JINGLE ON MY SON!

JINGLE ON MY SON!

29.5.18

EDINBURGH SEQUENCE







THE DIVIDED SELF

‘When’er my muse does on me glance, I jingle at her.’  (Robert Burns).


Such an eye in a human head,
from the toothless baby
to the toothless man,
the Edinburgh wynds
bleed whisky.
Through all the Daft Days,
we drink and gree
in the local howffs,
dancing down
Bread Street.
Like burns with Burns
these gutters run;
where Fergusson once tripped,
his shaking glass
jumps
in our inky fingers,
delirium tugs
at our bardish tongues;
dead drunk,
we dribble down
a crafty double
for Burke & Hare,
heckle a Deacon Brodie
gibbering
on the end
of the hangman’s rope.

In all these great and flitting streets
awash with cadies,
this poet’s dust
clings
like distemper to our bones.
We’re walking through
the dark and daylight,
the laughs
and torture
of lost ideals.
Where is the leader of the mob Joe Smith,
that bowlegged cobbler
who snuffed it on these cobbles,
plunging
from this stagecoach pissed?
Where is the gold
of Jinglin’ George Heriot?
Is it in the sunglow on the Forth?
We’re looking for girls of amazing beauty
and whores of unutterable filth:
‘And in the Abbotsford
like gabbing asses
they scale the heights
of Ben Parnassus.’

Oh Hugh me lad
we’ve seen some changes.
In Milne’s, your great brow scowls the louder;
your glass of bitterness
deep as a loch:
‘Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun.’

Oh Heart
of Midlothian,
it spits on
to rain
still hopes.
Still hope in her light meadows
and in her volcanic smiles.
And we’ve sung with Hamish
in Sandy Bell’s
and Nicky Tams’
and Diggers’,
a long hard sup
along the cobbles
to the dregs
at the World’s End:
‘Whene’er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.’

Bright as silver,
sharp as ice,
this Edinburgh of all places,
home to a raving melancholia
among the ghosts
of Scotland’s Bedlam:
‘Auld Reekie’s sons blythe faces’,
shades of Fergusson in Canongate.

And the blee-e’ed sun,
the reaming ale
our hearts to heal;
the muse of Rose Street
seeping through us boozy bards,
us snuff snorters
in coughing clouds.

Here
on display
in this Edinburgh dream:
the polished monocle
of Sydney Goodsir Smith,
glittering by
his stained inhaler;
and the black velvet jacket
of RLS,
slumped by
a battered straw hat.

And someone
wolf whistles
along Waterloo Place;
and lovers
kiss moonlight
on Arthur’s Seat:
see Edinburgh rise.

Drink
from her eyes.





LEITH WALK, EDINBURGH


Leith Walk it was
where Thomas Carlyle realised
that God did not exist:
Leith Walk
where Stevenson lit
his student pipe
and leched
after a shopgirl’s arse.
He spat
at dashing businessmen,
faces gripped
by hate,
and he loved
the night
did RLS:
the swinging hips,
and lifted dresses;
the tartaned whores spread
over a wild Scots wasteland,
showing their floodlit thighs,
keys flashing
in expert hands,
ready to unlock,
tease out,
the strangest dreams;
in full sight
of a devilish moon,
Leith Walk,
and a nonexistent God.





DEACON BRODIE



The whisky’s on my breath again,
Deacon Brodie.
The High Street’s soaked in sunshine gin,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve forgotten what it is to pray,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve pilfered more sad lines today,
Deacon Brodie.
Why does she touch my heart that way?
Deacon Brodie.
I thought I’d thrown her love away,
Deacon Brodie.
The moon scoffs at my life tonight,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve lost my way in this fading light,
Deacon Brodie.
Thrown away the keys to fortune,
Deacon Brodie.
Lost the gift of a brilliant tune,
Deacon Brodie.
It’s dark in this infested room,
Deacon Brodie.
Each night I sleep in a cold museum,
Deacon Brodie.
I’m looking for a lifting swagger,
Deacon Brodie.
Somewhere to stick a nation’s dagger,
Deacon Brodie.
It’s a stab town we’re living in,
Deacon Brodie.
Can’t catch the truth in my begging tin,
Deacon Brodie.
Oh what’s the point of a lifetime’s pain?
Deacon Brodie.
All it leaves is a useless stain,
Deacon Brodie.
Whatever the heartache they track you down,
Deacon Brodie,
Tear the shreds from your fancy gown,
Deacon Brodie.
Catch you with a lovely flame,
Deacon Brodie.
In an electric chair or Amsterdam,
Deacon Brodie.
We’ve missed the ship to Freedomsville,
Deacon Brodie.
We’re drowning in this poetry swill,
Deacon Brodie.
On the streets of bloody Europe,
Deacon Brodie.
Running away from the hangman’s rope,
Deacon Brodie.
Dead or alive it’s stuck in history,
Deacon Brodie.
Whistling away in Edinburgh’s mystery,
Deacon Brodie.
How can we hide the dark inside?
Deacon Brodie.
We need the thrill of one last ride,
Deacon Brodie.
And what lurks within that smile?
Deacon Brodie.
I see stars dying for many a mile,
Deacon Brodie.
Aye, and pay the price the very next time,
Deacon Brodie.
It’s still a crazy pantomime,
Deacon Brodie.



