JINGLE ON MY SON!

JINGLE ON MY SON!
A doughty champion of his local culture. (Poet Tom Hubbard)

27.4.19

IN A PALACE BAR AFTERNOON







































‘When I first came to Dublin in 1939, I thought the Palace the most wonderful temple of art.’ (Patrick Kavanagh)


Dead conversations
and dud cheques
litter the gaps
between the gawping portraits
in this literary back room.
Here in the afternoon of Irish culture,
I hear the creak of Kavanagh’s knees
going down the steep bog stairs
pissing words away,
holding another conversation
in his clumsy hands.

So what’s a poetry boy to do?
Sozzle through another day,
dance betwen the lines of pints of plain,
wallow in the crevices of Beckett’s genius,
creep around the Palace floor,
scraping for scraps of dead oral histories?

For today,
I’ll put away my pen
worn out with trying
to trap the City of Limerick
in groping poems.
I’ll sit back
and crack with Duffy,
Lonsdale and the lads,
let Bertie Smyllie’s barking patter
wash over my weariness.
Leave it to the shawlies
in the huddled snug
to set things right,
I’m flying without a passport today,
buzzing along with Jimmy Joyce on board
this Ryanair Ulysses jet,
At Swim Two Birds.

And what’s the point
of lies in ink
when real poetry
should make a woman come
with the touch
of bird song on the lips of this hour?
Give your tongues a break,
Behan and Houlihan
and the rest,
we’re dust
on a skin of Guinness.

And yet
and yet,
the twinkle of light
through the old smoke of patter
does make the breath
in the lungs
of a Dublin dancing day
as worthwhile
as the sweeping kiss
of that gull’s wings
stroking the mouth of the Liffey. 




KEITH ARMSTRONG

22.4.19

THE SHADOWS















































THE SHADOWS
 

(for Michael Stephenson, in honour of his father Jim, 1945-2019)

 

We emerge from the shadows
from the womb of our home town
and end up back there
scarred
and weary of life itself
with a globe of the world
in our hardened hands.
Those things we leave behind us
are remnants of a little joy,
a painful love
scattered over the skin of our children,
petals of fuchsias washed away,
drifting
with the Wear
into the wild sea
rocking
with songs
of the lost
and the broken.
The loving themes of our youth though
carry on
in the sunshine
drenching the Stadium of Light
with hope
amongst so much clinging darkness.
Jim, I will look for your smile
in these shadows
and will never forget
your echoing laughter
and the scent of steam trains
that made me
what I am:
a grown up man with a guitar,
strumming in your image,
forever
in the heart
of this place called Sunderland.



 

KEITH ARMSTRONG




MAP OF THE WORLD






























 









We turned its global head as babies,


traced its edges onto paper,


scarcely scratched


the surface


of that old familiar spotted face


shaped up, boiling for a fight.





Hung on walls,


it looked so static


but in its latitudes and longitudes we knew


that people moved,


homes grew,


cities drowned


and cliffs broke.





Later, travelling,


we stepped out


across the sheet,


skipped the Channel,


entered 


new squares.


Then creeping back


at dusk,


we folded up this map,


packed away the ice


and sunny beach,


stuck it all in a small back pocket


and shrunk back


into our own world’s frontiers.


That tiny territory


of our scars.






KEITH ARMSTRONG

21.4.19

GRONINGEN POEMS 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).




16.4.19

FIRE IN WHITLEY BAY





































Rooted,
in our own coldness,
we study
the burning,
from the other side
of pain.
We are in awe
of it,
the fire,
lashing its crazy head
against the sky;
a comforting kind
of fear
it is:
the warmth of flames,
of passions
that cannot burn us.
Here, across the road
from the sting of suffering,
we cling to the pavement
and look
into the deep horrors of a scream:
an insight
of the heart’s volcano,
viewed from the narrow edge of life
by our own 
melting
eyes.



