MISSION ACCOMPLISHED IN TUEBINGEN

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED IN TUEBINGEN

20.11.17

ELEPHANTS IN TUEBINGEN









































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,
seeping 
from your television screens.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

12.11.17

FOR MY MOTHER AND FATHER































THE BIRD WOMAN OF WHITLEY BAY

(FOR MY MOTHER)


She is out feeding the birds,
on the dot again,
in the drizzle of a seaside morning;
the seed
cast fom her hand
to the jerking beak of a cock pheasant.

She is alone
in a flock of dark starlings,
scattering crumbs to make them shriek.

She is a friend of spuggies,
gives blackbirds water.

Her eyes fly across the garden
to catch a quick robin,
to spot a wee wren,
to chase a bold magpie.

She is innocence,
she is a lovely old lady;
still giving,
still nursing.

She deserves heaven,
she deserves a beautiful nest
to dream out her last hours
in bird song;
in the rich colours of music,
in the red feathers of sunset,
she is my mother,
she is a rare bird
who fed me beautiful dreams.

Thank you for letting me climb
with the skylarks.

Thank you
for the strength of wings.


 

KEITH ARMSTRONG
 


SPLINTERS

(FOR MY FATHER)

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.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

 

‘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)
 

‘Beautifully visual Keith, nice to share your memories.’ x (Annie Sheridan)
 

‘Lovely poem, loving memories too.’ (Imelda Welsh)
 

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

9.11.17

TUEBINGEN/DURHAM CELEBRATORY POETRY ANTHOLOGY



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, with the support of the County Council and the Kulturamt in Tuebingen, to give readings and talks for a period of a month. Since then he has travelled to the city over 30 times and helped arrange for Durham poets, musicians and artists and their counterparts in Tuebingen to visit their respective cultural twins.
NOW A UNIQUE ANTHOLOGY HAS BEEN PUBLISHED TO CELEBRATE THIRTY YEARS OF THE LITERARY TWINNING. IT WILL BE LAUNCHED AT THE KULTURHALLE IN TUEBINGEN ON FRIDAY NOVEMBER 17TH AT 18.00. ALL ARE WELCOME TO JOIN THE CELEBRATION. THERE WILL BE A SIMILAR EVENT IN DURHAM AT A LATER DATE (TO BE ANNOUNCED).

PREFACE

People meet, get to know one another, exchange views – and each time something is left behind: a memory, a thought, a connection, an idea which can go on to have a significant impact even many years later.
Twinning, or city partnering, harnesses the very power of meetings to constantly open up new possibilities for citizens to break down barriers. This was why County Durham and the university town of Tübingen first became partner communities in 1969. Many individuals care for and promote this link, which brings together schools, experts, artists, musicians as well as politicians. This is what twinning relationships are all about; strong commitment on the part of people and associations who enjoy taking part in exchanges and which leave an unforgettable and long lasting effect on them and their communities.
One individual in particular stands out in this ongoing exchange between Durham and Tübingen; someone who has connected both places on a literary level for not just a few years, but more than three decades – author, poet and publicist, Dr Keith Armstrong. Thanks to his commitment over the past 30 years, more than 30 authors have found their way to their respective partner regions to seek inspiration for their work.
On the 30th anniversary of Keith Armstrong’s first visit to Tübingen in 1987, this publication seeks to serve as a testament to the strength of the partnership, as well as acknowledging those who have taken part in the project and as a chronicle of all their achievements. Twenty-two authors have contributed their texts, bringing together multiple generations and styles in this anthology which offers a vivid insight into the literary creativity of the twinned communities.


County Durham and Tübingen, Autumn 2017





TUEBINGEN WEBCAM


Look down from the Rathaus
and you will see me plodding
over cobbled tales.
I traipse though the clear night,
eyes stumbling across discarded dreams,
toes aching with raindrops.
My eyes sore with forgetting,
the old square undulates with the rhythm
of catcalls and pigeons
pecking at old folks' bones.
Ancient crows swoop
on market remnants,
the scent of forgotten summers
lingering in the winter’s gutters.
I bowl
down the hill
lurching with words
that spill with slush
and the glitter of ice under the moon.
We are but Swabia’s leaves,
blowing about in a hushed city
that baffles our loves,
scattered
on the flow of the Neckar’s infernal gurgle.
We are grinning away
in our urge
for survival,
in our endurance of boredom,
the hint of romance.
Scan my breath
for more joyful moments,
pan across the skyline
to pick up the Lufthansa throb
in the beautiful clouds.
I will sing again in Tuebingen.
I will kick out the glass on Melancholy Street.
I want to hear Uhland breathe in the daft breeze,
see Hoelderlin brood on a raft.
This world is crazy
and my mind
rejoices in it.