Deacon Brodie's tavern is named after William Brodie, one of the inspirations for Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde. Born in 1741 Brodie was a deacon of the Guild of Wrights. By day, he was a respectable citizen, a member of the town council but by night, he consorted with lowlife; gambling and drinking. His dark side meant he had to take to burglary to pay his gambling debts, leading to his hanging in 1788.


STELLA OF ROSE STREET



(in memory of Stella Cartwright, 1937-1985)



“Dear George, it is so strange, our souls seem to fly together joyously over mountains and seas while each of us in our mutual way suffers agonies.”
(Stella Cartwright)

"An orgasm with Miss Cartwright was metaphysical, transcendental, like nothing else you can ever imagine. She seemed built for love."
(Stanley Roger Green)

“You placed me on a pedestal / according to my lights / but what you didn’t know, my dear / I have no head for heights.”
(Norman MacCaig)


It was so much gabble,
fantasies of genius in the Little Kremlin.
Once, I fell for it myself,
tottering along the red carpet,
poetry dribbling into my own vomit,
or maybe it was Hugh’s,
all mixed up
in the whisky of empty promises.

I talked in Milne’s Bar to a shop steward
who’d help build MacDiarmid’s bog.
He said the workmen had their tea in Grieve’s posh wee cups
and saw the reckoning in the leaves.
He yapped as auld poets glowered from their photos
and we downed chilled ale
to drown the memories of a Juniper Green girl
with a pint of that Muse again.

They must have seen joy in you our Stella
to wrench them from their word play,
to take a lovely shag to brighten up their anxious lines.
Och the happiness and the pain
of drinking
that smiler with the knife
come to get us all.
And that lonely honey George
must have driven you nuts
romancing you in the Pentland Hills
and kissing you full on your lips
one damp Saturday afternoon
by the Water of Leith.

They say ‘the best poem is silence’
but you were a shriek in the ecstasy
of loving and of agony,
a naked drunken howl.
The saintly saviour of hurt animals
and a shopper for the sick,
you wanted to wrap yourself around
something you could trust,
wanted a photograph of a true poetry lover
held to your lovely breasts
to make a change from the piss
of Milne’s Bar
and the daily Abbotsford drivel.

What you found was madness in a Zimmer Frame at thirty,
splashes of alcohol and tears lit
by the sudden flashes of beautiful orgasms,
the sunshine today
in all the muck
along Rose Street.





HOLYROOD

(1)

We stand concealed in roped-off rooms.

Dead eyes of the blind old monarchs of Scotland

hang out

from frozen palace walls.

No one lives in this giant doll’s house,
no one lusts any more.

The furniture lies draped in frost.

Stiff dummies of the lingering past
hunch drearily in padded chairs;

the electric veins of Kings and Queens
become dead rivers, frozen streams.

(2)

They dragged Rizzio’s punctured body through here,
trailing the thick claret wine
across floorboards
now worn bare by footsore tourists
who have gouged out chunks
of the bloodstained wood
and slipped them
into suburban drawers:

souvenirs
in the debris of their murderous minds;
splinters
of a hunchback’s blood.

(3)

This is a disinfected past.
The sheets on the bed are dry.

The monument stands like a broken tree,
tugged dead by howling Lothian winds.

As thistles wilt on the backs of bent hills,
another party shuffles round:

in one ear,
out the other,
they go;
flies crawling
through the head of a corpse,
ringed by the flashing crown of Edinburgh:

a throb of a city
alive in the evening sun.
(4)

And cloud drifts,
life dashes
on
past Holyrood:

spear of our history,
sucker of our blood.






