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.
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;
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;
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.
for the strength of wings.
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.
Thanks for this beautiful poem.
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.
The Bird Woman of Whitley is a lovely poem, Keith. Beautiful tribute.
You amazing poet YOU
- thank you for that that poem - it deserves a very good moment, but I will translate it.
Keep sending them!
Good poem, Keith
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?
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.
Hi Keith loved the poem
Thanks for your beautiful poem Keith. I must write something special to my mum.
Love the poem and it certainly struck a chord at 'On the Nail'.
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.
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.
(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.
‘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)
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
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
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.
against the dying
of this broken-backed town,
of its broken-backed
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.
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.
Posted by keith armstrong at 4:32 pm
POEM FOR THE COMMUNITY
The purpose of life
No more than to create
No more than to live, drink, eat, share
Life is community.
Community is to link as lovers,
to give until your heart can give no more.
Caress that seagull’s wing,
lick the dew from the grass,
grow the most beautiful flower,
protect the ugliest weed,
hold the hand of a cripple,
wave to the sea and the sky.
making stories of a lifetime,
taking from the past the best love songs.
Don’t ask what life is -
it’s in you,
it’s the breath you breathe
Posted by keith armstrong at 12:49 pm
in a New Town,
we watch the sea roll,
through the fallen leaves
and cracked houses.
You whisper to me.
‘It’s the place to be’:
this misty dream,
this bird hanging from a tree,
this windblown giro world.
Across the flat roofs,
we danced and skipped
over the puddles and the nightmares.
The clouds hung in our eyes.
Older now, wize and wizened,
we stare from our windows in Sunny Blunts
and feel our skin peel.
‘Peter Lee is the Man in the Moon,’
we tell our kids,
‘he’s where it’s at.’
A stray dog barks in the moonlight.
Tonight, newspapers swept across grass,
it’s time to find
a New Moon,
a new New Town.
Posted by keith armstrong at 7:58 am
I WILL SING OF MY OWN NEWCASTLE
sing of my home city
sing of a true geordie heart
sing of a river swell in me
sing of a sea of the canny
sing of the newcastle day
sing of a history of poetry
sing of the pudding chare rain
sing of the puddles and clarts
sing of the bodies of sailors
sing of the golden sea
sing of our childrens’ laughter
sing of the boats in our eyes
sing of the bridges in sunshine
sing of the fish in the tyne
sing of the lost yards and the pits
sing of the high level railway
sing of the love in my face
sing of the garths and the castle
sing of the screaming lasses
sing of the sad on the side
sing of the battles’ remains
sing of the walls round our dreams
sing of the scribblers and dribblers
sing of the scratchers of livings
sing of the quayside night
sing of the kicks and the kisses
sing of the strays and the chancers
sing of the swiggers of ale
sing of the hammer of memory
sing of the welders’ revenge
sing of a battered townscape
sing of a song underground
sing of a powerless wasteland
sing of a buried bard
sing of the bones of tom spence
sing of the cocky bastards
sing of a black and white tide
sing of the ferry boat leaving
sing of cathedral bells crying
sing of the tyneside skies
sing of my mother and father
sing of my sister’s kindness
sing of the hope in my stride
sing of a people’s passion
sing of the strength of the wind
(as featured on BBC Radio 4)
WILLIAM BLAKE IN THE BRIDGE HOTEL
A few pints of Deuchars and my spirit is soaring.
The child dances out of me,
goes running down to the Tyne,
while the little man in me wrestles with a lass
and William Blake beams all his innocence in my glass.
And the old experience sweats from a castle’s bricks
as another local prophet takes a jump off the bridge.
It’s the spirit of Pat Foley and the ancient brigade
on the loose down the Quayside stairs
in a futile search,
just a step in the past,
for one last revolutionary song.
All the jars we have supped
in the hope of a change;
all the flirting and courting and chancing downstream;
all the words in the air and the luck pissed away.
It seems we oldies are running back
screaming to the Bewick days,
when a man could down a politicised quip
and craft a civilised chat
before he fed the birds
in the Churchyard.