KEITH ARMSTRONG
http://www.northernvoicescommunityprojects.co.uk/Northern_Voices_Community_Projects/Tuebingen_-_Groningen_-_Twinning.html

FURTHER INFORMATION: NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS TEL 0044 191 2529531 k.armstrong643@btinternet.com 

8.11.17

NOTES TOWARDS A POEM ON RUSSIA







photos: tony whittle


NOTES TOWARDS A POEM ON RUSSIA

1

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

2

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

3

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

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

4

TO A FELLOW WRITER IN RUSTAVI

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

5

WHITE NIGHTS

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

6

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

7

ZAGORSK

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

8

RUSTAVI STEELWORKS

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

9

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






Keith Armstrong




OLD STATIONS
































(for Kathleen Sisterson)






There’s an old station


I keep dreaming of


where I wandered


as a child;


flower baskets


seep with longing


and engines


pant with steam.


It might have been


at Chollerton,


in a summer’s field,


when I realised


how good 


life could be,


in the sunshine


of my songs;


or it might have been


at Falstone


where the roses


smelt of smoke


and I felt


the breath of railwaymen


wafting in my hair.


This little boy,


with his North Tyne lilt


and the dialect


of ancients,


ran up the platform


of his life


and chased


the racing clouds.


It was a first taste


of Kielder Forest


and the light


that skimmed the hills


and the engine


rattled through the day


to drive me 


to my roots:


to Deadwater


and Saughtree,


the hours flew


for miles


and the railway


ran into my veins


and sparked 


history in my soul.


In this album


of a fragile world,


I’d like to leave 


these lines 


for you to find


in Bellingham


or Wark,


a tune to play


in Reedsmouth


in Woodburn 


or in Wall.


Along this route, 


I hope you'll find


a glimpse of me in youth;


the smiling child,


inside the man,


who took the train


by chance


and found his way 


with words


and leaves


to Thorneyburn 


and Riccarton,


along the tracks


of dreams.











KEITH ARMSTRONG








Beautiful and evocative. (Conrad Atkinson)



Thanks for your wonderful poem 'Old Stations'. It's a truly moving piece of work, tapping childhood nostalgia but in away that seems naturally to a young imagination being born of the lore and physicality of the trains and railway stations. (Noel Duffy)



Really liked that one, so descriptive, I could see it all in my mind’s eye! (Marie Little)








Wonderfully evocative, Keith. (Sid Smith)







Like it! (Pete Thompson)



It's great Keith! (Peter Common)

As ever, a lovely poem & one I can easily relate to. (Geoff Holland)




JUMPING JAMIE!





JUMPING JAMIE!

The poems below were written by Keith Armstrong for a touring show ‘O’er the Hills’ by Northumberland Theatre Company in 1988, recounting the life of Northumbrian Piper, Jamie Allan (1734-1810), and based on an original idea by Armstrong.
The show featured Armstrong in performance with associate writer Graeme Rigby together with  musicians Kathryn Tickell, on Northumbrian Pipes, Rick Taylor, on trombone, Paul Flush on keyboards, Keith Morris on vocals and saxophone and Joan McKay on vocals, with original music by Taylor, Flush and Tickell.



JUMPING JAMIE!

A mischievous man you might say
but with beauty did he play,
with his wee fingers
tripping
over songs.

When he piped,
the rivers and girls came
running.
The world danced
when Jamie drooled
on his lance.
Yes, when Jamie smoked,
the salmon
leapt in his pipes.

A bit of a lad and bad
but oh what a way he had;
with the fish
and his hands leaping,
he set the salmon and some women
jumping:

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart
in your hymns,
your wild Northumbrian hymns -

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart.






JAMIE LIVES!

I see him.
Everytime I see
the Coquet,
I see him.
Everytime
I walk
the Cheviots,
I sense his voice.
I hear him
in the Curlew;
I hear Jamie
in the wind.
His tunes
haunt me still;
his wandering fingers
ripple through
the grass.
His tunes splash
across the river,

skim
in me.