CASTLE STAIR REEL


Down all these steps,
I reach with my feet
for a moon
I know isn’t mine:
a spiral fall to a last gasp,
an early death,
a rushed breath;
aware that my next step could be my last,
a trip into Edinburgh or into hell,
with only a mothering guard-rail to save me,
only my steep inhibitions to save me

from something I want and don’t want,
something, some shadow,
flickering,
waiting
at the foot of these cascading stairs

for me to hit it,
out of step with life,
for my feet to run
out of steps.







I HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH THE FORTH BRIDGE





Strapping girders,
lusty arches:
the span of my ambition,
shore to shore
you link me with the old bones,
the new ways,
the true trains that take me
down the path of all my loves.
You lift up your wide arms
to take in the tide,
roll with the shaking wind
that whistles in the rushes
of the wild banks.
You thrill me with your size,
your strong embrace;
you roar with achievement,
you make me proud:
I could hug you.
Let me take the Queensferry train,
slide through you to freedom.
The pipes play
and the kilts sway
to greet us.
You are the opening,
the gap we streak through
to the woolly wilds
of Auld Reekie
and Bonnie Old Dundee;
to the sea of workers’ blood,
the red rust of the past that clings
and hugs the bones of dead engineers.
In the Albert Hotel,
tucked up, I hear you moan in the darkness.
Naked,
I pull back the curtains
and see you floodlit
in all your entrancing glory.
Shine on, shine
you crazy bridge.
You have my devotion,
you have my deepest darkest love.
I would climb you stripped;
I would feel you breathe in the Firth wind.
I give you my heart and soul,
I am frail against your depth.
You will outlive me,
do not mock me,
you are superb.
You are my outstretched lovely;
I will breathe through you,
long for you,
die for you.
Rock me,
go Forth
and inspire me.                                                               

                                                                                                       



KEITH ARMSTRONG

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Doctor Keith Armstrong now resides in the seaside town of Whitley Bay. He has organised several community arts festivals in the region and many literary events. He is coordinator of the Northern Voices Community Projects creative writing and community publishing enterprise and was founder of Ostrich poetry magazine, Poetry North East, Tyneside Poets  and the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series.

He recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and the heritage of North Tyneside. He has been a self employed writer since 1986 and he was awarded a doctorate in 2007 for his work on Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham where he received a BA Honours Degree in Sociology in 1995 and Masters Degree in 1998 for his studies on regional culture in the North East of England. His biography of Jack Common was published by the University of Sunderland Press in 2009.

He was Year of the Artist 2000 poet-in-residence at Hexham Races, working with artist Kathleen Sisterson. He has also written for music-theatre productions, including ‘Fire & Brimstone’ (on painter John Martin), 1989, and ‘The Hexham Celebration’, 1992, both for the Hexham Abbey Festival. He appeared again at the Hexham Abbey Festival in 2008 reciting the poetry of Hexham poet Wilfrid Gibson.

His poetry has been extensively published in magazines such as New Statesman, Poetry Review, Dream Catcher, and Other Poetry,  as well as in the collections The Jingling Geordie, Dreaming North, Pains of Class, Imagined Corners, Splinters (2011) and The Month of the Asparagus (2011), on cassette, LP & CD, and on radio & TV.  He has performed his poetry on several occasions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at Festivals in Aberdeen, Bradford, Cardiff, Cheltenham (twice at the Festival of Literature - with Liz Lochhead and with 'Sounds North'), Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Greenwich, Lancaster, and throughout Britain.

In his youth, he travelled to Paris to seek out the grave of poet Charles Baudelaire and he has been making cultural pilgrimages abroad ever since. He has toured to Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, Iceland (including readings during the Cod War), Denmark, France, Germany (including readings at the Universities of Hamburg, Kiel, Oldenburg, Trier and Tuebingen), Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica and Kenya.

He has read several times in Limerick and in Cork, Dublin, Kinvara, Fermoy and Galway. His irish adventures have inspired him to write a sequence of poems based on the places he has visited and the people he has met. With Dominic Taylor, he co-edited the anthology ‘Two Rivers Meet, poetry from the Shannon and the Tyne’ which was published by Revival Press as part of the exchange between Limerick and Keith’s home city.





'In another part of the field, another field, let's
face it, sits Keith Armstrong's rakish gaff. (His)
poems are rooted in the Tyneside music hall tradition,
closely behind which was the august balladry of the
Borders. His is an unashamed bardic stance, actor
rather than commentator. His politics are personal.
Throughout the collection the authentic lyrical note
of this northern poet is struck.'  (Michael Standen,
Other Poetry).