The cultural ships are fair steaming in
but it’s all stripped of meaning -
the Councillors wade
in the shallow end.
O Blake! buy me a pint in the Bridge again,
let it shiver with sunlight
through all the stained windows,
make my wit sparkle
and my knees buckle.
Set me free of this stifling age
when the bland are back in charge.
Let us grow our golden hair wild once more
and roar like Tygers
down Dog Leap Stairs.
within a city
bazaar and blind
these swollen alleys
flow with a teeming life’s blood
Swim for your life !
this is life
the gloss and the flesh
weigh-house of passion and flame
you can get lost in this market’s amazement
but you can never lose yourself
a sleep-walk in these grazing crowds
can feel like a stroll through your brain
MAUD WATSON, FLORIST
bred in a market arch
in a city’s armpit
in your time-rough hand’s
a beautiful girl in a slum alley
all that kindness in your face
and you’re right
the time are not what they were
this England’s not what it was
flowers shrink in the crumbling vase
dusk creeps in on a cart
and Maud the sun is choking
Maud this island’s sinking
and all that sleeping sea is
the silent majority
this man and his brain’s conception,
clasped in stone.
on a firm dry finger;
above a time-bent avenue of dwindling lights.
The Earl’s pale forehead is cool and cloudy;
he views us all (as we view him)
in the same old, cold, way –
through the wrong end of a battered telescope,
through the dusty lens of history.
Strip away the tinsel
and this city’s heart is stone.
an oxter of history,
reaches for me
with a stubby finger,
invites me into Old Newcastle,
its vital cast
of craggy characters,
and reeling lasses.
I can read
on your brow,
the very grit
on your timelined walls,
the furrowed path
down the Geordie lane
where Alexander Stephenson stoops
to let me in
and the merchant Patrick Black
still trades in memories.
there was a tavern
the bricks cackle
and the windows creak
with the crack of old ale
and the redundant patter
of publican John Pickell.
you could say
my childhood is in your stones,
my mother and father figures,
of drifting years,
waiting to greet me.
Hoist up your drawbridge,
in the startling chill
of a Tyne dawn,
this boy is with you
and with himself
in this home city
of old bones,
and dripping dreams.
*The Black Gate is named after the seventeenth century merchant Patrick Black.
this history by the river.
the stairway to the past.
the memories singing folk songs.
the cobbles wet with blood.
those ballads down the centuries.
the ancient voices in your head.
these stones alive with music.
the wind howling in the brick.
the days that speed our lives.
the rails to guide you there.
the people that you meet.
the children's faces dancing.
the devil in your fleeting eyes.
the bridges multiplying.
the moon upon the Tyne.
the flag of lovers flying.
your feet still
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.
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
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.
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.
NEWCASTLE IS PICARDY
Grainger Street hums
in the peeling sunshine;
this walled, world weary city
adopts a certain Latin glow:
car drivers swear more brilliantly,
girls giggle louder
and trap my eyes
in the flash
of their hair.
The world is simply
passing us by.
And who cares,
in this haze
of a burning Empire?
So long as
in our beer
and the roses
Posted by keith armstrong at 8:09 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 7:45 am
(for Kathleen Sisterson)
There’s an old station
I keep dreaming of
where I wandered
as a child;
seep with longing
pant with steam.
It might have been
in a summer’s field,
when I realised
life could be,
in the sunshine
of my songs;
or it might have been
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
ran up the platform
of his life
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:
the hours flew
and the railway
ran into my veins
history in my soul.
In this album
of a fragile world,
I’d like to leave
for you to find
a tune to play
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
and found his way
along the tracks
Lovely poem & so evocative of an area which has changed much since you were a ‘reivers’ lad on your journey through the North Tyne Valley. (Geoff Holland)
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)
A very finely crafted and evocative piece of work. Congratulations.
A very finely crafted and evocative piece of work. Congratulations.
Posted by keith armstrong at 8:26 am