IN THE YOUNG DAYS


In the young days,
I swam,
dipped in the River Coquet.
Along the banks I ran,
shouting for the sun.

In all wild flowers,
I’d lie,
picking out such scent,
jinking jaunty amongst sheep,
dancing for my keep.

Now by the Ganges I walk,
the evening streaming blood;
such wanders through a different land,
such songs of our dead brothers.

In the scale of things I am
but a small fish abroad;
all rivers flow together,
all wonders outlive man.

Jamie Allen I,
piper by the sea;
notes flow inside me,
streams flow by.
OUTCLASSED*

I never really knew my station,
my destination.
I was restless,
yearning.
Could never settle
for second best.
Yet I was
consistently
outclassed.
Ending my days
dingily alone,
stripped of illusions
and riddled
with humility.
My ego starved,
my regal palate fed
on bread
and Coquet water.


*performed by Mike Tickell on the Kathryn Tickell album ‘Common Ground’ (1988)

FOOTNOTE:
Jamie Allan, the most renowned inhabitant of the House of Correction, Elvet Bridge, was born of gypsy parentage near Rothbury in the 1730s and his accomplishment on the Northumbrian pipes earned him recognition from the Duchess of Northumberland.
He became resident at Alnwick but misbehaved and lost her favour. Subsequently he led a remarkable and irresponsible itinerant life throughout Europe, Asia and Africa but on his return was convicted in 1803 at Durham Assizes of horse stealing, and condemned to death. This sentence was later commuted to transportation but, probably due to his advanced age and poor health, this last journey was not enforced and he spent the remaining seven years of his life in the House of Correction. This is the building where Hollathan's is now housed.
He died in 1810 on the day before the Prince Regent granted him a free pardon. It is said that his ghost wanders the dank, dark cells and that the plaintive sound of his pipes can sometimes be heard.
No Wonder! What greater punishment to a wandering gypsy than this? Even his request to be buried in his native Rothbury went unheeded and he was interred in St. Nicholas' Churchyard, now part of Durham's busy Market Place.

6.11.17

WALLACE'S RIGHT ARM






















































On 23rd August 1305, William Wallace was executed. At that time, the punishment for the crime of treason was that the convicted traitor was dragged to the place of execution, hanged by the neck (but not until he was dead), and disembowelled (or drawn) while still alive. His entrails were burned before his eyes, he was decapitated and his body was divided into four parts (or quartered). Accordingly, this was Wallace's fate. His head was impaled on a spike and displayed at London Bridge, his right arm on the bridge at Newcastle upon Tyne, his left arm at Berwick, his right leg at Perth, and the left leg at Aberdeen. Edward may have believed that with Wallace's capture and execution, he had at last broken the spirit of the Scots. He was wrong. By executing Wallace so barbarically, Edward had martyred a popular Scots military leader and fired the Scottish people's determination to be free.

WALLACE’S RIGHT ARM

Wave goodbye ye oafs of culture,
let your rootless dreams drift away.
History has come to drown you in blood
and wash up your empty schemes.

Yon tottering Palaces of Culture
are seized by the rampaging sea.
They are sailing back to the Equator
to burn in a jungle of fear.

Three hundred million years me lads,
unseen from these high rise days:
an ice sheet thick as an ocean,
all those hours just melted down.

Into rich seams of coal,
tropical plants were fossilised;
the sandbanks grew into sandstone
and the mudflats into shale.

And the right arm of William Wallace
shakes with wrath in this firework night.
It is waving goodbye to your history,
it is saying hello to Baghdad.

All the brains of your Labour Party
are stashed in a carrier bag.
Down Bottle Bank in the darkness,
you can hear Wallace scream in a dog.

And will you hang, draw, and quarter my home street?
Will you drop bombs on the music hall?
You have taken the bones from our loves
and taken the piss from the Tyne.

So give me your arm Good Sir Braveheart,
I’ll take it a walk through the park
and I’ll use it to strike down a student
with an empty shell of a soul.

And I’d give my right arm to make ships,
my left to stoke dreams alive.
And I will dance on in the brilliance of life
until oppression is blown away.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

5.11.17

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.’ (Christopher 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

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