JINGLE ON MY SON!

JINGLE ON MY SON!

31.3.18

THE GOLDEN ROOM: IN HONOUR OF HEXHAM POET WILFRID GIBSON (1878-1962)


 





















‘Was it for nothing that the little room,
All golden in the lamplight, thrilled with golden
Laughter from hearts of friends that summer night?’ (Wilfrid Gibson)


I’m as happy as a daffodil
this day;
sunshine flows around me
over fences,
leaping
with the joy of my poetry.

I am Lord Pretty Field,
a tipsy aristocrat of verse,
become full of myself
and country booze
in the Beauchamp Arms.

Under branches frothy with blossom,
I carry a torch from Northumberland
for Wilfrid Gibson
and his old mates;
for Geraldine
I bear
my Cheviot heart
in Gloucester ciderlight.

We can only catch
a petal from the slaughter,
a bloom
to ease the melancholy
of a Dymock dusk;
hear laughter
over the gloomy murmurs
of distant wars.

A swirling rook cries out
across St Mary’s spire
in dialect
as I climb
back to my White House room
to dream of an England gone,
and a flash of whisky
with Abercrombie.

For Wilfrid you are still
‘a singing star’,
drenched in balladry;
and this I know:
I will keep your little songs alive
in this Golden Room in my heart
and, in my Hexham’s market place,
rant for you
and cover
all our love
with streaming daffodils.


KEITH ARMSTRONG

Gloucestershire 2003



Tyneside writer Dr Keith Armstrong was Year of the Artist 2000 poet in residence at Hexham Races.
Other commissioned work by Keith includes ‘Fire & Brimstone’ the story of Tynedale artist John Martin, and ‘The Hexham Celebration’, both for the Hexham Abbey Festival, and The Hexham Riot (publication and outdoor performance).

He also has also compiled and edited a local history book ‘The Town of Old Hexham’ and organised a mini-festival celebrating the life and work of Hexham born poet Wilfrid Gibson in 2003. He appeared again at the Hexham Abbey Festival in 2008 reciting the poetry of Gibson.
His poetry book ‘The Darkness Seeping’, based on the Prior Leschman Chantry Chapel in Hexham Abbey, was published in 1997.


25.3.18

FOR MY MOTHER AND FATHER





























 




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3DffKLEGZA&t=39s

SING A SONG FOR HENSHAW

(FOR YOU MY MOTHER EVA)


Illuminate this slumbering old village for my mother, 
let her country fields glow with a fine light that’s warm.
This radiant song is for Henshaw
to be shared by the birds in the sun.

We scattered her ashes down a lane here,
we took her back home where her dreams could rest in the soil.
We returned her to her happy childhood
and the laughter where she was born.  

She gave all the love in her heart to me,
there was nothing she wouldn’t do for this boy.
She’s gone back to her roots by the river
to join up with my fine father again.

Let those ashes of bones float on this breeze
and glint in the open Northumbrian skies. 
She’s resting now in the joys of spring,
resting in my heart as well full of the breath from her soul.

I relish the days you gave me your all for mother,
I thank you for the darling touch of the dew.
Even in my darkest and scatterbrained times, 
I grew in the glow of your tunes.

I carry your picture all over this world,
show it to accountants in airports and singers in the rain.
I won’t allow myself to forget your lovely tenderness,
community lessons learned from you, your devoted and neighbourly ways.

Your bonny canny lad will be kind for you
and scatter the blue coloured petals of love.
Along every new street I visit,
I’ll always be dancing for you.

This son will revere your oath of caring,
your compassionate concern for the beggar next door.
I’ll go back along the walls you skipped over
to rejoice in your marvellous and wonderful smile.
 

So I have carved out this poem for you and your Henshaw,
it reflects the beautiful flowers in your eyes.
I am breathing a fresh lyric on a Tyneside day,
singing my deepest feelings for Eva and the delicate blossoms she grew. 




