I'LL BE APPEARING AT THE TUEBINGEN BOOK FESTIVAL IN MAY

I'LL BE APPEARING AT THE TUEBINGEN BOOK FESTIVAL IN MAY

25.3.15

LINES (FOR THE UNKNOWN DESERTERS)






























Lines 
crawl
across the stepping stones
that make up the bustle of these streets.
They mark out the flow of history’s streams
in this city’s ancient landscape,
signify the tragic tunnels of a careworn people’s hurts.
Under today’s footsteps,
the old folk crawled
at the mercy of the bombed weather,
the walls shaking with the tremor
of momentous events,
racist madness,
words, shaking from dictators’ mouths,
cutting into the bones
of wretched beings.
Looking up Muenzgasse,
we crouch to hide the hurt.
It Is too much to bear 
this memory
of Gestapo cruelties, 
the rank inhumanity
that is so unkind
to strangers: 
the Jew, the Sinti,
the Roma,
the different,
the cripple,
the Communist and Gay.
How callous
to ignore the poor man
next to you in the Boulanger,
the pain all around you
in the church’s bullet-holed walls.
Sit in the gorgeous sun
and feel the Synagogue burn
on Kristallnacht,
let the red wine
soak the stress away
but look down
on these crazy paths
and feel
the rumble of yesterdays’ aching
under the soles 
of your searching feet.
True glory lies, my Eberhard,
in making peace,
not in the flash of bayonets,
the fighting cocks,
the rape of beauty.
It is our duty to dance,
to flit between the lines.
The rays of golden lights,
like butterflies,
flicker as caught moments 
in the shadow of this cafe, 
thrilling
with a positive life,
new under the sun.


KEITH ARMSTRONG,

Tuebingen.



*In the Holzmarkt in Tuebingen, near the entrance to the church, is a recent memorial probably not intended to be permanent. Yellow lines show the outlines of the underground tunnels built as air-raid shelters during the last two years of the war. 
Today, the tunnels are closed off and filled-in but the ghostly outlines are an effective memorial device.
There is no explanation for the yellow lines so passers-by often have no idea that they are walking over a reminder of the war. 
On Muenzgasse, is another entrance into the shelter. This was the police building until well into the post-war period. During the Nazi period, it was also the Gestapo office in Tuebingen. From here, the Tuebingen Jews were gathered for deportation.

*A monument is located away from the city centre, just south of the railroad tracks near the Finanzamt. 
The monument commemorates the 10th Wuerttemberg Infantry Regiment in the First World War. 
It shows the coat of arms for Wuerttemberg and reads: ‘Fearless and loyal. 141 officers and over 3000 other ranks fell for the Fatherland.’
In the autumn of 2007, the memorial was vandalized with images of ejaculating penises. 

*A square in Tuebingen was recently named ‘Platz des unbekannten Deserteurs’ - ‘Unknown Deserters’ Square’. 
The street sign reads: ‘In the years 1944 and 1945, when the criminal war of the National Socialists was nearing its end, many soldiers of the German armed forces deserted. They were mercilessly persecuted as ‘deserters’ and sentenced to death. More than 20,000 sentences were carried out. There were soldiers in the Tuebingen barracks who also no longer wanted to make pointless sacrifices for the National Socialist regime. It is not known how many there were, nor do we know their names. Witnesses report several cases. The deserters were shot in a clearing not far from here. In memory of this, the Tuebingen City Council resolved to name this square in July of 2008.’

23.3.15

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 Duffy,
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

21.3.15

IN THE GALWAY HOOKER BAR






























IN THE GALWAY HOOKER BAR

(Heuston Rail Station, Dublin)


I’m back in the Galway Hooker,
heading out to the west
and, as usual, it’s teeming
with the scheming 
pond life of Dublin:
the newts
and wits
who twinkle 
in this bowl 
of moving humanity,
at swim
in sunlight,
slumped
in a beaten economics
and those boom days 
that are past.

And Jimmy Joyce and his literary travellers
leer at us from a corner 
of streaming consciousness
and bad girls’ skirts
drift upwards
in an afternoon 
with miles ahead
and the promise
of a kiss 
of Irish Coffee.

