A doughty champion of his local culture.(Poet Tom Hubbard)Your performance at the city hall was soooooooooo good! Christoph thought it was excellent! (Carolyn)



(for Joy)

In this tender light,
the sun hangs,
a jellyfish throb
stinging water.
Shoals of flickering moments
flash out of my sight,
with waves coax the coast,
nudging boney history
and wetting dust.

floats on the backs of fishes;
boaters sail through its streets.
Tanned tourists, knowing no better,
steal photographs of an old people crumbling.
Slides of a town
sliding into the sea,
such windows are sunken eyes,
filled with rays dying.
The sun has fallen into the water
and we are drifting on clouds.
All aboard the glass bottomed boat,
watch us cast lines to catch
a glimpse
of some crushed tomorrows.



(for Joy)

Sun on the balance of their scales,
the fish are for sale.
Enemy boats sag breathless in the harbour.

Caught in a world turned over,
Cod & Co lie flat on a box,
their dead eyes pointed out
towards the sea.

Underwater clouds,
flying fins,
surf-surge in a tiny spirit.
Buy them and know
what you are buying.

Eat their hearts out,
wet swallows will swim
in the rumbling sea bed of your stomach.

Take off your salty glasses,
see that through your starstruck eyes
these fish are fresh,
floaters in the drifting skull
feeding a coral brain,

hooked still on the gold sea air
and the brightest of lines.




I am more inclined
to prowl the Jules Verne lanes of Amiens
or the backstreets of a Brecht Berlin
than shank the Black Mountains
of the massive States.
My nose points dripping cold 
from Shields to Scandinavia;
my battered cheeks reek of North Sea cod.
Instincts lead me to Munch and to Courbet,
to Hasek and De Nerval.
This Geordie’s inspiration comes alive
in translations of teeming Oslo streets
or dark Prenzlauer Berg cobbles
not from the vomit of the sprawling Bowery.
Baltic folk tunes still whistle in my ears.
I get the ghettoblaster belt of Smetena
clearer than the wail of Dylan.
The sexy accordions of Montmartre are in my blood.
I face this way:
my poetry sings with euro-balladry;
my feet itch with traditional rhymes:
border ballads in The Blink Bonny,
fiddles leaping in Sandy Bell’s.
I am no modernist.
I see my footprints in the snowy past
on the Old Tyne Bridge,
or outside a bar in Reykjavik
or on an icy lake of vodka.
Pushkin floats in my dreams,
Verlaine is on my lips,
and Rimbaud hammers knives inside my brain.
I cannot swim in Atlantic water,
only the German Sea will do.
I think my father built me Northern ships,
a Swan Hunter Viking
raiding the flooded dictionary of my soul.
I happily drift across the square in wintery Groningen,
smoke myself silly on Prinsengracht
and leap with light at Oeteldonk.
I once skipped school with boys in Heaton
and licked the breasts of Ipswich Jenny.
At home I am always 
dabbling my naked feet in lovely sand,
my fingers wet with new poems.
Think on Northumbrian bards,
my fellow country gents,
I tell you now
that I would rather die dead drunk
in a pool of Swinburne’s wine
than in a frozen field
of Bunting. 


'Outlining vividly (and beautifully) the east-west divide! Those of us who grew up in landscapes dug by the Flemish, walking streets amongst Danes, and Russians and Germans; who went to school alongside Dutch kids and shared the despair of lost trawlers.'  

Paul Davenport




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;
in the anxious heart
of this Newcastle poet.






Join the Thomas Spence Trust and Northern Voices Community Projects in marking and celebrating the bicentenary of Thomas Spence (1750-1814). On September 11th 2014, poems, stories and songs will be performed at the site of the Spence plaque on Broad Garth at 14.00 and then readings from his work and that of his friend and sparring partner Thomas Bewick with poems and songs inspired by both of them will be performed at the Red House, Newcastle at 19.30 (over 18s only).



A display of books and documents to mark the bicentenary of Newcastle born Thomas Spence who died in London in 1814. 

Level 6, Newcastle City Library, Charles Avison Building, 33 New Bridge Street West, Newcastle upon Tyne.


