BACK IN TUEBINGEN IN NOVEMBER FOR TUEBINGEN/DURHAM 30TH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY LAUNCH

BACK IN TUEBINGEN IN NOVEMBER FOR TUEBINGEN/DURHAM 30TH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY LAUNCH

13.5.17

POEMS FROM NEWCASTLE'S TWIN CITY OF GRONINGEN BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG








































 



KEEP AN EYE ON THE MARTINI TOWER FOR ME

(GRONINGEN POEMS)

KEITH ARMSTRONG



DANGEROUS TO BE SOBER IN GRONINGEN


dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too many sissy boys
on the loose
city poets
sweeping the streets
for verse
girls sticking their fingers
in my irish coffee
blobs of cream
on their lips

dangerous
to be sober in hotel de doelen
too much history
in the bathrooms
nazi tanks
rolling over it
or worse
supporters of f.c. groningen
in my face
teeth rattling with chants
from young throats

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too many doors revolving
in my eyes
undergound activists
digging up euros
for liquorice suppers
rights campaigners
stinking of fish
yesterday’s papers
under their feet

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too much to lose
too many egos
in the wind
guitarists shouting off
their helpless lyrics
whores
in the red windows
showing me their wares
when i’m drunk

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too much sleet
up your nose
pancake ships
sinking at night
in a sea of black moths
short skirts
troubling my fantasies
bottles in my mouth
and thirsty heart

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too many clocks looking down
on my words
the infernal ticking
of lost days
down the drain
the rain slashing
the cobbles of time
outliving my skin
and drenched soul

dangerous
to be sober in groningen
too much warmth
in cafe marleen
the beckoning stools
of intoxicated moments
swirling by
the chatter of pigeons
gobbling up seconds
nibbling in my head
and my hungover poems

dangerous
to be sober in groningen

dangerous
to be sober in groningen




HUIS DE BEURS


Spinning and reeling,
days slipped by the window,
thudding clouds.
We rock in candlelight,
piano glows.
Sun’s sunk into the red carpet,
blood in the skin of the wine,
juicy dregs of another spilt day.
Old friends they have come
through this infernal revolving door
and gone on to evolve
long faces in the mist.
New vistas swing
through the old market
to make the lifelight
shine in our hearts.
Dragging on the stubs of years,
blowing out memory’s vague smoke.
Wet cobbles
glint with the dreams of fish,
flashing girls stream by
on darting bikes.
The crippled sunset
of war years,
the modern politics of fear.
Throw me another cigar
hand over your gear,
let us meet
in socialist song.
Your fleeting poetry
is a scarf tossed
round my neck.
My handsome northern mate,
I am going Dutch tonight.
That Mr Piano Man
flies across the bar
to catch an A Train again
for the fresh morning,
love’s daybreak.
My darling,
kiss my poet's lips,
let us greet the warm flesh
of Groningen
breathing.



GROTE MARKT, GRONINGEN


Grote Markt,
big as my heart,
your stones are wet
with all the kisses of my life.
Wide with welcome,
you open up the skies for me,
your face changes with the clouds.
Your winning charm
can sell me anything.
I embrace your openness,
your outstretched body
bears me fruit
and the raw fish
of morning,
sunshine memories
and the delicate touch
of the moon.
Dance with me,
there is light
in all your puddles
of yearning.
Smile,
all the blood
is washed
away.



GRONINGEN HORSES


Groningen horses
drag me here,
run wild in my brain,
leap in the imagery of the artist Werkman,
trot through my memories of wet streets,
jump over bars to greet me.
Their hooves clopping
through the shit of war,
they dart in the night along Guldenstraat,
wake in me dreams of the sleeping fields,
the swish of old tales
gone out of our minds.
Their withers are broad as Uncle Loeks’ back,
their haunches like a woman’s arse
I once knew.
What do they think of it all,
the fantasies in the Town Hall,
the pall of depression over Europe?
Stride on my sturdy Groningen beasts,
may your cannon bones,
your barrels,
your flanks,
roar with energy
zoom across this yawning,
dawning market square
and treat these sobbing days
as if they were not there.


