, embrace more future
than all Duesseldorf’s insurance buildings put together.
I love your mocking grin, BERLIN,
the bare facade,
all the heaped-up futility in your features,
your rage,
the exhaustion in your faces.’

(Reimar Lenz)

Bruno Winkler
has offered to ship us up river
to sniff the rust of decrepit regimes,
to smell the painted faces of fresh errors.
I run my fingers through this infected water
and taste it on my questing lips.
We slip quietly
through the back of history,
our boat creaking in the winter breeze,
cresting through despair.
There are museums and palaces of great culture,
socialist pimps and capitalist tarts.
Wash it all down
with bottles of beer from the East,
soak it in the perfume of money.
Bash through the Gates,
under the monuments of false dawns.

We must hope I suppose,
anchor our dreams
in the dust.

Please Bert,
don’t stare at us so.
We are simply doing our best.

Making the same mistakes again.
Numbing the pain
of the Spree.

 
 
 
 
KEITH ARMSTRONG

 

SENEFELDERSTRASSE 19, EAST BERLIN

 

In the oven of a Berlin heatwave,
this crumbling block bakes
and all the bullet holed walls
flake.
Tenements skinned bare,
they burn with anxiety, death wishes,
frustrated hopes.

From a cracked and peeling courtyard window,
a Beach Boys' track
clashes against an old woman’s ears
as she carries a bagful of bruises home.
In this rundown, sunful flat,
I am tuned in to the B.B.C. World Service –
a cricket season just beginning
and East Berlin sizzling
in a panful of history.

Senefelderstrasse 19, crawling with flies.
On top of the wardrobe, some volumes of Lenin slump,
there is dust everywhere, dust.
And all we are saying in all the sweltering
is ‘Give me a piece of the Wall.’
just ‘Give me a piece of the Wall.’

Look down onto the street –
the cobbles still stare,
the cracks in the pavement leer.
And, like every day, Frau Flugge traipses gamely along,
trying hard not to trip,
shabbily overdressed and hanging on
to the shrapnel of her past affections,
to the snapshots of her dreams.

From corner bars,
the gossip
snatches from doorways at passers by.
Inside, it is dark
and the money changes hands
slowly,
burning holes in the shabby pockets
of the dour Prenzlauer Berg folk:

‘The People are strong.’
‘They can’t sit more than 4 to a table here.’
‘THEY say it’s illegal.’
‘Let’s sing!’

Amongst the clenched blossom of Ernst Thallmann Park,
‘a Workers' Paradise’,
this glassy Planetarium gleams
under an ancient East German sky;
shining huge shell of a dome,
it traps stars and opens up planets:
it is far reaching, transcending walls.
It can stir the imaginings of all the world’s children.
It is the light at the end of Senefelderstrasse.
It beckons,
beacons.

And Me?
I am walking in blistered hours,
sick of the sight of money
and what it does
to all the people I love.
‘A tip for your trip!
Instead of a brick from the Wall to take home,
bring back a Bertolt Brecht poem’:

‘And I always thought; the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like,
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself.
Surely you see that.’

Through the letterbox of Senefelderstrasse 19,
I push this poem.
And, for the last time, leave
through Checkpoint Charlie.
‘Goodbye Frau Flugge, Herr Brecht,
the trams.
My friends, I wish you
sunny days.’

 
 
 
Keith Armstrong
Berlin 1990
 
As published in 'Culture Mattters' 2016


'True Berlin poetry thanks.'  (Dured Freitag) 


photos by stan gamester

21.9.19

CARRY ON TWINNING!


 
















TUEBINGEN/DURHAM LITERARY/ARTS TWINNING

The partnership with County Durham and the City of Tuebingen in South Germany was established in 1969. 
Poet Doctor Keith Armstrong, who gained his doctorate at the University on Durham in 2007, following on from Bachelor's and Master's degrees there, first visited Tuebingen in November 1987 to give readings and talks for a period of three weeks. Since then he has travelled to the city over 40 times and helped arrange for Durham and North East poets, musicians and artists and their counterparts in Tuebingen to visit their respective cultural twins.