KEITH ARMSTRONG

 

Henshaw is a village on the South Tyne in Northumberland where Keith Armstrong's mother Eva spent her childhood. 


Rob Walton    Love this one, Keith. Great stuff.

Mo Shevis    What a beautiful tribute Keith. Lovely place too.

Toon van den Boogaard    Beautiful poem, Keith.
Must have been a remarkebly nice lady, to recieve these kind words of love and gratitude.

Nick Pemberton     Extra special one there :-) x

Catherine Graham    A beautiful tribute, a beautiful poem filled with love for your beloved Mother. x

Brian Ings    So much love, so much poetry, Keith. Thank you for sharing.






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

Thank you very  much for this poem. Ever since I have heard you reading it out at “Poems, Prose, Pints” it has been on my mind – it’s written in such a gentle and honest voice. The poem may be dedicated to your mum, but, as you said in the pub, it’s something you could say about all mums. I certainly feel reminded of my own mother, who died not so long ago, when I read the poem.
Love
Brigitte



Hi Keith

Thanks for this beautiful poem.

Tim G

Dear Keith ! Thank you very much. You read this poem when you were here in Groningen. It moves me each time I read or hear it. Nice talking to you on the phone yesterday. All the best, yours, Henk

Thanks Keith - you moved me.

All best
Chrissie

The Bird Woman of Whitley is a lovely poem, Keith.  Beautiful tribute.

Trish.

You amazing poet YOU
- thank you for that that poem - it deserves a very good moment, but I will translate it.
Uwe

Lovely poem!
Keep sending them!

Julie

Good poem, Keith
Cheers
SallyE

Thank you, Keith, thank you –
 For bringing a fulsome tear to my eye with the sad and beautifully-crafted The Bird Woman of Whitley. How amazingly coincidental and serendipitous that you should have numbered me amongst those privileged to receive it because, just this afternoon, I have put in the post to you my Christmas book (in Irish) An Nollaig sa Naigín (Christmas in the Noggin [my homeplace]), which has in it the story Céad Sneachta na Nollag (First Christmas Snow), which features my own mother feeding two birds, they being the Robin and the Wren!!!!
Bravo, my friend, and thank you for giving me the delight of reading so beautiful a poem.



Thats a nice poem Keith. Is that lady really your mum?


Mick

Thanks for sending me this beautiful poem. It really moved me. I have a special Mother too, she hasn't a selfish thought in her body.

Cheers
Catherine Graham

Hi Keith loved the poem

Mike


Thanks for your beautiful poem Keith. I must write something special to my mum.


Paul


Love the poem and it certainly struck a chord at 'On the Nail'.

Dominic


Thanks for that Keith. She sounds like a beautiful lady - feet on the ground, connected to the earth - heart in the right place. The kind of woman I would love to have known - they can teach us real values.

I wish I had your poetic eloquence. All I could manage when my mother passed away at a similar age to yours was the attached sketch of her life and the affection we had for her, which I read out at the requiem mass.We miss her greatly, but feel her presence all the time. I know she would have loved your mother - they would have got on well together.

Regards,

Gerry.

I want to add . I love this poem. Klaas Drenth, Groningen


What a wonderful poem! If one could write such a poem on mankind, we would be in paradise. Gerd Oberlin (Tuebingen)


Shivvy Coogan And you in turn share your beautiful dreams and poetry with all of us .......


Henk B. Muda One of my favourites !

Donal Thurlow First heard it when you read it in Limerick several years ago... loved it then and have read it many times since.... always brings me to memories of Mum.



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)


MY FATHER WORKED ON SHIPS
 

My father worked on ships.
They spelked his hands,
dusted his eyes, his face, his lungs.

Those eyes that watered by the Tyne
stared out to sea
to see the world
in a tear of water, at the drop
of an old cloth cap.

For thirty weary winters
he grafted
through the snow and the wild winds
of loose change.

He was proud of those ships he built,
he was proud of the men he built with,
his dreams sailed with them:
the hull was his skull,
the cargo his brains.

