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)



The partnership with County Durham and the City of Tuebingen in South Germany was established in 1969.  

Poet Doctor Keith Armstrong, who gained his doctorate at the University on Durham in 2007, following on from Bachelor's and Master's degrees there, first visited Tuebingen in November 1987, with the support of the County Council and the Kulturamt in Tuebingen, to give readings and talks there for a period of a month. Since then he has travelled to the city over 30 times and helped arrange for Durham poets, musicians and artists and their counterparts in Tuebingen to visit their respective cultural twins.

Doctor Armstrong was back in Tuebingen from Wednesday 2nd to Saturday 5th April 2014 with artist/photographer Peter Dixon for readings with Tuebingen writers Eva Christina Zeller, Sara Hauser, Tibor Schneider and Florian Neuner at Weinhaus Beck, a school visit and other networking initiatives. This followed on from his visit from Monday 4th November to Thursday 7th 2013 when he took part in a major symposium on the theme of writer Hermann Hesse who lived and worked in Tuebingen from 1895-1899. As well as joining in with the discussions and giving a reading from his poems on Hesse and Tuebingen, Keith met with poets, academics, teachers, musicians, cultural and media workers.  

Sara Hauser visited Durham from Monday 12th to Thursday 15th May 2014 for sessions at the University's English and German Departments  and meetings with local writers, artists and musicians.

Armstrong returns to Tuebingen from Tuesday 11th November 2014 to Friday 14th when he will perform his poetry in the legendary Heckenhauer’s Bookshop, one of his favourite bars The Boulanger, at the Carlo-Schmid-Gymnasium (school), on community radio station Wueste-Welle and at other venues.

So the twinning continues to go from strength to strength. Looking back on things, Armstrong and folk rock musician Gary Miller, lead singer of Durham band the Whisky Priests, travelled to Tuebingen at the end of March 2012 for performances in pubs, cabaret venues and schools where they performed with Tuebingen poet Tibor Schneider who visited Durham in October of that year as part of the ongoing exchange. Tibor joined his Durham counterparts for readings at Durham University and at the Half Moon Inn. He was also interviewed on BBC Radio Tees concerning his Durham visit.

Keith Armstrong and Gary Miller returned the compliment with a trip to Tuebingen in March 2013 where they performed again in bars, cafes and schools with poets Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser and Tuebingen musicians. 
In 2011, Tuebingen rock musician Juergen Sturm jetted in with his music partner Mary Jane at the end of October for pub gigs, including a twinning event in Durham on Monday 31st October featuring Juergen and Mary Jane with Durham folk musicians and poets. That followed on from a visit to Tuebingen in South Germany in early April 2011 by Keith Armstrong and photographer/artist Peter Dixon. The intrepid pair worked together on a touring display featuring Armstrong's poems and Dixon's photographs documenting the unique link between Tuebingen and Durham which was staged initially in the Durham Room at County Hall, Durham in November. Armstrong performed his poetry in cafes, bars and schools and met up with Tuebingen friends, old and new, with the multi-talented Dixon capturing all of it on film. 

This trip reciprocated a visit to Durham in November 2010 by Tuebingen poets Henning Ziebritzki and Carolyn Murphey Melchers, when Juergen Stuerm also took part in a series of pub performances. There was a special event at Clayport Library, Durham City on Monday November 1st with the Tuebingen poets and special guests from Durham, followed by a rousing session in the Dun Cow when Juergen, with Mary Jane, and his Durham counterparts, Gary Miller and Marie Little belted out their lively songs.

In addition to his most recent visit, Armstrong was in Tuebingen in May 2010 with Gary Miller for performances in his favourite Tuebingen bar ‘The Boulanger’ and at a local school. This followed a special guest appearance in 2009 at the biannual Book Festival, a reading with Tuebingen counterpart Eva Christina Zeller and a visit to local schools. Eva visited Durham for readings in schools and at a special event on May 13th 2009 at Clayport Library which also featured poets Katrina Porteous, Jackie Litherland, Cynthia Fuller, and William Martin, as well as Doctor Armstrong and music from the Durham Scratch Choir and Andy Jackson.