TO HELP CELEBRATE THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE OFFICIAL TWINNING, KEITH RETURNED TO TUEBINGEN FROM JULY 3RD TO 7TH 2019 AT THE INVITATION OF THE CULTURAL OFFICE IN TUEBINGEN WHEN HE APPEARED AT THE BOOK FESTIVAL TO READ FROM HIS LATEST TUEBINGEN POETRY AND FROM THE  TUEBINGEN/DURHAM LITERARY ANTHOLOGY ‘WORD SHARING’.
HE TRAVELLED WITH NORTHUMBRIAN PIPER CHRIS ORMSTON AND WAS JOINED BY TUEBINGEN PERFORMERS AND FRIENDS FOR THE OCCASION.

WITH 2020 IN MIND, KEITH'S NOW WORKING ON A COLLABORATION WITH TUEBINGEN PHOTOGRAPHER ULRICH METZ
AND DON'T FORGET HIS UPDATED COLLECTION OF TUEBINGEN POEMS (1987 TO DATE), HERMANN HESSE IN THE GUTTER, IS NOW AVAILABLE AT £5 FROM NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS.

THE STORY SO FAR:

Keith returned to Tuebingen in September 2016 for readings of his poems inspired by his visits to Tuebingen over the years, including a literary promenade around the old town and along the Neckar accompanied by accordionist Peter Weiss.
He was also there in November 2017 with fellow poet Paul Summers and folk musician Gary Miller to attend the launch of a new anthology, Word Sharing, published by the Cultural Office in Tuebingen and edited by Carolyn Murphey Melchers and Michael Raffel in Tuebingen and Keith Armstrong in Durham to mark 30 years of the literary twinning between Tuebingen and Durham and featuring a selection of poetry by some 22 writers from Tuebingen and Durham.
The anthology had its Durham launch as part of a World Book Day event on Monday 23rd April 2018 at the University of Durham. Special guests at the event were writers Andrea Mittag and Matthias Kaiser from Tuebingen who read alongside Durham poets Jackie Litherland, Katrina Porteous, Paul Summers, Rob Walton and Keith Armstrong, with Durham folk music from Gary Miller and Mick Tyas - all in all, a memorable occasion with wine, poetry and song! Andrea and Matthias also appeared at specially arrranged seminars in the English and German Departments of the University of Durham.

Before this, Tuebingen poets Anna Fedorova and Yannick Lengkeek came to Durham in November 2015 for readings and discussions, with Manuela Schmidt and Florian Neuner following suit in April 2017, and Eva Christina Zeller returned to Durham in November 2017 as part of the exchange programme for readings and workshops at the University.

Looking further back, a special celebration of the literary/arts links between the cultural partners was held on May 17th 2015 at Tuebingen’s Club Voltaire as part of the Tuebingen Buecherfest.  This was arranged by poet Tibor Schneider, Michael Raffel of the Buecherfest and Doctor Armstrong. Those featured included Gary Miller, singer/songwriter from Durham band ‘The Whisky Priests’, poets Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Sara Hauser, Anna Fedorova, Yannick Lengkeek and Tibor Schneider and rock musician Juergen Sturm with Mary Jane.

Keith Armstrong was also in Tuebingen from Tuesday 11th November 2014 to Saturday 15th when he performed his poetry in the legendary Heckenhauer’s Bookshop, one of his favourite bars The Boulanger, at the Carlo-Schmid-Gymnasium (school) and at Weinhaus Beck for a poetry breakfast. He was joined by Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser, Yannick Lengkeek and Anna Fedorova with Peter Weiss on accordion and Juergen Sturm on rock guitar and vocals.

Before this, he was in Tuebingen from Wednesday 2nd to Saturday 5th April 2014 with artist/photographer Peter Dixon for readings with Tuebingen writers Eva Christina Zeller, Sara Hauser, Tibor Schneider and Florian Neuner at Weinhaus Beck, a school visit and other networking initiatives. This followed on from his visit from Monday 4th November to Thursday 7th 2013 when he took part in a major symposium on the theme of writer Hermann Hesse who lived and worked in Tuebingen from 1895-1899. As well as joining in with the discussions and giving a reading from his poems on Hesse and Tuebingen, Keith met with poets, academics, teachers, musicians, cultural and media workers. 

