photos: otto buchegger & christoph melchers

(for Susanne, from a photograph)

Near Heckenhauer’s snoozing bookshop,
where Hesse once shelved poems,
you are standing
arms crossed lightly
in the pouring sun.
Your fine cheekbones
in shadow,
drenched face
in thought,
you listen deeply
to the bright street-harpist
plucking music from the day.
Your hair is flowing
black in the fine afternoon;
you are obviously a thinker,
fragile as a cloud;
withdrawn you are
yet still stand out
in this basking, strolling, crowd:
I think your name is Susanne
and I see your skin is milky;
and I wonder,
twelve years on,
where you have gone.
I sense
that you’ll have babies,
they are plainly in blue eyes,
and, in that filmic moment,
you do look beautiful to me:
a precious one, you’re trapped
in this snapshot album,
in not knowing
that the wall has been
pulled down.




Through an arch of towering plane trees,
I reach to touch the hips
of an upright Swabian girl,
her lips
fresh with strawberries
from a breakfast bowl of kisses
sprinkled with sugar
and yesterday’s cream.
The birds of the Platanenallee
fly on the wings of melancholy,
the breeze of history
scenting their songs.
It dawns on me
that the rain
will lash against our faces
as we push our way
through the saluting wood.
The day is crumbling already
around us
with the leaves memorably
crunching under our futile tread.
Half way along the soaking avenue,
the sun like a song
sparkles in my eyes
and lights my last hours
with the beauty of skies.
And suddenly
you are there
your lump of a statue
bursting though the leaves,
a kind of terrible stone
trapping your crumbling tunes
inside rock.
To take a frail life
and carve it into something immortal
is a folly as well as a tribute
to the hypocrisy of pompous little leaders
seeking to employ music
for their brutal ends.
So I say
and so we sing
of beautiful glances
and military funerals
of dead songbirds
in the path of bullets.
I climb in spirit
to reach the flesh of this lovely girl,
for a moment
I am happy and then it is gone
behind the clouds of war.
And this is for you Friedrich
from my fluttering heart
in a sea of shaking branches,
reaching out
for humanity
to triumph
over the horror
of the mundane,
a gift of a song for you,
a lovely glass of wine
as the armies march again
into the blind alley
of a bleak despair:

Can't you see
I love you?
Please don't break my heart in two,
That's not hard to do,
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.
And if you say goodbye,
Then I know that I would cry,
Maybe I would die,
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.

There's no strings upon this love of mine,
It was always you from the start.
Treat me nice,
Treat me good,
Treat me like you really should,
'Cause I'm not made of wood,
And I don't have a wooden heart.

Muss i denn, muss i denn
Zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus,
Und du, mein schat, bleibst hier?

Muss i denn, muss i denn
Zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus,
Und du, mein schat, bleibst hier?
(Got to go, got to go,
Got to leave this town,
Leave this town
And you, my dear, stay here?).

There’s no strings upon this love of mine,
It was always you from the start,
Sei mir gut,
Sei mir gut,
Sei mir wie du wirklich sollst,
Wie du wirklich sollst,
(Treat me nice,
Treat me good,
Treat me like you really should,
Like you really should),
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.



*Swabian musician Philipp Friedrich Silcher originally composed the tune, based on a folk lyric, used in the pop song ‘Wooden Heart’. His statue by Wilhelm Julius Frick (1884-1964), erected in 1941, is in Tuebingen by the River Neckar.


(in memory of Ottilie Wildermuth, 1817-1877)

In the ‘Seufzerwäldchen’ (Small Forest of Sighs), at the end of the avenue, is the memorial for the writer Ottilie Wildermuth, the only memorial in Tübingen dedicated to a woman.

Even if thunder rolls,
lightning quivers,
may my little child
fall quietly asleep......

May the little bell sound for me
a quiet peal of funeral bells
when I lay to rest
my brief happiness.

Under the tree,
reading Theory of Colours.
Under the tree,
the light in her hair.

Under the tree,
the birds bathe in dust.
Under the tree,
Otto is breathing.

Under the tree,
the bells in the sun.
Under the tree,
her eyes flash at me.

Under the tree,
her young hips sway.
Under the tree,
sipping days.

Under the tree,
news is poor.
Under the tree,
there is wine.

Under the tree,
no bullets.
Under the tree,
my heart singing.

Under the tree,
Tuebingen lives.
Under the tree,
Tuebingen groans.

Under the tree,
I see for miles.
Under the tree,
I float on the clouds.

Under the tree,
blackbird’s throbbing.
Under the tree,
love life.

Under the tree,
this poem.
Under the tree,
I can sigh.

Under the tree,
feel a moment.
Under the tree,

Under the tree,
sense the pity.
Under the tree,
touch this city.

Under the tree,
find distance.
Under the tree,
miles away.