'I really enjoyed reading your Edinburgh poems, all your work to me is always full to the brim with enthusiasm about the particular subject and I always get swept along with that enthusiasm and really do enjoy reading the poems. You have a great love and excitement for your native Newcastle and this is always evident in your work and I did sense the same experience when reading the Edinburgh work, your love for the place is quite obvious. To be honest, the name Armstrong is often to be found in the Northumbria/Border region, even when I crossed the border  into Coldstream (across the same bridge as Robbie Burns himself ) I ran into the Armstrong name quite often and I thought then of the Celtic nature contained in your work. I found the poems a great pleasure to read and I will re-read them at various times, you have to in order to fully appreciate their content. I am a great fan of your work Keith and I think maybe you should include the Edinburgh poems in your set.'

(Robert Lonsdale)


22.5.18

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




Michael CallaghanAbsolutely brilliant Keith!


Conrad Atkinson: Another gem Keith
Best Conrad 

14.5.18

MY FATHER WORKED ON SHIPS - SHADES OF 'STING'!





























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.




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)

Thanks for sharing your lovely words, Keith. Very poignant as today is the anniversary of my own father's death.

(Rachel Cochrane)

12.5.18

CONSTANCE























 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 ‘Hours, more brief than the kiss
Of a beam on the lake that is mourning,
Than the song of a bird on the wing,
Which drops down like pearls from above .....’

Annette von Droste-Hulshoff (1797-1848)








I have lakes for eyes today

on a ferry across memory.

I am reaching for friends,

skirting boundaries.

My arms thrash in wild waves.

In this moody vista

of wet dreams

and legends,

the horseman rides

his panting steed

across the ice of cold lake kisses,

not knowing, in all this darkness,

just how close he is

to a plunging death.

The swirling weeds,

that wrap themselves

around our shaking bodies,

are full of drowned days

and gulped-down sunshine.



Look! These Alps are clouds today,

and the mountains pile up in the sky.

The line is thin between

fantastic vision

and suicide.

Another sip and I’ll slash my wrists,

gash the sky with blood,

dash poems on a promenade

awash with tourist trash

and the curse of cash.



Knowing looks

she gives me,

does this mighty Constance.

She gleams with sunlight

and sadness,

her red wave hits the mountain’s edge.

I want to get to know her more,

to sail in her dreamy looks

and thunderous smiles.

What tales she echoes,

what amazing craft

she sinks.

The breath of Europe

is recorded in the Bodensee’s sighing:

the wars and agonised cries,

the shrieks of pleasure boats,

the dying of pointless ideals.

Her castles and churches bear testimony

to all the joy and futility,

the spasms of birth,

the ruination of fine folk.



And so my good friends

let us sip the scent off our brimful Lake

to forget where we’re going

for at least one long breath.

Life can be good at this moment.

It will come on to rain

but the Swabian Sea

will float with stars.

The flaming blood of her heart

will break through a thousand gates.

And our songs will live

when we are gone,

and some will tremble at them

who felt like us.











KEITH ARMSTRONG



Lake Constance

7.5.18

TYNE ARTISTRY




Tyne Artistry: celebrating local legends in their anniversary years. Join Doctor Keith Armstrong for a talk and reading featuring specially written poems and songs to honour Jack Common (1903-1968), Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), John Cunningham (1729-1773) and Joseph Skipsey (1832-1903). Keith will be joined by folk band 'The Sawdust Jacks', who will perform new lyrics for the occasion, and Northumbrian Piper Chris Ormston with a special set of Tyneside tunes.

Local History Month.

Bewick Room, Newcastle City Library, 15th May 2018 2.30pm.

2.5.18

I LOVE THE LIGHT IN TUEBINGEN


































I LOVE THE LIGHT IN TUEBINGEN

I love the light
in Tuebingen
streaming down Marktgasse,
flooding in my beautiful blue eyes.

In this light,
I see
the good times
I have dwelt in here
over the bowling years:

the chemistry of Goethe,
the love of books
and poetry that sings
with the joyous swifts,
screeches with
the very pain of life.

This town
casts a glow
in me,
throws me lifelines
to write with,
fishing for ideas
in the sweeping river:

boats
of finished pamphlets
nodding at me
in the sunshine.

I love the light
in Tuebingen
streaming down Marktgasse,
flooding in my beautiful blue eyes.





KEITH ARMSTRONG





the jingling geordie

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