Sara Hauser visited Durham from Monday 12th to Thursday 15th May 2014 for sessions at the University's English and German Departments  and meetings with local writers, artists and musicians.
So the twinning continues to go from strength to strength. Looking back on things, Armstrong and folk rock musician Gary Miller, lead singer of Durham band the Whisky Priests, travelled to Tuebingen at the end of March 2012 for performances in pubs, cabaret venues and schools where they performed with Tuebingen poet Tibor Schneider who visited Durham in October of that year as part of the ongoing exchange.
Tibor joined his Durham counterparts for readings at Durham University and at the Half Moon Inn. He was also interviewed on BBC Radio Tees concerning his Durham visit.

Keith Armstrong and Gary Miller returned the compliment with a trip to Tuebingen in March 2013 where they performed again in bars, cafes and schools with poets Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser and Tuebingen musicians.
In 2011, Tuebingen rock musician Juergen Sturm jetted in with his music partner Mary Jane at the end of October for pub gigs, including a twinning event in Durham on Monday 31st October featuring Juergen and Mary Jane with Durham folk musicians and poets. That followed on from a visit to Tuebingen in South Germany in early April 2011 by Keith Armstrong and photographer/artist Peter Dixon. The intrepid pair worked together on a touring display featuring Armstrong's poems and Dixon's photographs documenting the unique link between Tuebingen and Durham which was staged initially in the Durham Room at County Hall, Durham in November. Armstrong performed his poetry in cafes, bars and schools and met up with Tuebingen friends, old and new, with the multi-talented Dixon capturing all of it on film.

This trip reciprocated a visit to Durham in November 2010 by Tuebingen poets Henning Ziebritzki and Carolyn Murphey Melchers, when Juergen Stuerm also took part in a series of pub performances. There was a special event at Clayport Library, Durham City on Monday November 1st with the Tuebingen poets and special guests from Durham, followed by a rousing session in the Dun Cow when Juergen, with Mary Jane, and his Durham counterparts, Gary Miller and Marie Little belted out their lively songs.
Armstrong was also in Tuebingen in May 2010 with Gary Miller for performances in his favourite Tuebingen bar ‘The Boulanger’ and at a local school. This followed a special guest appearance in 2009 at the biannual Book Festival, a reading with Tuebingen counterpart Eva Christina Zeller and a visit to local schools. Eva visited Durham for readings in schools and at a special event on May 13th 2009 at Clayport Library which also featured poets Katrina Porteous, Jackie Litherland, Cynthia Fuller, and William Martin, as well as Doctor Armstrong and music from the Durham Scratch Choir and Andy Jackson.

A highly successful series of events were held in 2007 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the literary/arts twinning established by Keith Armstrong when he first visited Tuebingen in 1987 for a month’s residency, supported by Durham County Council and Tuebingen’s Kulturamt. Since then, there have been readings and performances in pubs, universities and castles, schools, libraries, book festivals, jazz and cabaret clubs, even in Hermann Hesse’s old apartment, involving poets, writers, teachers and musicians from the twin partnerships of Durham and Tuebingen.
Tuebingen’s music duo Acoustic Storm, poet/translator Carolyn Murphey Melchers and Cultural Officer visited Durham and the North East in October/November 2007. The musicians performed in Durham schools and pubs and there was a special evening in Durham’s Clayport Library to celebrate the twinning, with Keith Armstrong launching his new Tuebingen poetry booklet and performances by poets Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Katrina Porteous, William Martin, Michael Standen, Ian Horn, Cynthia Fuller, Hugh Doyle and musicians Acoustic Storm, Marie Little and Gary Miller. Margit Aldinger of the Kulturamt in Tuebingen and Brian Stobie of the International Department, Durham County Council, also addressed the audience.

For the record, here's a list of those who have made it happen so far:

Tuebingen visitors to Durham since 1987:

Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Karin Miedler, Gerhard Oberlin, Uwe Kolbe, Johannes Bauer, Eva Christina Zeller, Simone Mittmann, Florian Werner, Juergen Sturm, Mary Jane, Wolf Abromeit, Christopher Harvie, Eberhard Bort, Marcus Hammerschmitt, Henning Ziebritzki, Andy and Alessandra Fazion Marx, Otto Buchegger, Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser, Anna Fedorova, Yannick Lengkeek, Manuela Schmidt, Florian Neuner, Andrea Mittag, Matthias Kaiser.

