JINGLE ON MY SON!

JINGLE ON MY SON!

22.8.19

HEXHAM RIOT 1761






































In 1761 a new Militia Act came into force. Strangely it managed to arouse strong negative feelings in both ordinary working people and the ruling class: the former because a ballot system of recruitment - essentially conscription - was resented; the latter as training the masses to use weapons was felt to be dangerous for the future, priming them for revolution.
On March 9th 1761 a large crowd gathered in Hexham Market Place to protest about the ballot system, some putting the numbers as high as 5000, though a few hundred is more likely. For several hours the leaders of the protest talked with the magistrates, remonstrating about the imposition. Those magistrates feared violence, and brought in a force of the North Yorks Militia as protection against a mob attack. Their presence, however, probably further enflamed tempers.
Eventually the magistrates lost patience, and the Riot Act was read. As the crowd turned uglier, the soldiers fixed bayonets. The mob, by now its fierier members armed with tools and staves, charged. Two soldiers were killed with guns grabbed from them or their comrades, then a volley or far more probably a series of volleys was fired into the rioters. When the smoke cleared at least 50 were dead, including the two soldiers. Another 300 or more were injured, some of them dying later of their wounds. Among the dead were two pregnant women.
A hunt went on over the next few weeks for anyone known to have participated in the riot, taking in not just Hexham but the settlements around it, the list of casualties showing people from Corbridge, Slayley, Stamfordham and Ryall among many others had been involved. Unsurprisingly the North Yorks Militia earned the sobriquet The Hexham Butchers after the event.





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

16.8.19

CITIZEN 32 - NEW!






13.8.19

POEM FOR THE COMMUNITY



The purpose of life
is living,
walking, running,
dreaming, loving.
No more than to create
with others.
No more than to live, drink, eat, share
with others.

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.

Go on
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
into others.




Keith Armstrong

11.8.19

AFTER THE UK












































AFTER THE UK


Shreds of the UK
flapping in the downturn,
decayed Britain
broken into smithereens.
No Kingdom now,
no United State.
We are
citizens
with no obligation
to genuflect
in front of an overstuffed Queen.

Get the UK out of your system,
no going back.
We take the power
to rule ourselves,
make community,
build our own spaces.
Break
the hegemony
of dead parties,
lifeless institutions,
let debate flower,
conflicting views rage.

We want to breathe
and strip away
executive power,
share
the beauty and culture
of these islands
around.
Make good things,
good love.
Empower ourselves
with an autonomous freedom
in a new England,
in a new Europe,
in a New World
of real ownership
and delicate emotion.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

9.8.19

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)

8.8.19

NORTHUMBERLAND: RIVERS OF POEMS - A NEW SELECTION BY KEITH ARMSTRONG





































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! 






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

7.8.19

LIMERICK DAYS - WILL BE BACK THERE ON OCTOBER 3RD!


SHANNON

(dedicated to Richard St. John Harris and the roaring boys of Charlie St. George’s bar)







My heart is bursting its banks
with the songs of the Shannon.
My girl friend wells up with the beauty of daybreak,
her breasts swell with the glory of sunshine,
her eyes are glowing with wisdom.
Swim with me to the Atlantic surge,
we can watch the mighty birds take flight,
we can feel the urge of history in our bones
and ride on the aching backs of workers.
Shannon, you are our breath aglow
with the salmon of knowledge.
You are the spray in our faces,
full of bubbles of inspiration
welling up in our surging veins.
Wise one,
lift me up in your flow,
leave me in awe of your wonder.
Let me sparkle with the birth of new ideas,
reach out for the touch of a sensational moon,
dance in a festival of stars
and drown in the arms of a glorious goddess.

"There will be another song for me
for I will sing it.
There will be another dream for me,
someone will bring it.
I will drink the wine while it is warm
and never let you catch me looking at the sun
and after all the loves of my life,
after all the loves of my life,
you will still be the one.
I will take my life into my hands and I will use it,
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it.
I will have the things that I desire
and my passion flow like rivers through the sky
and after all the loves of my life,
after all the loves of my life,
I will be thinking of you
and wondering why."