Breviary Stuff is pleased to announce...
Thomas Spence: The Poor Man's Revolutionary
Edited by Alastair Bonnett & Keith Armstrong
paperback • 156x234mm • ISBN 978-0-9570005-9-9
*To be published in September 2014.
2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of an important and original voice in the history of radicalism: Thomas Spence. Spence described himself as ‘the poor man’s advocate’ but he may equally be described as ‘the poor man’s revolutionary’, for what he advocated was a dramatic over-turning of the existing social order.
Perhaps Spence can be best summed up one of the inscriptions he placed on one of his self-minted coins, the coin his friends chose to place in his coffin. It depicts a cat. It stares straight out at us, around it the words, ‘IN SOCIETY LIVE FREE LIKE ME’. Spence wasn’t interested in compromise, with reforms and half-freedoms. He was stubborn. Contemporaries described him as ‘querulous’ and ‘single-minded’. One obituary also observed he was ‘despised’, yet ‘not despicable’.
But who was Thomas Spence? And why did he excite such passions? This collection of essays seeks to go some way to find answers to these questions. It offers a series of insights from contemporary experts on different aspects of Spence’s life and times. We are also delighted to be publishing some pamphlets by Spence himself, including Property in Land Every One’s Right, which has not been in print since it first appeared over 230 years ago.
Spence’s story is a rags to rags tale of defiance and ingenuity. Today Spence’s name is little known but this in no way reflects his significance. In the first two decades of the nineteenth century it was synonymous with ultra-radical opinion. Thomas Spence was the subject of four contemporary biographical memoirs. Moreover, three years after his death an Act of Parliament was passed prohibiting ‘All societies or clubs calling themselves Spencean or Spencean Philanthropists’. Spenceanism appears to be unique: it has a good claim to be the only political ideology to have ever been outlawed by the British Parliament.
Spence’s scheme for local and democratic ownership of the land found a receptive audience within sections of the labouring poor. In 1817 Thomas Malthus observed that, ‘an idea has lately prevailed among the lower classes of society that the land is the people’s farm, the rent of which ought to be divided equally among them’. This, in a nutshell, is ‘Spence’s Plan’. It sounds simple but it carried profound economic claims. It was a message spread more by way of tavern meetings, chalked graffiti and ballads than by published treatise.
In 1787 Spence moved to London, setting up a bookshop on Chancery Lane. He plunged himself into the capital’s turbulent radical sub-culture. He sold Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and went to prison for doing so. But he disagreed with Paine on a number of fundamental issues. Paine had no qualms about private property in land. Spence began issuing a penny weekly, Pigs’ Meat or, Lessons for the Swinish Multitude, which could hardly have been more inflammatory. Spence was taking considerable risks in a dangerous city: spies, threats and conspiracy swirled around him.
Spence’s wish for ‘perfect freedom’ often took him one step further than his peers. He accorded women equal democratic rights. For the time it was a daring idea but Spence went even further. For what about the rights of children? Spence’s The Rights of Infants no doubt provoked more than a few incredulous smiles when it was published in 1796. Yet cruelty towards children was a topic Spence returned to time and again and it is fitting that today he is cited as one of the world’s first champions of children’s rights.
He was an angry man, a revolutionary and an insurrectionist but he was anchored by humanitarian concerns and a wide-ranging, omnivorous, interest in the betterment of his fellows. In this book we hope to go some way in retrieving Spence, of bringing him before a new generation.

Breviary Stuff Publications 
BCM Breviary Stuff 
London WC1N 3XX



Never so swept with wind,
never so wet.
Our bones rattling in its carriages,
the train, blown across the fields,
tears into the heart of Leeuwarden,
a town freezing
with Frisian breath.

I came to sing
but my song was soaked
by the sobbing sky.
The whole country opened up
and drenched us
in a bitter history.

I had left my umbrella at home
to protect my friends
from the patter of Councillors.
Now I needed to shelter in a woman’s warmth,
read her my poems,
to make all her limbs
melt round me,

kiss me hard
in downtown Leeuwarden;

in all its wetness,
throw me roughly

to the wild land.