A highly successful series of events were held in 2007 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the literary/arts twinning established by Keith Armstrong when he first visited Tuebingen in 1987 for a month’s residency, supported by Durham County Council and Tuebingen’s Kulturamt. Since then, there have been readings and performances in pubs, universities and castles, schools, libraries, book festivals, jazz and cabaret clubs, even in Hermann Hesse’s old apartment, involving poets, writers, teachers and musicians from the twin partnerships of Durham and Tuebingen.
Tuebingen’s music duo Acoustic Storm, poet/translator Carolyn Murphey Melchers and Cultural Officer visited Durham and the North East in October/November 2007. The musicians performed in Durham schools and pubs and there was a special evening in Durham’s Clayport Library to celebrate the twinning, with Keith Armstrong launching his new Tuebingen poetry booklet and performances by poets Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Katrina Porteous, William Martin, Michael Standen, Ian Horn, Cynthia Fuller, Hugh Doyle and musicians Acoustic Storm, Marie Little and Gary Miller. Margit Aldinger of the Kulturamt in Tuebingen and Brian Stobie of the International Department, Durham County Council, also addressed the audience.

For the record, here's a list of those who have made it happen so far:

Tuebingen visitors to Durham since 1987:

Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Karin Miedler, Gerhard Oberlin, Uwe Kolbe, Johannes Bauer, Eva Christina Zeller, Simone Mittmann, Florian Werner, Juergen Sturm, Mary Jane, Wolf Abromeit, Christopher Harvie, Eberhard Bort, Marcus Hammerschmitt, Henning Ziebritzki, Andy and Alessandra Fazion Marx, Otto Buchegger, Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser.

Durham visitors to Tuebingen since 1987:

Keith Armstrong, Michael Standen, Julia Darling, Andy Jackson, Fiona MacPherson, Katrina Porteous, Marie Little, Ian Horn, Alan C. Brown, Linda France, Jackie Litherland, Cynthia Fuller, Margaret Wilkinson, Jez Lowe, Jack Routledge, Gary Miller, Matthew Burge, David Stead, Hugh Doyle, Peter Dixon.

These events were supported by Tuebingen’s Kulturamt and Durham County Council.




I come back to you
when I am feeling hopeless,
when I am in despair of the heartless.
I trail my hefty books through Customs
to reach you,
to plunge into your depths,
to swim in the mystery of your streets,
the beauty of your trees,
the melancholy of your seminar rooms.

Yes, Tuebingen,
it’s me
looking for myself once more
in your troubled mirror.
So I dive
into La Boheme
and back and back and back
into the Boulanger.
So I stagger
out of Hades
and into the arms 
of the Neckarmueller 
to feed the ducks
with scraps of my trembling poetry.

Your Hoelderlin Tower
always makes me feel sad.
My body droops like a weeping willow
as my mad muse floats up river
to liberate new dreams,
to greet fresh friends.

I sail in your skies
in a Lufthansa trance.

Let me sing
of all that’s good in Swabia
for you.
Let me wish your lovely children joy
and then let me break my heart again
when I have to leave you.







Spider's in
The Half Moon afternoon,
eyes beaming under the peak of his cap;
a drinker's smile
from the salt of the earth.
He's dreaming of the raging sea
and he sups a fretting old pint;
getting ready to walk
over the teeming hill.
A drool in The Shakespeare,
a let-slip of a grin,
academic locals
jawing themselves still
in dark rooms
of a Durham past;
brass bands blessed
on rampant days,
waves tumbling
from a balcony.

Praise be to Spider,
honour his life,
the days spent
through a city of bars.




Cobbled webs of my thoughts
hang around your lanes.
A brass band nestles in my head,
cosy as a bed bug.
I’m reading from a balcony
poems of Revolution.
It’s Gala Day and the words are lost
in the coal dust of your lungs.

Your dark satanic brooding Gaol
throws a blanket over blankness:
a grim era of second hand visions
aches like a scab in a cell.
And rowing a punt up your Bishop’s arse
a shaft of sunlight on the river
strikes me only as true,
shining into the eyes of all the prisoners
swinging from Cathedral bells.

Old Durham Town, you imprison me
like a scream in a Salvation Army song,
release me soon:

get ready to hug me.