His hopes rose and sunk
in the shipwrecked streets
of Wallsend
and I look at him now
this father of mine who worked on ships
and I feel proud
of his skeletal frame, this coastline
that moulded me
and my own sweet dreams.

He sits in his retiring chair,
dozing into the night.
There are storms in his head
and I wish him more love yet.

Sail with me,
breathe in me,
breathe that rough sea air old man,
and cough it up.

Rage, rage
against the dying
of this broken-backed town,
the spirit
of its broken-backed
ships.

 


Keith Armstrong
 

Mo Shevis         Bought 'Imagined Corners' recently and was pleased to see this poem there, having read it previously online. When I read it last week at my poetry reading group it was very well received.! It is a powerful piece Keith. We are all of an age to remember the old industries,proud of our heritage and those who worked in them. Thankfully we have people like you to record such images and memories for posterity.
 

Derek Young          What a poem. So evocative of those days. I worked at Parsons Marine Turbine Company as an apprentice marine engineer. My girl friend was a trainee tracer at Swan Hunters.

Michael McNally       Hi Keith, Thank you for sending this wonderful piece of work in my direction.

 

JANIS BLOWER

Thursday 26 June 2014

HAVE YOUR SAY
 

IT’S gratifying to see that on-line readers have taken an interest in one or two topics recently.
One was that smashing poem, My Father Worked on Ships, by Keith Armstrong, in which correspondent, Geordiman, reckons he recognised himself in its depiction of an old shipyard hand.



23.3.18

BYKER HILL





Poems by Keith Armstrong



FIRST PUBLISHED BY IRD ARTS CLUB 1972









byker

antique mart of memory’s remnants
glad bag of fading rags

bedraggled old flag

blowing in the wind over newcastle



    


we stand on street corners shivering in the winter
like birds sheltering from the wind

we do not rattle loose change in our pockets
only the nuts and bolts of poverty

we are splinters
ill-shaven
our clothes droop on us
using our bones for hangers

we avoid mirrors and images of ourselves in shields road doorways
we do not look through windows

we draw curtains of beer across our eyes
we sleep/place bets

every week on dole day hunger prods us awake

it is instinct

it is a fear of never waking






yesterday’s records in a raby street window
yesterday’s news
revolving today

pictures of byker trapped in a camera
yesterday’s photos
developed today

yesterday’s headlines
today’s wrapping paper

yesterday’s wars are bloodless today






snot drips nose
wailing ragman drags a foot
and sniffs


any old rags
any old rags


hair like straw
homespun
snot runs
licks cracked mouth


any old rags
any old rags

as raby street
               declines
          into
water


any old rags
any old rags





watson’s toffee factory
wrapped in mist
melts in the watering mouth of the dawn
another byker child is born

another byker son assumes
the dusty jacket of a byker man 





and this is the truth
the wind-ripped reality between the grave and the womb
the aimlessness
the weary broken people
shuffling through the measured lines of architects’ reports

the cripples
the dying streets
behind the brash and snatching shops
the coughing strays

this is all the small print
the drifting words
beneath the glossy covers

and this is mother byker now

a wasteland of schools
churches public houses
a frail old woman
her mouth and eyes bricked over
tilting

on her last legs





change
creeps like a lizard over the face of byker
dragging behind it its retinue of planners
                                                wreckers 
                                                builders and
                                                    visionaries

tomorrow
you will wake from your years of sleeping
and find what you knew to be yours being hauled away
over byker bridge on the backs of lorries
your yesterday
in clouds of dust





byker folk are living still
byker folk on byker hill
fading flowers on a window sill
byker folk
                hang
                        on

18.3.18

ARMSTRONG ON NORTHUMBERLAND!





 





























SONG FOR NORTHUMBERLAND




Drifting in moonlight,

the dunes sing their songs.

Wings of old battles

fly all night long.

Cry of the seagulls,

curse of the ghosts;

aches of dead warriors

scar this old coast.