I’m crawling
today along
this beaten track to Limerick,
the chance occurrence
of a poetry event,
the opportunity for fickle friends
to catch my dreams
in inquisitive ears
and despatch 
my skimming words
to the gutters of shot memories.

‘By God she’s a looker,
that one on the stool,
making an awful fool
of  a lad in the Hooker.’

‘Her legs go the whole way,
her terrible sin,
she sings
from here to Galway.’

And then The Boys from Tipperary 
they’re here
in a clump of blazers and ties
and every one has a lass
on his hurling arm
and a pint of Guinness in his face.
We envy them
their youth and not their sense,
we wise old men of Heuston
who’ve seen the heroes come and go,
heard the guns ring out
across the Station
and learnt 
to savour
the slaughter
in our glasses.

But now friends 
we must be 
heading off 
to the dawn
and hope 
that these trains 
we leave behind
can find their way
to that which our history 
sheds.

So remember
Sean Heuston,
the railway clerk,
a crucifix he kissed
and the freedom he died for,
every drink
that you down 
in the Hooker. 





KEITH ARMSTRONG

20.3.15

Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary | Breviary Stuff Publications

Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary | Breviary Stuff Publications

THE STORY OF STEAM: FOR GEORGE STEPHENSON 1781-1848



































How wonderfully has his invention facilitated the meeting of thousands of fond and happy lovers.’ (Thomas Summerside)

The story of steam,
history’s hiss 
through the passing
of engines and 
clapped-out hours.
The pereptual urge
to move
into the peace
of sleeping valleys;
iron dreams
and the nagging drive
of cruel ambition 
on the banks of the sliding Tyne.
You knew all this George,
how violent life is,
as, thoughtless in your youth, 
you stole a blackbird’s eggs,
developing an understanding
of mankind’s urge
to rip forests apart,
to make ways
through gardens and castles, 
for commerce
and selfishness to have their way.
That and the wonderful offshoots
like lovers
getting together
and children laughing
in cultural deserts.

Your broad Northumbrian tongue
echoed along rails,
barked orders
to force idle workers
to spark the engines
that scared the crows
and brought terror to horses and cattle
with the fiery blast of mechanical power.
Your ambition surged roughshod
over delicate flowers,
more interested in the mechanics of time 
and fixing watches
than the whispers that the clocks of dandelions
heard in the breeze.
Mister Practicality, 
though you knew that the human lot
ended up in vapour,
you still told the pitmen’s sons that the earth
was round,
taught algebra to the lads
in a curiosity shop
of working models,
self-acting planes
and perpetual motion machines.

In your litttle garden,
you grew gigantic leeks, astounding cabbages,
scarecrow arms to fly in the wind
and a sundial to record the ticks of days.
Hammering the flaming hours
into the rickety shape of Blucher,
you moved people along the way,
crafted the valves, the rods and cylinders
of life
into a breathing thing
that lolloped along,
careering like you
into a famous night.
It did not come without a price;
My Lord, they can’t imagine
how much you scraped along in the dirt,
the bursting blisters on your feet,
your hurting fingers as you began to write.
Wriggling out of the Militia,
you earned everything you got,
forced 
to suffer the deaths of wives and daughter
and the blinding of a father.
Weeping bitterly on the West Moor to Killingworth road,
thinking of leaving for America,
you got to your own station in the end.
Geordie,
with Ferguson’s ‘Astronomy’ in your hardy hands,
you gave us many a glorious smoke-filled day,
brought young lovers together on platforms
awash with the smell of smoke
and the sparks of hearts 
spreading lightning across the land. 





KEITH ARMSTRONG

17.3.15

36 GOALS























(in memory of Hughie Gallacher, Newcastle United’s record goalscorer in 1926-7, who committed suicide in 1957)


Thirty six goals,
more than one way to skin a halfback.
Thirty six snapshots
of a legend
framed in Tyneside pubs.
That’s how we remember you Hughie,
for the good things in life.
Thirty six steps to fame
and a sprinking of treasured ashes
in a football boot.