VISMARKT
(for Rense Sinkgraven)

The Mayor is bothered
about the litter in my brain;
the dross of poems
spilled out onto bar floors
and the fishy streets of Groningen.
He prowls the gutters
of my verse,
seeking to tidy up
the rhymes
and times I slopped
erotic images
between the lines
of council meetings.
The detritus
from lost poetry readings
gathers up
in windy corners
on this market day,
curled up
into sodden memories,
dark with crumbling print.
This city’s flags
continue
to flap proud,
defiant
in the rampant northern breeze,
fingers of lost empires
forlornly
waving
at laughing girls
and daring boys
dashing headlong
over stinking bones.
You will not make me clean,
I am a dirty poet
whose head aches
with dark subversive thoughts.
I am not tidy,
my very speech
remains unruly
as a mad professor in the Huis de Beurs.
I will mess up your streets
with a dynamic anarchy
until a true democracy
makes a clean breast of things
and the road sweepers
and dreamers
of the Vismarkt
share a green and wondrous world.



KEEP AN EYE ON THE MARTINI TOWER FOR ME


Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me
while I struggle with my life.
I still miss the smell of fish
and the smoke of the Huis de Beurs.
I will be back, with another song,
for Mister Wilcox’s Liberation Tour.
I will be ready for that Pancake Ship
and the drunken stools of O’Ceallaigh’s.

Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me
while I work out which view to see.
I will be shouting in a twin town
and killing my time with romance.
I will be smashing through politicians
and drowning in red lights.
I will be rehearsing poems,
forgetting how real life hurts.

Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
I’m tearing up coasts to greet you.
You’ll see my ghost in Schipol,
with a pint of strong blood in a glass.
I’m on my way back to Groningen ,
with the smack of three kisses on me,
to shake the warm hand of a city poet,
to piss in the face of a heckler.

Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
I was happy in the Land of Cockaigne.
I could see clowns on a dismal day
and blondes in a sea of black.
I met a Grey Man with a girl of nineteen
and I asked him to show me the way.
I saw an old hand hack the guts from a beast
and sucked a cigar to be kind.

Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
don’t let her fly away.
I need her to hold my life together,
I crave her to show me the way.
I want her to lean my fragile bones against,
I need history to guide my feet.
I have left a careworn scarf with you,
keep it warm for when I come back.



GRONINGEN GUITARS


Oh the groaning
of Groningen guitars,
the twang
of its gutters
and bars,
rolling of memory,
filling up dreams
of canals,
cracking with ice.
Gestapo days
and dead poets
swimming
in music;
the roaring days,
the roaring boys
and gorgeous girls
strummed away,
dancing
out of my eyes
into graveyards
of songs sung.
Spilt notes
and words
weeping for forgiveness
and joy.



CITY POET
(for ronald ohlsen & rense sinkgraven)

i am this blue barge
the pancake ship
the casino of flashing neon
i am the light in a fish’s eyes
the icy herring down the throat

I am the city poet

i am the unknown lanes we stalk along
a red shirt
the stripper of paint
i am death waiting at the railway station
a duvel in the old buffet

i am the city poet

i am a museum of children
an irish pub out of place
the ancient bard etching odes
i am the word stuck in your head
the drugs from last night

i am the city poet

i am the next call
the starlings wheeling in the dusk
the darkness she brought you
i am the sober priest in the drunk’s tower
the bus stop you kissed her at

i am the city poet

i am a walking cinema
the empty library
the last one for the road
i am the finger in her pants
a frightening glance of yourself


i am the city poet

i am this laughing church
this gas factory
the football game from hell
i am a cracking goal
the free man in a prison

i am the city poet

i am a scream in a dull meeting
the chairman of the bored
the councillor for happiness
i am a stinking canal
the giggle in her blouse

i am the city poet

i am a yellow train
a flash across the countryside
the bearer of state grants
i am a brilliant dustman
a spade amongst hearts

i am the city poet

i am a word swimmer
a shipbuilder who rhymes
the planner of good times
i am an evil messenger
the dart in his face

i am the city poet

i am these streets
a fag in the pewking gutter
the ministry of obscure diseases
i am your filthy town
the tears in your homesick eyes

i am the city poet



IN GRONINGEN MUSEUM
(in honour of John William Waterhouse, 1849-1917)

Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers.