(last 2 verses are from 'Macarthur Park' as sung by RIchard Harris who was born in Limerick)





ROOKS AT BUNRATTY CASTLE



We’re Macnamara’s crows,
rooting for sticks and twigs in Limerick days.
We peck the flesh from Lord Gort’s arse,
from the hangers-on to his rich pickings.
We sweep our turbulent wings across the Shannon,
swimming in the Atlantic winds,
flailing over the airport.
We’re building our own
branches of castles,
screaming rebel rants at you below.
Us rooks
have seen the Vikings and the Stoddarts
rave and die.
We are a black brood
swarming though history,
watching you feckless humans
scrap over misery.
See how our wings beat
with the moment’s surf.
How dark our hearts grow
with suffering.


LIMERICK DAYS
(for Barney)


The greyhounds lash along the track,
as fists bash on the windows of Limerick Gaol.
I am staggering in the darkness of White Wine Lane,
and my path lies lost in the rain.
Let the horses run wildly out of control,
like my brain on too much whiskey and gin.
Let them throw my heart off the broad Shannon Bridge,
I have to die somewhere and this night will do.
I shout my poems out to the odd few who’ll listen,
be it Wolfe Tone or O’Dwyer or Davitt or Griffin.
I am lying dead drunk in the People’s Park,
I am knocked out with girls on poor Punch’s Row.
O Limerick Days you are haunting my soul,
my songs cry out for your old Summer Street.
Make love when I pour you a glass of my verse,
with hope may it set your ancient soul free.


CHE GUEVARA IN HANRATTY’S HOTEL



All the beer mats turned red in Limerick
the night that rebel Doctor Che Lynch took a wander
along Glentworth Street,
pouring
the jingling city
down his throat
on this island of his ancestors.
With a beard
as dark as the comforting Guinness,
he slaked his ruggerman’s thirst,
his well-shaken mix of Irish and Galician roots,
by the night-soaked Shannon.
Thirty months later, he was dead in Bolivia;
smashed bones,
splintered beads
of a revolutionary’s sweat
rolling down the guttter.
Now, I am sending this green poem
to your own heaven, old Che;
for your spirited lapel,
a singing sprig of shamrock
to light up the culture shock
of your long wild hair.
You chanced it in Hanratty’s ‘Gluepot’ bar,
you plunged from the leaden sky
to chat up all this local talent
in the eloquent lilt of a roaring evening.
Mighty ‘Red Bird’,
icon at the bar,
no better or worse
than the barman
who served you
a pint or two of Irish love,
to make your heart
grow even bigger;
to set you up
for your flight
from Limerick,
‘three sheets to the wind’,
rocking across the mighty expanse
of the rolling drunk Atlantic to Havana,
to a certain
martyr’s death.
And, amid the glorious beauty
of trees,
in the murderous jungle
of brutal dreams,
we soaks
will remember you
and celebrate the night
you fell in with us.





(Che Guevara visited Limerick fleetingly whilst his plane was delayed at Shannon Airport)


POEM FOR A LOCAL HISTORIAN
(in memory of Jim Kemmy 1936 -1997)


‘Old people mumbling
low in the night of change and of ageing
when they think you asleep and not listening -
and we wide awake in the dark,
as when we were children.’
(Desmond O’Grady)
'It was poignant,
when walking away from the graveyard
that very warm midday,
that the only sound which could be heard
after he was buried
was that of a member of his trade, a stonemason,
simply chipping away
at a monument.'
(Mary Jackman)

In this city, in every town, in every village,
there is this man
dusty with archives
and old snapshots;
this deep fellow
who digs out truths from scraps,
who drinks from a bowl of swirling voices
and makes sense of things,
makes sense
when all else
lies in chaos.
In his dreams,
wars are not dead.
They scream
from his books.
He will not let
the suffering go -
he owes the children that.
There is something noble
in his calling,
in his bearing.
His work is beautiful.
In this particular place,
you can call him 'Jim'.
You can see his face forever
in the autumn leaves,
the leaves of books,
and the dance of history,
a local historian
and carver of tales
so memorable
that every street must value his love:
the love of our people though the ages,
the love of learning,
the search for dignity
that underpins these lanes.
In Limerick,
Jim's imagination still blossoms
and keeps us rooted
in the drift of memory.
He teaches us lessons.
Listen to his spirit breathe
deep as the Shannon.
His voice forever flies
with the power of knowledge.
'Beautiful dreamer wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for Thee.'



KEITH ARMSTRONG



(Jim Kemmy was a well known Limerick politician and local historian)

the jingling geordie

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