Keith Armstrong



Shakespeare and Company. Erdesdun Publications, Whitley Bay 1975.
Giving Blood. People's Publications, Newcastle 1977.
Pains of Class. Artery Publications, London 1982.
Love Poems. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 1984.
Dreaming North (book & LP). With Graeme Rigby. Portcullis Press, Gateshead Libraries 1986.
The Jingling Geordie: Selected Poems 1970-1990. The Common Trust & Rookbook Publications, Edinburgh 1990.
Poets' Voices. With Cynthia Fuller, Michael Standen & others. Durham County Council & Tuebingen Cultural Office, 
Tuebingen 1991.
The Big Meeting: A People's View of the Durham Miners' Gala. TUPS, Newcastle 1994.
The Darkness Seeping: The Chantry Chapel of Prior Rowland Leschman in Hexham Abbey. With introduction by historian 
Colin Dallison & illustrations by Kathleen Sisterson. Northern Voices & Crowquill Press, Belfast 1997.
Innocent Blood: the Hexham Riot of 1761. With historian Tom Corfe. Northern Voices & Crowquill Press, Belfast 1997.
Old Dog on the Isle of Woman. Cold Maverick Press Legend Series Number 1, Sunderland 1999.
Our Village. Memories of the Durham Mining Communities. The People's History, Durham 2000.
Bless'd Millennium: The Life & Work of Thomas Spence. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2000.
The Town of Old Hexham. The People's History, Durham 2002.
Imagined Corners. Smokestack Books, Middlesbrough 2004.
Out to Sea. With artist Rolf Wojciechowski. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2004.
Sweet Heart: Erotic Verse. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2006.
Angels Playing Football: Newcastle Poems. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2006.
The Hive of Liberty:The Life & Work of Thomas Spence. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2007.
Hermann Hesse in the Gutter: Tuebingen Poems (1987-2007). With translations by Carolyn Murphey Melchers. Northern Voices, 
Whitley Bay 2007.
A Blush in Staindrop Church. Christopher Smart (1722-1771) in Durham. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2008.
Common Words & the Wandering Star: Jack Common (1903-1968). University of Sunderland Press 2009.
From Segedunum to the Spanish City. North Tyneside's heritage in words and pictures. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2010.
Grand Times. The story of the Grand Hotel, Tynemouth. Grand Hotel, Tynemouth 2010.
The Spanish City. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2010.
The Light in the Centurion. The story of Newcastle’s historic bar. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2011.
Splinters: Poems by Keith Armstrong. Hill Salad Books (Breviary Stuff Publications), London 2011.
The Month of the Asparagus: Selected Poems by Keith Armstrong. Ward Wood Publishing, London 2011. 
Still the Sea Rolls On. The Hartley Pit Calamity of 1862. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2012.
North Tyneside Steam. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2014.
Including: Revival,True Faith, Toon Talk, Red Pepper, Poetry Review, Iron, Aesthetica, The Poetry Business, The Ranfurly Review, The Penniless Press, Citizen 32, Morning Star, The Recusant, Kenaz, The New Statesman, Other Poetry, Poetry Scotland, True Faith, Dream Catcher, Episteme, Northern Echo, Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Sand, North East History, North East Life, The Informer, Northern Review, X magazine, Poetry Salzburg Review, Ash (Oxford University Poetry Society).
Recent anthologies:
Golden Girl. Poems on Newcastle upon Tyne. Credo, Newcastle 2001.
The Seven Deadly Sins. University of Groningen 2002.
Mein Heimliches Auge Erotic Yearbook. Konkursbuch, Tuebingen 2002.
Red Sky At Night: Socialist Poetry. Five Leaves Publications, Nottingham 2003.
War On War. Sub, Breda, 2003.
Paging Doctor Jazz. Shoestring Press, Nottingham 2004.
Microphone On. Poetry from the White House Pub. White House Press, Limerick 2005.
Paint the Sky with Stars. Re-Invention UK, Rayne 2005.
Miracle and Clockwork. Other Poetry, Durham 2005.
North by North East. Iron Press, Cullercoats 2006.
Revival. White House Poetry, Limerick 2006, 2007 & 2009.
Both Sides of Hadrian’s Wall. Selkirk Lapwing Press, Selkirk 2006.
The Wilds. Ek Zuban, Middlesbrough 2007.
Two Rivers Meet. Poetry from the Shannon and the Tyne. Revival Press, Limerick 2008.
Fishing and Folk. Life and Dialect on the North Sea Coast. Northumbria University Press, Newcastle upon Tyne 2008.
Emergency Verse. Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State. Caparison, Brighton 2011. 
The Robin Hood Book. Verse Versus Authority. Caparison, Brighton 2012.
Anthology for a River. Danu Press, Limerick 2012.
The Blue Max Review. Rebel Poetry. Fermoy, 2012.
View from Zollernblick. Regional Perspectives in Europe. Grace Note Publications, 2013.
How Am I Doing For Time? Five Years of Poems, Prose and Pints. Harrogate 2014.
The Spirit of Tolpuddle. Citizen 32, Manchester 2014.
Bleeding Sketches. With The Whisky Priests. Whippet Records, Durham 1995.
Out to Sea. With The Ancient Mariners, Jim Mageean, Ann Sessoms. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2007.
Sound City. With Rick Taylor, Bruce Arthur, Pete Challoner, Ian Carr & Bob Fox. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2007.
The Elvis Diaries. With Jim Nunn. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2007.
The Poetry of Percussion. With Bruce Arthur. Northern Voices, Whitley Bay 2008.
The Pitman Poet of Percy Main:The Life & Times of Joseph Skipsey (1832-1903). North Tyneside People’s Centres 1991.

Further information: Northern Voices Community Projects, 93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD, England. Tel 0191 2529531. Email: k.armstrong643@btinternet.com 

the jingling geordie

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