 

KEITH ARMSTRONG

12.4.19

A NORTHERN TOWN































A NORTHERN TOWN

A northern town,
world famous for its tripe.
This was most evident
at its open mic.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

8.4.19

BACKWATER

































In Hochdorf,
where it always pours,
the girls are drenched
to the skin
and the birds swim
across the ocean
of the sky.
In Hochdorf,
the bleeding rain
teems like history
down the drain
and the ghosts
of marching men
still sip
the blood.
In Hochdorf,
a train
breaks through
the sheets of tears
in old men’s eyes
and handkerchiefs wave
a stream of lives
goodbye.
In Hochdorf,
the raindrops
lodge like bullets
in your brain
and all the wet children
want to sing
and drink the freedom
flooding through
their hearts.
In Hochdorf,
where it always pours.
In Hochdorf,
where it always pours.



KEITH ARMSTRONG


6.4.19

IN THE FIRE STATION, WHITLEY BAY



































The screen
in the corner
flashes celebrity images
above the hunched heads
of craggy regulars.
Subtitles punctuate
the horror of Syria,
shallowness of Beckham’s mouth
gabbing
like a demented fish
over supping plebs.
Their talk is of aches and pains
and scraping through,
their question time has no answers,
only weary
resignations.
The TV mocks
the ordinary
struggles
to bring up soft babies
with tough futures.
The thing
is forced upon us,
dumped upon us,
scoffing
at the weak
on cheap beer.
It says:
DAVID CAMERON IS ON A LONG HOLIDAY.
Well, we are drinking in Whitley Bay
and HE,
he can piss off.
In the Fire Station,
we have thirsts to slake,
bets to be placed
on whether we’ll make it
through to another tomorrow
just the same
and just as unjust.

 


KEITH ARMSTRONG

1.4.19

LEAVING FRIENDS/FRIENDS LEAVING

































   

(in memory of Paddy Bort)


I have lost my roaring boys and girls.
They are left behind,
fallen from Collegium stools;
the poignant moments in Lange Gasse dust.
Times and laughter shared,
dwindled to an Ammer trickle
in a bleak semester,
worn out days.

Friends are for leaving.
I’m afraid
I am too old to chase it.
These young Swabian mistresses
are too damned quick
for me to grab anymore
their lightning glances,
hints of a possible romance
boarding trains,
flickering
in frigid seminar rooms.

Tear yourself from me
as I stumble
through security.
I know I’ll miss
your touch.

Horst has gone with Hades bar
and the old man
from the Boulanger;
Mick has flown
to the heavens,
now Paddy has fallen,
with all those twinning hours.

Nothing is still.
Her eyelashes flicker,
new wounds open;
the light streams on Wilhelmstrasse,
darkness fills Hafengasse.

A special sunlight
sparkles in my beer,
shafts of it
dart on the counter.
A bird flaps
across my face,
shadow
of a former glory.

So that’s the story:
we lose it all,
we lose everything
and everyone.
It’s why I cling
to the night wind
beating against my cheeks,
to the whisper of the leaves
along this dull suburban street.

The old voices
of mates I made
howling
through the mediocrity
of lonely petrol stations,
soul-destroying car parks.

Puddles
of former joy
winking at the moon.





KEITH ARMSTRONG


Allan Savage I've just been reading your excellent memory to Paddy Bort and came across your farewell to my best friend Jack Routledge. It really brought a tear to my eye. I think about Jack very often and the good times we had singing together. I can remember when Jack and you went to Germany, and how he was so excited when telling me about your trip. Thanks again Keith.

Cath Campbell Ah, Keith. Ah, Godammit. You made me cry. Beautiful poem. Brought my own memories of the gone ones roaring back. 

Harry Gallagher Lovely stuff Keith. 

Tom Hubbard Many thanks for your moving tribute to dear Paddy. I was recalling these days in Freudenstadt, so long ago now. All the best from us in Scotland.

Gerhard Oberlin Thanks, Keith, excellent. I hardly knew him, but remember well.

the jingling geordie

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