Under the tree,
thinking of you.
Under the tree,
learning Goethe.

Under the tree,
drenched in years.
Under the tree,



Such a postwar circus,
swill of pigs and drawn out cold war,
the bleeding never stops.
Under the straw,
the claw of a miserable history
grabs down the years
at the young who are innocent
of all the butchery and whoredom.
Imperial Germany is a fagged out colonial office,
a sweating prison
of bashed up ideals,
a broken clock
covered in ticks and leeches.

The animals have escaped
and invade the Market Place.
Elephants sup at Neptune’s old fountain,
spurt out the foam of stagnant days,
trunks curling to taste the Neckar water.

This Tuebingen is a surreal pantomime:
barmaids swing from ceilings,
policemen hang from their teeth.
Frau Binder throws them buns.

And our Max Planck is a dream inventor.
Some boffin of his crosses a peach with a tulip,
the genetics of a bayonet in a breast.
The menagerie moves on to the Castle,
a giraffe nibbles at a church.
The sun gnaws at the clouds.

Like a clown,
I leap to down beer.
And a hideously sweet lady cracks a whip
and flashes her milky thigh at me.
It is no good.
I cannot raise a glassy smile anymore.
This circus is a tragedy.
The animals are sad
and rotten
with the stink of carnage,
from your television screens.




I love the light
in Tuebingen
streaming down Marktgasse,
flooding in my beautiful blue eyes.

In this light,
I see
the good times
I have dwelt in here
over the bowling years:

the chemistry of Goethe,
the love of books
and poetry that sings
with the joyous swifts,
screeches with
the very pain of life.

This town
casts a glow
in me,
throws me lifelines
to write with,
fishing for ideas
in the sweeping river:

of finished pamphlets
nodding at me
in the sunshine.

I love the light
in Tuebingen
streaming down Marktgasse,
flooding in my beautiful blue eyes.




It was in The Boulanger that we first met. Where else could it have been? Keith Armstrong, it seems, knows his way about here even better than in many places between Durham in the North-East of England,  Groningen in Friesland, Amiens in Picardie, Berlin in Prussia and, well, Tübingen in Württemberg (‘to name but a few’).
A traveller with an open mind and without any fear of contact; strange lives, countries and people succumb to his poetic and real incorporation. This is so for the same reason for which our romantic poets sought out Heaven and every abyss: it is to understand “why I am back on Earth; must come to know myself and the land that bore me.”
It was a reading, that first time and the performer did not hide behind the customary glass of water, neither did he sit on a chair, but stood, as he always does. I have experienced it often enough by now how he explains his poems, how he reassures himself, again and again, of his audience. We are to understand every aspect and every point. If we don’t, he doubts extensively himself, the language, the word.
Then on to poem and ballad.
Keith Armstrong is a bard, too, who has the knack of writing real songs. That’s why every place is named, why the names of persons he grants an appearance in verse are correct, why his poems have historical causes and sometimes take historic shape, just like the performance. Historic.
But one should, while laughing, never forget: this poet is someone who in his biography and work inseparably unites wit and long gained knowledge, enthusiasm and great talent, pluck and social commitment.....
This is a man who conquers, with his poems and charms, pubs as well as universities. He has always been an instigator and an actor in social and literary projects, an activist without whom the exchanges between the twin towns of Durham and Tübingen would be a much quieter affair. That he is a friend of many friends, able to open the most amazing doors for his guests, can be taken as read.
Keith Armstrong’s songs of a sensitive self in an ugly world and of a beautiful world in an unfathomable self are capable of opening the hearts of listeners and readers.

Uwe Kolbe, Berlin poet
(translated by Eberhard Bort)



Hi friends,

I'm looking forward to be being back in Tuebingen from 19th to 23rd September 2016.

I'll be touring the old town and rendering many of my Tuebingen poems at several locations with accordionist Peter Weiß from 18.00 to 19.30 on Tuesday 20th September starting in the Holzmarkt, along the Platanenallee and ending at the Rathaus, with a performance at Weinhaus Beck from 20.00 . Thanks to Michael Raffel of the Tuebingen Buecherfest and Stephan Klingebiel at the Kulturamt and poet and translator Carolyn Murphey Melchers for their help in organising this.

There is also an event to celebrate the Tuebingen/Durham literary exchange on Thursday 22nd September 20.00 at the Hesse Kabinett, Heckenhauer's bookshop when I'll perform with young Tuebingen poets Sara Hauser, Manuela Schmidt and Florian Neuner. Michael Raffel will lead a discussion of the exchange after the readings.

2017 is the 30th anniversary of the literary exchange and Manuela Schmidt and Florian Neuner will visit Durham during the year and I'll re-visit Tuebingen with other Durham guests.