Pictures of the weary traveller
sleeping on a train,
slipping slowly down,
sipping seeping rain.

Images of a little boy
learning how to speak,
lips leaking words,
lilting leaping streets.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly.

Eyes floating in the museum
glance from another day,
gorgeous girls on fire,
glaring golden rays.

Flames of a shattered light
bursting on the walls,
buds blazing with life,
blooming beauty curls.

In her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights.

Strands of a lover’s hair
playing in my face,
painful pangs of lust,
pulling parting lace.

Curves of a winter’s bones
thread through my breath,
tears trickling away,
teasing threadbare dress.

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.

Shards of sunlit ale
flickering in my throat,
feelings filtering in the air,
fear framing boats.

Canals of soaking memories
drowning in my eyes,
drifting darlings of the past,
draped delicate thighs.

A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high.

Tunes from the fields
call a city’s voices,
coursing chords of love,
crazy calming noise.

Choirs of Groningen fish
hollering in the dawn,
heavenly hearts of folk,
history’s hopes are torn.

They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.



FOR MARIEKE


I always thought
that, when you smiled,
Groningen seemed a prettier place
to me
and the Grote Markt,
beneath my unsteady feet,
hugged me
like my father did
in his strong and quiet way.
It is always good,
when I am travelling,
to know
that I have friends
in many strange and different cities
and keys to many doors.
For nothing is ever fixed
or permanent.
Smiles are only fleeting
but one like yours
shines bright
in the very beer of sunlight;
especially,
in the anxious heart
of this Newcastle poet.



THE PLOUGH/DE PLOEG
(for Haren 850)

We plough on,
bearing the years on our frail backs,
across wide fields,
wild with history.
We carry our paints
and canvases
over the grass,
in order to capture
a moment’s beauty.
We write it down,
we proud poets and local historians,
our vivid past makes our poems wiser.
There is an old bird
flying overhead,
above the windmill of dreams
its beak points towards the distant barn,
showing us where
the ancient wounds are.
We must suffer
over and over again,
850 times if necessary,
in order
to celebrate,
to be able
to dance
along this town’s
narrow streets,
teeming
with memories
of brutal wars,
deaths
and fresh births.
Show me some joyous flowers,
ring tunes on the bell,
and I will show you
the scars of battles.
But today
let us sing
in our old church,
play local hymns
on this fine organ.
With a death defying love
of our great heritage,
we will feed our little children,
all the joy
in our heartfelt Haren lives.


I AM THE UNSUNG SINGER (to Isaac Gosschalk)

'A conflict between God and the Devil is raging in the Museum, a conflict between life and death, between heaven and hell, a struggle in celestial realms.'
(L.P. Dovenbos)

I am the unsung singer
begging for the bones
of a tune
at the feet of the barrel organ
of E.F. van Polen.
Scouring the plains,
that stretch from Groningen to the Urals,
I am looking for a song
in this strange land.

Is it in the heart of gorgeous Annemarie de Groot?
Or in the pen of poet Jaap Pijper?
How many more times must I trail
my clapped-out fingers
over the luscious skin of a girl called Nynke
to feel the happiness I had as a child?

If I feed my voice with the guts of the sea in the Vismarkt,
if I scrape my fingernails along bleeding Folkingestraat,
I might find a lyric,
a drunk ballad,
a play of passion,
to set the Drama Department ablaze
with true music.