Hover the kestrel,

sing out the lark,

we will be free in our time.

This air is our breath,

this sea is our thirst

and our dreams are sailing home.



Wandering through castles,

their walls are our lungs.

Seaching for freedom

in country homes.

Forbears and old cares

blown in the wind;

pull of loved harbours

draws our boats in.



Surge of the salmon

and urge of the sea

leaps in our local blood.

Peel of the bluebells

and ring of bold tunes

reel in all those grey years.



Slopes of the Cheviots,

caress of the waves.

Shipwrecks and driftwood

float in our heads.

Pele stones and carved bones

hide in these hills,

roots of new stories

in ancient tales.



Dew on our lips

and beer on the breath,

drinking the countryside in.

Bread of the landscape

and wine of this earth,

flows on these river beds.



Drifting in moonlight,

the dunes sing their songs.

Wings of old battles

fly all night long.

Cry of the seagulls,

curse of the ghosts;

aches of dead warriors

scar this old coast.



Hover the kestrel,

sing out the lark,

we will be free in our time.

This air is our breath,

this sea is our thirst

and our dreams are sailing home.







KEITH ARMSTRONG








TWIN THE TWEED WITH THE VOLGA


Twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.

There’s this comrade in Barrels Ale House,
looks like Nikita Khrushchev.
There’s a Moscow moon on top of his head,
his face is all ruddy and red.
Back in Russia,
there’s a border reiver,
a wild vodka look in his eye,
he’s riding a horse like a cossack
from Vladivostok to Tweedmouth and back.

Reach across water me darling,
it’s worth it.
Spread out your nets and your arms.
You might get a hot Russian lover
and Igor a sweet Berwickshire lass.

So twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.

There’s this strapping lad in the Kremlin,
he’s from a Spittal back lane.
He’s wearing old Lenin’s disused fur hat,
there’s a Marxist tattoo on his chest.
Back in Berwick,
there’s a soviet cosmonaut,
with a fishing rod in his hand,
he’s trying for a catch in the gathering dusk
as the river slides from yellow to black. 

Share a strong jar with me sweetheart,
it’s warm now.
Hold the smile on your face.
You can sail light on the Baltic
and fly to the Urals with me.  

So twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.



KEITH ARMSTRONG


(Commissioned by Berwick-upon-Tweed Council, 2006)

Because it changed hands between Scotland and England so many times, when the Crimean War was declared, Berwick received a separate namecheck, along with England, Scotland and Queen Victoria's overseas dominions. But, alas, it was left out of the Treaty of Paris which concluded the war. Thus Berwick remained at war with Russia until 1966, when a visiting diplomat signed an armistice with the town.
"At last," declared the Mayor, "the people of the Soviet Union can sleep safely in their beds."

 



OUR SPITTAL

Tammy Spence he had no sense,
he bought a fiddle for eighteen pence
and all the tunes that he could play
was ‘O’er the Hills and Far Away’.




From Cow Road to Hud’s Head,
Toppye Knowe Stone and Spittal Point,
we have dredged the coal
and snapped up fish
with ‘Lovely Polly’ and all.
We have ground the corn and bone,
found the iron and cured and smoked.
We have worshipped Bart and lifeboats
and prayed to Paul and John.
We have staggered on in rain and nonconformity.
We have lurched along old shores,
drowned the thirst of sailors
with the rattling old Town Bell and the tunes of jolly Jack,
whistled and fiddled away
in the bright Red Lion light.
Jesus Light of the World,
we are the history in the barrel,
in the soaring wind
and in the foaming waves:
it is our blood,
it is our bread,
it is our Spittal,
our mirrored past. 




KEITH ARMSTRONG







 

ALNWICKDOTE


These rough stones,
carried for miles to build
such a Castle,
mounted on fields
of bitter sweet slopes.

