TWO for one is popular in these times of austerity and that’s what you will get if you venture to the Red House, Newcastle Quayside, on Tuesday night.
Beer drinkers needn’t get excited unless they’re poetry lovers too, for this is a double launch of a brace of collections by Tyneside poet Keith Armstrong.
“They’ve come along together,” explains Keith. “Maybe it’s the age I’ve got to. I turned 65 in June so it seems almost like memoir time, a time for reflection.” It is more likely that the two independent publishers who simultaneously agreed to put out Keith’s work were seduced by the poems.
Both are London-based; neither has money to splash around. So in publishing Keith, we can assume they had liked what they read.
The Month of the Asparagus (Ward Word Publishing, £8.99) reflects Keith’s love of his native North East and his travels.
There are poems called Marsden Rock and Elvet Bridge. Three commemorate Saint Cuthbert and a pair are addressed to Thomas Bewick.
Humour is never far away, as in Fat Man Lodged on Dog Leap Stairs (although the title is funnier than the bitter subject matter) and the wittily titled Alnwickdote in which “stone lions, countryfied gargoyles hunch, unpouncing ...”.
Alongside these are the poems of Keith abroad, as in Flying Into Tübingen Airspace. The German university town of Tübingen is twinned with Durham and Keith has been strengthening the literary links for years. Similarly he has been a frequent visitor to the Dutch city of Groningen, twinned with Newcastle.
“I’ve always been keen on international links but particularly with Tübingen and Groningen,” says Keith.
Despite the interest of London publishers, and the fact he is reading at Swiss Cottage Library in the capital on September 16, he says it isn’t a place he warms to.
“I’ve always had an antipathy towards London, partly because I’m a staunch regionalist and committed to the decentralisation of power.
“I just think England needs a revamp, really.” The United States induces a similar lack of warmth. “I tend to face more towards Europe, across the North Sea.
“I find I’m more drawn to Bertolt Brecht and other French and German poets than to Allen Ginsberg and the American beat poets.
“I regard myself as coming from the tradition of the Border ballads, Tyne- side music hall and folk songs.”
You might have deduced that Keith does not cut himself off from the argy bargy of competing ideologies, which brings us to the second new volume, Splinters (Hill Salad Books, £9.99).
“You could consider it a little bit more political,” he suggests, adding that its pages are perhaps infused with a little left-wing anarchy.
But the title poem, far from conjuring up images of political splinter groups, is a touching memoir of his father who “picked splinters with a pin each day from under blackened fingernails; shreds of metal from the shipyard grime ...”.
This was “a kind and gentle man who never hurt a soul, the sort of quiet knackered man who built a nation”. The North East must have spawned many such unsung heroes.
More famous men leap off the pages – Che Guevara, Erik Satie, Federico Garcia Lorca. But there are well-known locals too, including Tyneside writer Jack Common to whom Keith has devoted years of study.
Joining Keith at the Red House on Tuesday (7.30pm) will be Stefan Nieuwenhuis, Groningen’s official city poet. Keith thinks a similar appointment in Newcastle would be no bad thing and there is one obvious candidate.
Other poets will also read at Tuesday’s launch and there will be music and a toast to the Newcastle radical Thomas Spence (1750-1814), another Armstrong hero.