Durham visitors to Tuebingen since 1987:

Keith Armstrong, the late Michael Standen (Colpitts Poetry), the late Julia Darling, Andy Jackson, Fiona MacPherson, Katrina Porteous, Marie Little, Ian Horn (Colpitts Poetry), the late Alan C. Brown, Linda France, Jackie Litherland (Colpitts Poetry), Cynthia Fuller, Margaret Wilkinson, Jez Lowe, the late Jack Routledge, Gary Miller, Matthew Burge, David Stead, Hugh Doyle, Peter Dixon, Paul Summers, Chris Ormston.




FURTHER INFORMATION: NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS TEL. 0191 2529531.

13.9.19

MARTIN MY SON

































MARTIN MY SON


Martin, my son,
stop drinking.
Your wife is drifting away.
You frighten her.
She swims in tears in the kitchen,
hoovers the darkness.

When she left you for the first time,
you slashed your manly wrists,
trying to grab her back
from all those deserted streets.
Bandaged now, you’re on the pool table again,
gambling your love for another pint.

Martin, my son,
you’re a helpless fool;
a boy apeing a man,
a man apeing a boy.
You have your jobs to do,
she has hers.
And so the barriers grow between the sheets.

Martin, I pity you.
You were just brought up that way;
without much chance,
dreamless and without love.
You took your tattoos down the pit.
On your first day at work you were sick,
cried on your mother’s pinny,
soaking her with fear and affection.

Martin, my darling boy,
you grew from an angel into a brute.
Your eyes narrowed into hate
when you beat your first woman
and fell asleep on her.

Give it up, Martin,
show the world that you care.
You’re young enough yet.
Because you failed to kill yourself,
you’re lucky.
You’ve got a life to live.
Give that life ot her.

Martin, you’re supposed to be a man,
but you could still
be beautiful.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

8.9.19

BACK AT ON THE NAIL, LIMERICK


7.9.19

BYKER HILL






Poems by Keith Armstrong




FIRST PUBLISHED BY INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT CO. LTD.  (NEWCASTLE) ARTS CLUB 1972










 




byker


antique mart of memory’s remnants

glad bag of fading rags


bedraggled old flag


blowing in the wind over newcastle




   



we stand on street corners shivering in the winter

like birds sheltering from the wind


we do not rattle loose change in our pockets

only the nuts and bolts of poverty


we are splinters

ill-shaven

our clothes droop on us

using our bones for hangers


we avoid mirrors and images of ourselves in shields road doorways

we do not look through windows


we draw curtains of beer across our eyes

we sleep/place bets


every week on dole day hunger prods us awake


it is instinct


it is a fear of never waking







yesterday’s records in a raby street window

yesterday’s news

revolving today


pictures of byker trapped in a camera

yesterday’s photos

developed today


yesterday’s headlines

today’s wrapping paper


yesterday’s wars are bloodless today







snot drips nose

wailing ragman drags a foot

and sniffs



any old rags

any old rags



hair like straw

homespun

snot runs

licks cracked mouth



any old rags

any old rags


as raby street

                declines

          into

water



any old rags

any old rags






watson’s toffee factory

wrapped in mist

melts in the watering mouth of the dawn

another byker child is born


another byker son assumes

the dusty jacket of a byker man






and this is the truth

the wind-ripped reality between the grave and the womb

the aimlessness

the weary broken people

shuffling through the measured lines of architects’ reports


the cripples

the dying streets

behind the brash and snatching shops

the coughing strays


this is all the small print

the drifting words

beneath the glossy covers


and this is mother byker now


a wasteland of schools

                                     churches         public houses

a frail old woman

her mouth and eyes bricked over

tilting


on her last legs






change

creeps like a lizard over the face of byker

dragging behind it its retinue of planners

                                                    wreckers

                                                    builders and

                                                    visionaries


tomorrow

you will wake from your years of sleeping

and find what you knew to be yours being hauled away

over byker bridge on the backs of lorries

your yesterday

in clouds of dust






byker folk are living still

byker folk on byker hill

fading flowers on a window sill

byker folk

                 hang

                          on




 


*As an industrial librarian at I.R.D., from 1968-72,  
Keith was christened 'Arts & Darts', organising 
an events programme in the firm incuding poetry 
readings, theatrical productions, and art exhibitions by 
his fellow workers, as well as launching Ostrich poetry
magazine using the firm's copying facilities and
arranging darts matches between departments!
He also organised a Byker Festival in 1972 whilst 
working at I.R.D..