My God! Is there no end to it?
This lust to suck harmony from women's throats.
It takes me trudging down Sledemannerstraat,
it makes me grope doorways along Turfstraat to find her,
to squeeze the good fruit of her.

You may say that I'm a hopeless drunk,
swept along by the irate Groningen wind,
who throws death down his neck in O'Ceallaigh's,
who throws lighters at burnt out musicians;
who dances naked in a Casino of Torture,
who lies locked in the warm arms of a student,
with the curtains rattling
like snakes in the soaking night.

Well, I claim the right to destroy myself
before your Great Army of Culture gets me
and traps me in stone.
Look! It's a picture of me!
Snogging a pretty lesbian in the Concert Hall,
as the blazered ranks of your Male Voice Choir
mime another folk song.

'Panis Angelicus,
Oh bread of Angels,
prepared for men'.

I'm the Devil in the bowels of the Martinikerk,
I am sweet and I am dry.
I'm the kind of kind guy,
with a Metworst in my angry mouth,
who robs a beggar of his poetry in Tuinstraat,
who snatches the melody from street singer Jan Roos.

Come with me,
Kees Korenhof
and Herman Finkers,
down Nieuwstad in all the strangled darkness,
to grip that Frisian whore's suspenders,
lift guilders from the canal banks
and jenevers from the Sea.

City of Knowledge,
your hooded man
is always at my shoulder,
and your songbird's always
pecking at my heart.
Let the warm breath of your tired farmers
sigh in the breeze
and teach me
to sing an anthem again.



IN DICKENSIAN HAREN
(for Henk & the Dickens’ Library)


In Dickensian Haren
this curious day,
we are men with a careworn mission;
impersonators of ill fortune,
scraping our feet
through the back lanes of Groningen,
in search of the famous beard
and the dribble of trashed dreams.
We are reciting the great lines of Charles
on a stumbling Sunday
and we wonder why.
Why does the suffering go on?
The inequality of chance,
the dirty rhythm of brass
rattling in banks?
The Scrooge days
the days of mindless Self,
the selfish?

For Dickens is alive and vivid this minute,
Dickens is witness.

We slaver out our words,
whip out our tongues for the public
and wonder as we wander
through the pages of Nickleby and Hard Times
what men ever learn.

We go on to admire
the bound copies
in the sacred library,
toast a last one for Charleyboy
and his mighty quill,
knowing that we’ll end up tucked on shelves
but never great,
just dust in the swollen stacks
of Mister Dickens.

But treasure the sunlight on this day,
worship the brilliant beer in the glass,
each second he told us
is precious.

He is modern in his self.
He is a star.



BLUES FOR HENK

The day opens its doors to set a poem loose,
the sun beats hard on the skin of the sluice.
A passing bridge blinks to let a boat break through,
it’s time to leave English and sing something new.

From Lauwersee to Dollard
and from Drenthe to the Wad,
I follow a passing seagull’s cry
and teach my father’s voice to sigh:

Vivace la flambardo
Fugere le mansardo
Parforce la Camargo
a doso kwatrupardo

Monete penicardo
Pericula san pardo
Finate par retardo
Etcetera ce fardo (H.N.Werkman)*

Another night sleepless in Hotel Simplon,
the creaking bedhead and the simpletons.
Shot bolt awake by the drill of the dawn,
who cares what these unswept streets will spawn?

We’re walking the lanes that Hendrik Werkman dredged,
chipping the gems from the pavement’s edge.
Past a man fishing, heron stood by his side,
to the dark Huis de Beurs where all hope has died.

This Groningen wind belts poems in my face,
I’d trade in old guilders to buy out of this place;
my brain’s pickled with Duvals,
and there’s blood on the walls.

Oh to die in the trash of this town,
ode-money tumbling from pockets of time.
Think I’ll whistle a tune straight from home,
and slash the pale wrist of my very last poem.

Last night I put a piper to bed,
music dripped from his heart and his worn fingers bled.
And I couldn’t get that woman out of my dreams,
and I couldn’t hear my dreams for her screams.