Best wishes,

Dr Keith Armstrong

tel 0191 2529531





A few pints of Deuchars and my spirit is soaring.
The child dances out of me,
goes running down to the Tyne,
while the little man in me wrestles with a lass
and William Blake beams all his innocence in my glass.
And the old experience sweats from a castle’s bricks
as another local prophet takes a jump off the bridge.

It’s the spirit of Pat Foley and the ancient brigade
on the loose down the Quayside stairs
in a futile search,
just a step in the past,
for one last revolutionary song.

All the jars we have supped
in the hope of a change;
all the flirting and courting and chancing downstream;
all the words in the air and the luck pissed away.
It seems we oldies are running back
screaming to the Bewick days,
when a man could down a politicised quip
and craft a civilised chat
before he fed the birds
in the Churchyard.

The cultural ships are fair steaming in
but it’s all stripped of meaning -
the Councillors wade
in the shallow end.

O Blake! buy me a pint in the Bridge again,
let it shiver with sunlight
through all the stained windows,
make my wit sparkle
and my knees buckle.

Set me free of this stifling age
when the bland are back in charge.
Let us grow our golden hair wild once more
and roar like Tygers
down Dog Leap Stairs.






I love the light
in Tuebingen
streaming down Marktgasse,
flooding in my beautiful blue eyes.

In this light,
I see
the good times
I have dwelt in here
over the bowling years:

the chemistry of Goethe,
the love of books
and poetry that sings
with the joyous swifts,
screeches with
the very pain of life.

This town
casts a glow
in me,
throws me lifelines
to write with,
fishing for ideas
in the sweeping river:

of finished pamphlets
nodding at me
in the sunshine.

I love the light
in Tuebingen
streaming down Marktgasse,
flooding in my beautiful blue eyes.





(for Spencer Tunick & his followers)

Naked at the conference table
naked on a beer label
naked in Iraq
naked on the bloody rack
naked as torture
naked as a Baghdad butcher
naked to a public school
naked as a pubic fool
naked in a Gateshead alley
naked as a nuclear family
naked as a pub dart
naked as a bleeding upstart
naked in the corporate office
naked on the bleeding coalface
naked to a stupid war
naked as an arts whore
naked as a councillor in hock
naked as a business hack
naked as I can’t be arsed
naked in a uk farce
naked as a Brendan Foster
naked as a duty roster
naked as a boomtown rat
naked as a poetry brat
naked in the supermarket
naked as a sitting target
naked as the bomb
naked in a Bosnian womb
naked in the Belsen darkness
naked in our wilful blindness
naked under manipulation
naked under a brain tarpaulin
naked as an artist’s prop
naked in the cop shop
naked at the wrong time
naked at the pantomime
naked in the Lottery Gallery
naked as a stick of celery
naked as a stripper in the club
naked as a bourgeois shrub
naked as a strapping Geordie
naked as a gunning Saudi
naked in an Utrecht gutter
naked as a poor kid’s stutter
naked as a star on tele
naked as a starving belly






I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
My poems have drowned in its streets.
My songs about the town
Lie stock-still in its ways.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
Its birds peck at my brow.
Church bells drown my cries
And echo across lost days.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
Whatever happened to me?
What was I thinking about
To believe I could make roots here?

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
The translator is coming for me.
He’ll tell me to head home
Back to the cell of my room.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
The yellow train awaits me.
She’ll dart me down to Schipol
To perch on my favourite stool.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
Its hotel rooms are starless. 
They are full of dreadful maids
And the government’s inspectors.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
Its market’s fruit is rotting.
Drains full of scraps of news
And the bones of flat musicians.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
Its daughters do nothing for me.
They are hooked up with the city’s poets
And their lingerie’s too complex.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
There were good times and they’ve passed.
There were days we danced by the canals
But even they aren’t endless.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
Its lights became red and dangerous.
Its intellectual garrets are small
And its writers are even smaller.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
I’ll leave it to local drunks.
They can drink their fill for me
Since you know I’ve supped enough.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
I hate to break its heart.
I learnt to see its beauty
But I loved it to destruction.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
Let some other poet touch its map.
The wind just laughed in my face
As I leapt into the dark.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
My luggage is full of pain.
I need to take care of the rest of my life
To seek beds in different towns.

I won’t dream in Zwolle again,
I’ve crouched too long on its hill.
My fingers have all turned blue
In the swollen pursuit of what’s past. 




Follow the Sun Book Launch: Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Dial Cottage Sundial

George Stephenson Museum, Dial Cottage, 108 Great Lime Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE12 7DQ

A special event organised by Northern Voices Community Projects to mark the 200th anniversary of the creation of the iconic sundial by Robert and George Stephenson at their Dial Cottage home. The event will include the launch and readings from 'Follow the Sun', a new book commissioned to commemorate the bi-centenary of the sundial. Contributors to the book will perform their poems, stories and songs as well as new materials inspired by the sundial and Stephenson legacy. They will be introduced by local poet and editor Keith Armstrong with specially commissioned music from the Sawdust Jacks Folk Group and folk singers Gary Miller and Tony Morris. Also featuring Ann Sessoms on Northumbrian Pipes with a selection of appropriate tunes, and others.