1.9.19

22.8.19

HEXHAM RIOT 1761






































In 1761 a new Militia Act came into force. Strangely it managed to arouse strong negative feelings in both ordinary working people and the ruling class: the former because a ballot system of recruitment - essentially conscription - was resented; the latter as training the masses to use weapons was felt to be dangerous for the future, priming them for revolution.
On March 9th 1761 a large crowd gathered in Hexham Market Place to protest about the ballot system, some putting the numbers as high as 5000, though a few hundred is more likely. For several hours the leaders of the protest talked with the magistrates, remonstrating about the imposition. Those magistrates feared violence, and brought in a force of the North Yorks Militia as protection against a mob attack. Their presence, however, probably further enflamed tempers.
Eventually the magistrates lost patience, and the Riot Act was read. As the crowd turned uglier, the soldiers fixed bayonets. The mob, by now its fierier members armed with tools and staves, charged. Two soldiers were killed with guns grabbed from them or their comrades, then a volley or far more probably a series of volleys was fired into the rioters. When the smoke cleared at least 50 were dead, including the two soldiers. Another 300 or more were injured, some of them dying later of their wounds. Among the dead were two pregnant women.
A hunt went on over the next few weeks for anyone known to have participated in the riot, taking in not just Hexham but the settlements around it, the list of casualties showing people from Corbridge, Slayley, Stamfordham and Ryall among many others had been involved. Unsurprisingly the North Yorks Militia earned the sobriquet The Hexham Butchers after the event.





TUESDAY MARCH 10TH 1761


‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The ground was stained with blood and the cries of the wounded were pitiful. The following day it rained, washing away the traces.’


Wash away the day,
wash the pain away,
sweep the remains of yesterday
into the racing river.
Beat the Dead March,
bang the old drum,
heal Hexham’s bust bones
and cry me a river,
cry the Water of Tyne.
Wash away the day
and wash this pain away.


 

A PITMAN DEAD


With blood gushing out of his boot tops,
a well-dressed man
leaves town
along Priestpopple.
Thirteen men lie inside the Abbey,
not owned.
Numbers are found dead upon the roads.
Big with child, Sarah Carter shot,
the musket ball found in the child’s belly.
Thrice into a man’s body
lying at James Charlton’s shop door
it’s said they ran theIr bayonets;
and a pitman dead,
a weaver:
all those broken days of history,
all the slain hours in our diaries.
Sound the Abbey’s bells!
Let them toll the severed minutes.
Let them celebrate
the end of torture.
Let them gush
with rejoicing
for more peaceful times.



THERE’S A RIOT


These streets,
in this Heart of All England,
are swept clean of blood.
But the stains still soak our books.
Death upon death,
we turn the pages;
in between the lines,
we read about the screams,
time’s bullets
tearing flesh away.
There is terror lurking in this Market Place,
just scrape away the skin
and, deep down,
there’s a Riot:
a commotion boiling
a terrible turbulence,
a throbbing pain.
It is a Riot of gore,
a torrential downpour
of weeping:
a seeping sore
that is Hexham’s History.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

16.8.19

CITIZEN 32 - NEW!






11.8.19

AFTER THE UK












































AFTER THE UK


Shreds of the UK
flapping in the downturn,
decayed Britain
broken into smithereens.
No Kingdom now,
no United State.
We are
citizens
with no obligation
to genuflect
in front of an overstuffed Queen.

Get the UK out of your system,
no going back.
We take the power
to rule ourselves,
make community,
build our own spaces.
Break
the hegemony
of dead parties,
lifeless institutions,
let debate flower,
conflicting views rage.

We want to breathe
and strip away
executive power,
share
the beauty and culture
of these islands
around.
Make good things,
good love.
Empower ourselves
with an autonomous freedom
in a new England,
in a new Europe,
in a New World
of real ownership
and delicate emotion.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

9.8.19

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