So the day leaps to life and a hymn springs to mind,
I’m just a poor down-and-out hoarding words that I find.
Drunk conversations swim round in the bowl,
I’m drowning with language this lonely old soul:

Vivace la flambardo
Fugere le mansardo
Parforce le Camargo
a doso kwatrupardo

Monete penicardo
Pericula san pardo
Finate par retardo
Etcetera ce fardo*

* Improvised verse by poet and graphic artist Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1882-1945)




GRONINGEN/NEWCASTLE LITERARY/ARTS TWINNING 
Keith Armstrong first visited Groningen in 1992 with poet Julia Darling to set the ball rolling. Since then there have been readings in pubs, universities, libraries, and schools and at breakfast parties, festivals, cabaret clubs and civic centres in both cities.
Successful events were held in Newcastle in October 2007 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the literary twinning between the respective cities, including a poetry and music evening at the Bridge Hotel and a reception with the City's Lord Mayor.
The then Groningen City Poet Rense Sinkgraven took part, along with fellow Groningen poet Willem Groenewegen, and Nick J. Swarth (City Poet of Tilburg) added colour to the celebrations.
The poets were joined by twinning pioneers Professor Helen Wilcox and jazz performer Allan Wilcox (on double bass and piano) and Groningen Cultural Officer Marieke Zwaving.
Keith Armstrong led the team of Newcastle performers with fellow poets Paul Summers, Poetry Jack, Catherine Graham, Ian Horn and Mick Standen. 
A Groningen delegation made up of poets, publishers, journalists and cultural officers and headed by Councillor for Culture Jaap Dijkstra visited Newcastle in September 2008 and a special performance evening was held at the Ouseburn Boathouse with readings by the Groningen poets and their Newcastle counterparts incuding Keith Armstrong, Paul Summers and Ellen Phethean. 
Groningen City Poet Stefan Nieuwenhuis jetted in September 2011 to join Newcastle poet Keith Armstrong at a launch of Keith's new books.
After which, Armstrong and folk musician Gary Miller appeared again in schools and cafes in Newcastle's twin city of Groningen at the end of September following on from successful appearances in 2010 where they presented their unique poems and songs in the International School, Haren Library (with a specially commissioned performance for Haren's 850th anniversary and a recital of the poems of Charles Dickens) and O'Ceallaigh's Irish Bar. During the September stay, Armstrong performed his sequence of Groningen poems, written after many visits to the city, with some settings by Miller.
The links between Groningen and Newcastle continue with Keith Armstrong planning another visit to Groningen in 2017.
For the record, here's a list of those artists who have made it happen so far:
Groningen literary/cultural visitors to Newcastle since 1992:
Rense Sinkgraven, Marieke Zwaving, Jaap Dijkstra, Tine Bethlehem, Albertina Soepboer, Tsead Bruinja, The Poets from Epibreren (Bart FM Droog, Tjitse Hofmann, Paul Jainandun Singh, Jan Klug), Sieger M. Geertsma, Ronald Ohlsen, Anneke Claus, Willem Groenewegen, Anton Scheepstra, Eric Nederkoorn, Herman Sandman, Emiel Matulewicz, Jeroen Engels, Entre'acte jazz duo (Allan Wilcox, Sina Keuning), Janny Boerma, Helen Wilcox, Henk Muda, Klaas Drenth, Emmeke Schurink-Plas, Willem Smit.
Newcastle visitors to Groningen since 1992:
Keith Armstrong, Julia Darling, The Poetry Virgins, Paul Summers, Ian Horn, Tony Whittle (photographer/musician), Ann Sessoms (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Ormston (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Hartnett (singer/songwriter), John Earl, Alan Clark (Nod), Dave Gaston, Michael Standen, Marie Little (singer), Gary Miller (singer/songwriter).
FURTHER INFORMATION: NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS, TEL. 0191 2529531.

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