On Wednesday 23 October, Dr Keith Armstrong will give an account of the life and work of Jack Common. He will dwell on Common’s Heaton upbringing and how it influenced his life and writing. He will read extracts from Common’s autobiographical novels ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’ and go on to discuss Jack’s unique friendship with George Orwell.
Posted by keith armstrong at 3:08 pm
KEITH ARMSTRONG PERFORMED THE FOLLOWING POEMS IN THE CHURCHES OF BAMBURGH, BEADNELL, NORHAM AND TWEEDMOUTH IN NORTHUMBERLAND:
'I thought the Cuthbert poems were very powerful...Do go on writing and performing like that.' (John Mapplebeck, Bewick Films).
DON’T TRUST SAINTS
I wouldn’t trust Saints,
goody goody two shoe Christians,
they wouldn’t pull me out of the mire
with their do-gooding ways.
I do my praying in the trough,
sweaty trotters grubbing together,
not in anyone’s heaven
but rooting in the soil
Don’t get me wrong,
I like a drop of wine
with me nosh,
and I can put the fear of God
in me neighbours
to keep them off me land;
shoot them stone-dead if I have to.
They can go to Hell
for all I care,
whole lot of them:
Poets and Peasants,
Pipers and Plovers.
I just get on with growing me crops,
no time for preaching Love and Hate.
This Northumbrian sun is all I know,
and the gannets swooping over me.
What I can’t touch or feel or smell or taste
is no good to me:
you can’t eat hymns
but I can catch rabbits.
THE BONES OF PROPHETS
The bones of Prophets
rot in this sacred land.
Cuthbert’s spirit soars with the gulls
over the ancient ground.
North Country hearts
beat with the songs and ballads
of missing centuries;
lyrics in the rough wind,
notes in the margins.
The Saints and the Scholars
scribble down the years -
but who can make sense of it all?
Bind up the volumes
of human endeavour
in this vast universe,
let the dust of our thoughts
feed the insects.
Northumberland is in truth
a bleak land
held together by dreams,
fantasies of us all being Saints:
an open slate,
still wet with the drizzle
of the scribe’s pen.
THIS BURNING BEAM
This burning beam
that did for Aidan,
fallen King of Northumbria
Palaces of Pretence,
Gefrin on a summer’s afternoon,
basking by the Glen
baptised us with pelting sleet,
and where the late Josephine Butler
spread her kind smile
for the welfare of wor women folk,
for the goodness of touch.
Oh Edwin oh Oswald,
oh Ida oh Hussa,
carry my head in your hands.
My mighty warriors of Christ,
is that you in the curlew’s cry?
Is that you in the breeze on my face?
Cuthbert’s a hermit crab,
a ‘Wonder-worker of England’,
and I am an empty shell of a man,
talking to birds
because they make more sense of my life.
Listen to me Bede, I’m the Universal Soldier,
I have rubbed ointment
on Cuthbert’s sore knee,
ridden with him across the sheep-snow hills,
and bathed his suppurating ulcer
in red wine.
Light a torch for me
for I am no Saint.
Yet I speak
the Gospel Truth:
Grant to me, Lord Christ, for this pilgrim journey through life,
Your ready hand to guide me, your light to go before me,
Your protection to guard me from evil,
Your peace to rest within me, your love to sustain me,
That through all the joys and sorrows that meet me
I may know the promise of your abiding strength,
Until I reach my final homecoming with you forever.
commissioned by berwick museum 2007
Posted by keith armstrong at 7:45 am
Birds hurl themselves at the leaping Tyne;
I catch them through the evening window.
It is cold for the time.
My throat is stuffy with poems left unsaid.
Weary troubadour I am,
swimming with visions of ancient European tours.
Now I have landed, with my seagull wings, in Haydon Bridge
to honour a famous son.
I am lodged in the Anchor Hotel,
another lonely night of a whirlwind life:
lorries howl around me
and I can hear a village trembling
in the blinding dark.
Restlessly at anchor,
I cannot sleep for the ghost of John Martin
lighting up my room
with dynamic visions
and the thunderous clatter of his wild dreams.
Stuck in the rut of my own poetry,
I force myself to sleep,
bobbing by the river,
under the fantastic sky.
The community lights shine on my imagination,
and the screams of swifts
make a life worthwhile.
John Martin (1789-1854). Historical Painter. Born Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789. Died Isle of Man 1854.
Posted by keith armstrong at 4:42 pm