Stoned lions,
countrified gargoyles
hunch, unpouncing;
their stiff glares fixed
on us fee paying visitors,
taking a stroll through
the dusty chapters,
the library dungeons.

And I would suppose
this afternoon to be,
for us, some piece of history,
both strolling through
crisis after crisis,
hearts beating heart beats
and blood warm, flowing
through us as we walk between
such cold walls,
older than a Duke,
but never as wise as this love of mine
nor as fragile as
that historic moment inside the Castle
when once you smiled at me
so wonderfully.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

(published in From Both Sides of Hadrian’s Wall.
Contemporary poetry from south Scotland and north England)


 

TELL ME LIES ABOUT NORTHUMBERLAND
(in honour of Adrian Mitchell)


Say this land is ours,
these pipe tunes do not cry.
The birds all sing in dialect,
old miners breathe like dukes.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Tell me it isn’t feudal,
that castles were built for us.
We never touch the forelock,
bend to scrape up dust.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your pretty girls don’t stink of slaughter,
your eyes don’t blur with myth.
You’re as equal as a duchess,
saints never smell of piss.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your roots are in this valley,
you were never from doon south.
You never hide your birthplace,
you’re a real poet of the north.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

The churches are not crumbling,
the congregations glow with hope.
We are different from the foreigner,
our poetry rhymes with wine.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

There is no landed gentry,
no homes locals can’t afford.
There’s no army on the moors,
the Romans freed us all.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

That the hurt is in the past,
the future holds no war.
Home rule is at our fingertips,
the Coquet swims with love.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

‘The Garden’ is our children’s,
Hotspur spurs us on.
The seagulls are not soaked in oil,
the cows are not diseased.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

This Kingdom is United,
‘Culture’ is our God.
Everyone’s a Basil Bunting freak,
there’s music everywhere.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We will have our independence,
we’ll get the Gospels back.
We live off museums and tourists,
we don’t need boats or trades.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We’re in charge of our own futures,
we have north east citizens here.
In this autonomous republic,
we’re free as dicky birds.

So shut your eyes.

And tell me lies

about Northumberland.




KEITH ARMSTRONG
 

Mo Shevis I think Adrian Mitchell would have been well and truly honoured by that one Keith! 




THE CUTHBERT POEMS BY KEITH ARMSTRONG


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
for bread.
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,
Bamburgh’s finest
fallen King of Northumbria
in ashes.
Palaces of Pretence,
Gefrin on a summer’s afternoon,
basking by the Glen
where Paulinus
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




HEXHAM TANS


‘Hides lifted from a lime-pit were soaked for days, scraped and ‘bated’ in solutions of dog excrement and ground bark before hanging up to dry.’

You ancient company
of skinners and glovers,
you gossiping crafts.

You hatters and tanners,
leather-dressers and cutters,
we can hear you and sniff you in Hexham’s dank lanes.

You clockmakers and bookbinders,
pipemakers and joiners,
we touch your worksore hands.

You shoemakers and collarmakers,
weavers and saddlers,
we bear your burdens and your smiles.

You dressmakers,
ropeworkers,
cabinetmakers,
basketmakers.
Tinsmiths and
millwrights,
butchers and
engravers.

You 1000 sewing women in your homes,
you bakers and tapestry-makers,
you’ve led us here -

we worship you,
we drink your sweat.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

 

HEXHAM RACES POEMS INTRODUCTION


The following poems are by Tyneside writer Dr Keith Armstrong. They were first written in the year 2000 for his poetry residency at Hexham Racecourse and an exhibition of the poems with artwork by local artist Kathleen Sisterson was launched at an event at the Racecourse in September of that year, introduced by Hexham based sports writer Harry Pearson, with readings from Keith and folk music from Mike and Peter Tickell and Ray Sloan on Northumbrian Pipes.
Since 2000 Keith has been a regular visitor to Hexham Races and continues to find inspiration for his poetry in every visit.