You put us on the map for a season.
A thirty six gun salute
is the least we can do
for a man
with poetry in his feet,
a bottle of Brown in his pocket,
and a championship medal
round his neck.

You kicked us 
into ecstasy,
into the Blue Star yonder.
You were a magic dribbler
and stocky with it.

So, keep your feet still Hughie hinny.
They’ll never drive
those bonny dreams away.





KEITH ARMSTRONG 

15.3.15

TUEBINGEN BOOK FESTIVAL 2015


Poetic Encounters / Lyrische Begegnungen

Poetic Encounters
Die Partnerschaft zwischen den Städten Tübingen und Durham wurde 1969 geschlossen und wird seitdem durch regelmäßigen kulturellen Austausch intensiv gepflegt. Um diese Partnerschaft gebührend zu zelebrieren, wird Keith Armstrong mit Tübinger Autoren und Musikern eine vielfältige Lesung veranstalten.

Lyrik- und Musikperformance

Poetic Encounters
Autoren & Musiker: Keith Armstrong, Jürgen Sturm & Mary Jane, Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Tibor Schneider, Yannick Lengkeek, Sara Hauser und Anna Fedorova.
So, 17. Mai
15 Uhr
Club Voltaire
5 Euro
frei

12.3.15

JAZZ POETRY - A NEW PROJECT: POETRY BY KEITH ARMSTRONG & IMAGES BY PETER DIXON

































'Some great stuff here! I always love the headlong gay abandon and celebration of life in your poetry 'Keith.' (Harry Gallagher).






LOVER MAN


A blurred blue evening sky,
an exhausted sun
propped up by the rooftops.
A vision
of the wracked shrieking body
of Charlie Parker
running a losing race
with his music,
the man reenacting
his bitter tortured love.

A memory,
a sense of the World,
and a nagging restlessness:
that mixture
of sorrow
and the joy
of loving,
turning
in the cold dark air,
the sound of life’s full circle.
‘Lover Man’,
a whirlwind spins,
sings in my ears,
swirls out
to the street
where the children play
and a blind man taps
in a cul de sac.

The swirling soaring passions
of Parker
are ready 
to boil
again and again,
burning away
the revolving strictures
of dull monotony.

To snatch inspiration
from the lap of conformity,
Charlie has rotted
but his spirit leaps
and speaks from grooves,
renders me
airborne again.

I cry 
and float 
on the sweetness.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

THE SUN ON DANBY GARDENS


The sun on Danby Gardens
smells of roast beef,
tastes of my youth.
The flying cinders of a steam train
spark in my dreams.
Across the old field,
a miner breaks his back
and lovers roll in the ditches,
off beaten tracks.
Off Bigges Main,
my grandad taps his stick,
reaches for the braille of long-dead strikes.
The nights
fair draw in
and I recall Joyce Esthella Antoinette Giles
and her legs that reached for miles,
tripping over the stiles 
in red high heels.
It was her and blonde Annie Walker
who took me in the stacks
and taught me how to read
the signs
that led inside their thighs.
Those Ravenswood girls
would dance into your life
and dance though all the snow drops
of those freezing winters,
in the playground of young scars.
And I remember freckled Pete
who taught me Jazz,
who pointed me to Charlie Parker
and the edgy bitterness of Brown Ale.
Mrs Todd next door
was forever sweeping
leaves along the garden path
her fallen husband loved to tread.
Such days:
the smoke of A4 Pacifics in the aftermath of war,
the trail of local history on the birthmarked street.
And I have loved you all my life
and will no doubt die in Danby Gardens
where all my poems were born,
just after midnight.



KEITH ARMSTRONG







































































FOR DAVID STEPHENSON


David Stephenson was a deep friend,
I met him through books.
He came from Carlisle
with that intense and craggy look.
We studied life together,
smoked Full Strength
and sipped Real Ale.
He liked his women big.
I learnt from him
to visit pubs at lunchtimes
to end up pissed in lectures
but, most of all,
to read the letters of Van Gogh,
the diaries of Franz Kafka,
to go inside 
the jazz 
of Ornette Coleman
and Cecil Taylor.
David told me that 
‘Most people are thick’
and, as a socialist of a kind,
I sometimes think he had a point.
I wonder where he is today.
Back across country I surmise,
smoking and looking at the sunrise,
with a fat woman kissing his neck,
listening to Mingus 
and the sky.