On behalf of The Thomas Spence Trust and Hertiage Open Days, I’m delighted to welcome you here to mark the 150th anniversay of the death of that great free spirit, utopian writer, land reformer and courageous pioneering campaigner for the rights of men and women, Thomas Spence. Myself and other members of our Trust campaigned for well over 10 years for some kind of memorial to Tom Spence and it is with great pride that we gather here today.
We know that Spence was born on the Quayside on June 21st 1750. We know that his father Jeremiah made fishing nets and sold hardware from a booth on Sandhill and his mother Margaret kept a stocking stall, also on Sandhill, but it has not been possible, all these years on, to pinpoint the exact location of Thomas Spence’s birthplace, which is why this plaque was installed here at Broad Garth, the site of his school room and debating society and where he actually came to blows with Thomas Bewick because of a dispute over the contentious matter of property. Bewick gave Spence a beating with cudgels on that occasion but, surprisingly enough, they remained lifelong friends. As Bewick said of Spence: ‘He was one of the warmest Philanthropists in the world and the happiness of Mankind seemed, with him, to absorb every other consideration.’
In these days of bland career politicians, Spence stands out as an example of a free spirit, prepared to go to prison for his principles - the principles of grass roots freedom, community and democracy, for the human rights of people all over the world.
Spence mobilised politically in taverns in Newcastle and later in London. That is why this evening you are all invited to join us across the road in the Red House on Newcastle’s Quayside to raise a glass for Tom and to hear poems and songs in his honour. 
This plaque puts Thomas Spence on the map for all of those pilgrims who hold human rights and political freedoms dear. It does not trap his free spirit rather it gives his life and work fresh wings.
Thanks for coming this afternoon.



Down by the old Quayside,
I heard a young man cry,
among the nets and ships he made his way.
As the keelboats buzzed along,
he sang a seagull’s song;
he cried out for the Rights of you and me.

Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,
he gave up all his life
just to be free.
Up and down the cobbled Side,
struggling on through the Broad Chare,
he shouted out his wares
for you and me.

Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,
he was a man the likes you rarely see.
With a pamphlet in his hand,
and a poem at his command,
he haunts the Quayside still
and his words sing.

His folks they both were Scots,
sold socks and fishing nets,
through the Fog on the Tyne they plied their trade.
In this theatre of life,
the crying and the strife,
they tried to be decent and be strong.

Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,
he gave up all his life
just to be free.
Up and down the cobbled Side,
struggling on through the Broad Chare,
he shouted out his wares
for you and me.

Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,
he was a man the likes you rarely see.
With a pamphlet in his hand,
and a poem at his command,
he haunts the Quayside still
and his words sing.


(from the music-theatre piece ‘Pigs' Meat’ written for Bruvvers Theatre Company)



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."


From Anthology for a River, published by the Shannon Protection Alliance, 2012

Emily E. Cullen: Beautiful Keith. I grew up in Carrick-on-Shannon so your poem resonates at a deep level.



The Month Of The Asparagus

Keith Armstrong, Ward Wood Publishing, £8.99

This volume of poems from Newcastle born Keith Armstrong collects together a selection of his work, culled from the last thirty years, and displays the real depth of his talent. He has an obvious and enduring affection for the region that really comes across in lines which exalt the sights and sounds he sees around him. ‘Marsden Rock’ is a “Sensational Rock / swimming in light” and “Birds hurl themselves at the leaping Tyne” in ‘At Anchor’; and he has the kind of voice that you might hear in your own head when you’re caught on the cusp of being drunk; a woozy melancholy that is romantic but also given over to bouts of searing realism. His romanticism also touches on his love for other chroniclers of life including the painter Lowry (“His old boots squeak the floorboards of memory, / his heart is sad and soaked in loneliness”) and the great engraver Thomas Bewick. He has travelled extensively (one poem sees him cropping up at Baudelaire’s grave) but his voice – wherever he finds himself – always alternates between the sharp and the sensual. RM


Splinters by Keith Armstrong, Hill Salad Books, £9.99

Keith Armstrong is a Geordie writer, steeped in local culture, whose pours seep with the grime lifted from the cobbles of Pudding Chare; whose blood is surely made up of the river Tyne and Brown Ale (when it was still brewed in the city, that is); and whose poems – fifty-three of them here – sing the praises of Newcastle’s “puddles and clarts”. This fine collection is chock full of ghosts and tributes to times and events past, as well as those who disappear under the radar (The Bird Woman of Whitley Bay). The author also checks out Garcia Lorca in Whitley Bay and implores William Blake to stand him another pint of Deuchars at The Bridge Hotel pub. His ire is reserved for the injustices of the world and those who seek to rechristen the city as NewcastleGateshead (“a city you made up for yourselves”) and their attempts to foist their version of culture on us (“You’ve reinvented our culture for us, you’ve rendered it meaningless. Guts ripped out”). A collection that looks inward to reveal wider truths. Bravo. RM

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