Opening Times
Friday 9 September: 10.30-11.30




We're dancing in Fermoy tonight,

the Blackwater

shivers in the rippling dark

and a piper twinkles with glee.

Now I’d like to romp with a Fermoy lass

in a restless bed of rebel poems.

I’d like her to pirouette in dreams

all the way down MacCurtain Street

and in the back of Murphy’s Pub.

Can you see how Michael Flatley skips 

in the footsteps of martyrs and Mattie Feerick?

Through the military barracks,

he upsets the garrison with his mighty feet

and throws a party with his legs 

in Castle Hyde

for flitting artists only,

just those 

with a lilt in their bones.

So we’re dancing in Fermoy tonight:

a show of skipping

to bring a throb to your blood.

So dance with me

and the local librarian;

we’ll smooch behind the shelves of light,

spark social change

with a twirl of the hips

in the flipping manuscripts.

It’s wet and cold

but the whiskey leaps

and the fiddle cries

and the room is flowing with poems.

You know I dance 

everywhere I go in the world

but there’s something special

in a Fermoy prance

and the dashing river

that’s awash with the salmon

in the heart of this bobbing town.

And John Anderson, that builder of swirling veins, 

reels through my nightmares

lubricated with history’s passages 

and the staggering rhymes

of a tiny life 

spent larking in sun and moonlight.

Along Little William O’Brien Street

and up Oliver Plunkett Hill,

I’m simply dancing in Fermoy,

up to my eyes in joy.








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.





In the oven of a Berlin heatwave,
this crumbling block bakes
and all the bullet holed walls
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
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,

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



(to Alfonsas Nyka-Niliunas)

‘My heart cracked
Like the window pane
from the bell‘s thrust.’

Oh Jenny
you walked with me in your dreamy way
along Hauffstrasse,
my lady out of a fairy tale,
blonde hair shimmered
in the Neckar breeze.
And what exactly were we doing
sharing those crazy moments?
Wild flower
plucked from Friedrich’s grave,
you wanted something more tangible
I fear
in your oh so sensual way.
You intoxicated me
with the strange fragrance
of your long sexy fingers,
the depth of your lips.
But you couldn’t understand
why I called you ‘Caroline von Schlegel’,
why I wanted to make love to you
in smutty Amsterdam
on a creaking canal boat
on soaking Prinsengracht,
when I could
have had you
all to myself
on your bed
at home.


Alfonsas Nyka-Niliunas was born in 1919 in the highland region of Lithuania. He studied Romance languages and literatures and philosophy at the University of Kaunas and the University of Vilnius. In 1944, as the Soviets encroached upon Lithuania, he escaped to Germany, where he lived in Displaced Persons camps until 1949, furthering his studies at Tübingen and Freiburg universities. In 1950, Nyka-Niliunas emigrated to the United States, He is considered to be one of the main émigré poets. He has published a number of books of poetry, has translated Dante, Virgil, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Baudelaire and other important European poets into Lithuanian, and has been awarded many prizes, amongst them the Lithuanian National Prize for Literature.






You picked splinters

with a pin each day

from under blackened fingernails;

shreds of metal

from the shipyard grime,

minute memories of days swept by:

the dusty remnants of a life

spent in the shadow of the sea;

the tears in your shattered eyes

at the end of work.

And your hands were strong,

so sensitive and capable 

of building boats

and nursing roses;

a kind and gentle man

who never hurt a soul,

the sort of quiet knackered man

who built a nation.

Dad, I watched your ashes float away

down to the ocean bed

and in each splinter

I saw your caring eyes

and gracious smile.

I think of your strong silence every day

and I am full of you,

the waves you scaled,

and all the sleeping Tyneside streets

you taught me to dance my fleeting feet along.

When I fly, you are with me.

I see your fine face

in sun-kissed clouds

and in the gold ring on my finger,

and in the heaving crowd on Saturday,

and in the lung of Grainger Market,

and in the ancient breath

of our own Newcastle.


'This is one of the poems I'll never forget. I see the struggling of my own dad in your words. 

Thanks for your fine poem.' (Klaas Drenth) 

Beautiful poem. Loving, moving memories. Most excellent Keith.’ (Strider Marcus Jones)

'Love the poem Keith. That’s my dad.’ (John McMahon)

Annie Sheridan 'Beautifully visual Keith ,nice to share your memories.' x

Imelda Walsh 'Lovely poem, loving memories too.'

Kenny Jobson 'So, so good, Keith - I'll share this, if you don't mind.'

the jingling geordie

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