KEITH ARMSTRONG





POEM FOR A BLUES HARMONICA

(for Ad van Emmerik)

A poem is an organ of the mouth,
a verse I suck and blow.
It sings from my heart on the wind,
it breathes with my life.

I place my poetry between my lips,
like licking my girl-friend’s breasts.
I smoke it like a cigar
and squeeze the good juice from it.

My poetry is a fire,
it screams blues murders.
I craft it with my gentle fingers
and shout it around the world.

This poem is a drink wet with rhyme,
a harp in a rowdy beer museum.
I am a drunk whose rhymes stagger,
my words are music in your ear.


Keith Armstrong














































MELLY

Something sad about clowns;
something thin between laughter and tears.
Pity the dignity, the love and the hate,
the twitching wire between body and soul 
and you on that stage,
drunk on rum and borrowed blues again;
unique in the balance you keep to yourself -
never quite losing it,
never quite making it;
bawling out between Magritte and Morton,
playing the droopy-drawered clown
with yourself,
you

do the Melly Belly,
the Ovaltine,
big brash belly laugh blues.

                                                                                                    
Keith Armstrong



THOSE PORTHOLE BLUES AGAIN

It’s Tuesday again
and the sun in the Stella is shining.
Yellow dust fills 
the dappled Porthole
with a Golden Fleece
and the jazz, hot jazz, 
belts out
raging
from this pulsating lounge.
The saints and ghosts of ancient seamen
go marching in.
Let the liquid trumpet
pour out,
my legs slide to the floor
with the trombone lilt.
Cry me this river,
lurch for the ferry.
I will ping the dart
of a blue note
through your soul.
I am only a poet,
a saxophone with words,
an improvising shantyman
thanking the landlord
for still serving me:
despite all
this poetry slurping,
this lovely drivel
dribbling
from my wicked Geordie tongue.


KEITH ARMSTRONG


































CHET - FROM A WINDOW

(in memory of Chet Baker 1929 -1988)

The constant onslaught of Amsterdam
surged through Zeedijk 
on that hot night
when a full moon
dragged you
flying to your death.
In your room, 
in the Prins Hendrik Hotel,
your clothes lay 
neatly folded
in your suitcase,
with your body
a foetus on the street below.
Great white hope
fallen
offstage,
a love for heroin never shaken.
Sorrow was your stuff,
a plaintive,
lyrical anguish,
an excess of gloom
and charm.

This undernourished and parched body,
a singing corpse,
searching for an uncollapsed vein,
an expert driver hating the road
and the bleak hotel of his doom.
Such a foolish love.

Oklahoma farmboy on a golden trumpet,
his teeth knocked out in San Francisco,
become chained to an album a day
for a thousand dollars in cash. 

And the Italian you learned in a Lucca jail,
your spirit surviving its deportation, 
a lonely and melancholy master drifter
whose pianissimo
touched the soul.

Friday 13th May 1988,
Chet’s heart stopped 
and his horn
lost its tongue.




KEITH ARMSTRONG




LADY DAY

(dedicated to Billie Holiday)

‘For flowers are peculiarly the poetry of Christ.’ (Chistopher Smart)

Our Lady,
Art in Heaven,
feasts on
a bed of petals,
croons over
the Angel Gabriel’s
String Orchestra,
floats on beauty’s scales.
Swollen with scent,
her skin is so pure,
alabaster smooth.
Such long stamens,
such eye lashes:
such cascading, flowering hair:

this Lily,
perennial
of the flowing Valley,
voices fragrance,

voices
the driven snow.




KEITH ARMSTRONG


from ‘The Darkness Seeping’ : The Chantry Chapel of Prior Rowland Leschman in Hexham Abbey. Poems by Keith Armstrong with drawings by Kathleen Sisterson.

 Sara Vaughan

NIna Simone



















the jingling geordie

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