Other commissioned work by Keith includes ‘Fire & Brimstone’ the story of Tynedale artist John Martin and ‘The Hexham Celebration’, both for the Hexham Abbey Festival.
He also has also compiled and edited a local history book ‘The Town of Old Hexham’ and organised a festival celebrating the life and work of Hexham born poet Wilfrid Gibson. 

 


LADY JOCKEY, HEXHAM RACES
(for Miss Lamb on Rubislaw)


I am a lady jockey;
dark stallions
course my veins,
and my heart
pounds
with a herd of wild hoofbeats,
blood pulsing
hot breath
of bold horses.

I jump the frantic fences
of my daydreams,
eyes lit
with a glow of life:
I toss and turn
and thrash
in the sunlight;
my mighty steed
romps
across the warm grass,
heat
startling
my taut body.

I am joyous
to be alive,
skylarks fill
my thirsting throat.
I will ride forever
breathing ecstatically;
an animal love
in my lungs;
and the smell
of a bold Northumberland
scenting
my bracing hair.





KEITH ARMSTRONG



BOOKIE’S SUIT
(forJack Randall)


In return
for your soiled cash,
he gives you scraps
of paper that fly
across these hard earned fields of Yarridge,
through history.




KEITH ARMSTRONG


 

BOOKMAKER BILLY DAY


His cap bobs
above the fray
of punters
who have not got a prayer.
They say that every day
is Billy’s Day
and every bet
more breath
in his kids’ bodies.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

 







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. 




OLD STATIONS



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


(written for an exhibition at Bellingham Heritage Centre, June 2013)

 

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)

Bob Beagrie Lovely poem Keith


Dory Dickson Memories flooding back, very evocative poem.


Alan Clark Smashing poem Keith. I walked the route when we were teenagers, camping along the way. I got fascinated reading big orange LNER timetables when we were at school in 1965 and it was long gone. Here's a shot I took a few years back, just over the border from Kielder, between Deadwater and Saughtree...



I love that.  (Kathryn Tickell) 



HEXHAM RIOT 1761:


TUESDAY MARCH 10TH 1761


‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The ground was stained with blood and the cries of the wounded were pitiful. The following day it rained, washing away the traces.’


Wash away the day,
wash the pain away,
sweep the remains of yesterday
into the racing river.
Beat the Dead March,
bang the old drum,
heal Hexham’s bust bones
and cry me a river,
cry the Water of Tyne.
Wash away the day
and wash this pain away.


 

A PITMAN DEAD


With blood gushing out of his boot tops,
a well-dressed man
leaves town
along Priestpopple.
Thirteen men lie inside the Abbey,
not owned.
Numbers are found dead upon the roads.
Big with child, Sarah Carter shot,
the musket ball found in the child’s belly.
Thrice into a man’s body
lying at James Charlton’s shop door
it’s said they ran theIr bayonets;
and a pitman dead,
a weaver:
all those broken days of history,
all the slain hours in our diaries.
Sound the Abbey’s bells!
Let them toll the severed minutes.
Let them celebrate
the end of torture.
Let them gush
with rejoicing
for more peaceful times.

 


THERE’S A RIOT


These streets,
in this Heart of All England,
are swept clean of blood.
But the stains still soak our books.
Death upon death,
we turn the pages;
in between the lines,
we read about the screams,
time’s bullets
tearing flesh away.
There is terror lurking in this Market Place,
just scrape away the skin
and, deep down,
there’s a Riot:
a commotion boiling
a terrible turbulence,
a throbbing pain.
It is a Riot of gore,
a torrential downpour
of weeping:
a seeping sore
that is Hexham’s History.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

(Poems featured in Hexham Local History Society Newsletter Autumn 2011) 




AT ANCHOR




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.

Keith Armstrong,
Haydon Bridge,
Northumberland.

John Martin (1789-1854). Historical Painter. Born Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789. Died Isle of Man 1854.
  

 Mo Shevis Your words paint a beautiful picture of a beautiful county and fill me with nostalgia for my birthplace Keith.

the jingling geordie

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