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)




(Autor: Keith Armstrong; Traducción: Javier Aldabalde & Marcelo De Maio)

(Para K).

Las zumayas y sus aliadas

se posan en el bosque esta noche

soñando con noches salvajes,

una oportunidad de cantar en el vuelo titilante.

Y tú mi hechicera de pelo oscuro

podrías retorcerte desnuda en una cama de plumas

mientras mis manos persiguen

las cimas de tu inmensa dicha

que desborda entre los árboles trémulos.

Porque eres oscura,

de cola de seda

y blancas alas;

eres mi zumaya europea

que trina mientras te hago

brotar en escalofríos de luz de luna.

Dorada y de garganta blanca,

estrellada y de hombros negros

extiendes tus alas alrededor mío,

envuelves mi corazón en cintas de carbón,

me elevas sumiéndome en una bandada de pájaros negros

y me inundas

de canción nocturna.

©  Keith Armstrong.



(Keith Armstrong)

(For K.)

The nightjars and their allies

have their heads down in the woods today,

dreaming of wild nights,

a chance to sing on the flickering wing.

And you my dark haired songstress

could writhe naked on a bed of their feathers

as I touch with my aching fingertips

the tips of your sprawling bliss

in all that lushness between the trembling trees.

For you are dusky,

silky-tailed and


you are my European Nightjar

churring as I make you

spring to life in shivers of moonlight.

White-throated and golden,

star-spotted and black shouldered,

you straddle your strapping limbs around me,

wrap my leaping heart in charcoal ribbons,

fly me screaming in a flock of black birds

and drench me

with jars of night song.

© Keith Armstrong.




photo: katrina porteous

Sensational Rock,
swimming in light.
Bird cries clinging to ancient ledges,
Kittiwakes smashing against time.
What tales you could tell.

Your face is so moody,
flickers with breezes,
crumbles in a hot afternoon.

Climbing your powdery steps,
we look down on the sea
thrashing at you.

We join a choir of birds at your peak,
cry out to the sky
in good spirits.

Nesting for the sake of it,
our lyrics are remnants on the shore.

We keep chipping away,
do we not?

We slip
through the pebbles,
with babies.

We leave our mark,
a grain
on the ancient landscape.

We go.

We dance like the sunlight
on your scarred body:







(in honour of Adrian Mitchell)

Drank too much of Goodnight Vienna,
fell from the top of a lighthouse.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Took the knickers off a Polish maid,
ended up facedown in The End of the World.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Turned up drunk for my poetry class,
ended up cockeyed in the Corner House.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Heckled Uncle Tom on the saxophone,
felt the tits of a lesbian.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Laughed at the straight man
and slashed on a comic.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Twanged the suspenders of an actress,
kissed the hard nipples of a Sunderland girl.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Stood to attention at a sit-in,
sat on the face of a stand-up.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Jumped off the bridge at a Coronation,
swam in a river of whisky.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Swore blind at a military policeman,
shot poems in the back of a priest.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Danced on the table at a Chinese,
acted myself on a train.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Rolled in the hay with the lass next door,
flew in the face of reality.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Balanced my shoes on my head,
threw my socks at the band.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Stole the case of a businessman,
fell asleep in a play.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Dreamt all day,
and wrote all night.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Woke up in the arms of an orangutan,
leapt from a bar on the top of a mountain.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Split my lip in a Durham gutter,
got fixed up with an NHS stutter.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Got pissed with a physiotherapist,
let her fingers ease the pain in my head.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Took a tumble in a fall of rain,
saw all my words pour down the drain.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Slagged off another man’s trousers,
got called a rabble rouser.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Refused to join the Socialist Party,
hurled a Trot from the upstairs room.
Stuck the nut on the shower door,
washed myself in my own blood.
Wel I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Ended up in a padded cell,
read my poems in East Berlin.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Drank the City of Edinburgh dry,
scoffed the whole of your Humble Pie.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.





Cees Nooteboom, a leading Dutch literary light, wrote a novel translated as ‘In the Dutch Mountains’. I heard that some culture vulture sought a copy in a bookshop over here and was directed by the assistant to the TRAVEL SECTION!
I’ve travelled a lot all over The Netherlands, sometimes with the help of awards from Northern Arts/Arts Council and The British Council, and there have been times, trundling over the endlessly flat polder landscape, that I’ve been just gagging for a mountain or two.
Flat', you might say, but not uninteresting if you've got an eye for detail - and that applies to the cultural scene as well as the landscape.
From the hectically cosmopolitan and fast talking Amsterdam to the windswept northern city of Groningen to the carnival atmosphere of Den Bosch in the south, I’ve travelled with poetry in my pocket to give a series of readings and to network madly with mad Dutch poets.
I’ve crashed down in a squat in the former Dutch Foreign Office in The Hague and read there in the basement of the ex-Intelligence Ministry. I’ve performed at three in the morning in the Cuckoo Club in Groningen where, in a sparse yet merry audience, an old hippie glared at me from a murky corner with a hamster in a cage on his knee. I’ve read in a Circus tent in Rotterdam on a Sunday afternoon accompanied by my folk-roots mates ‘The Whisky Priests’, a doped rhino eyeing us suspiciously from its cage as we unloaded our gear.
And then there was the night in Den Helder in a pub so full of drunks that even my Northumbrian Piper was heckled. That same trip, I shared the balcony of a bar with a large stuffed swan, bellowing out my poetry to the punters down below like a demented seagull. Oh and then there was the Beer Museum in Breda, crammed to the rafters with wild and drunken Brabantians on a barmy Sunday afternoon. They roared during the set by ‘The Whisky Priests’ and they roared during my poetry too, so much so that I lost my voice and had to collect it from behind the bar later.
And then there was Utrecht where I had my jacket stolen in a cafe before the gig, passport, bank card, air ticket, glasses, and all. After a visit to the Police Station, it was down to the venue where, after borrowing some reading glasses from a member of the audience, I took the stage in fighting form. The show must go on!
In Newcastle’s twin city of Groningen, a place I’ve come to love after 20 visits or so, I performed at the Werkman College at a poetry breakfast, part of Dutch National Poetry Day, and I can recall, one wet and windy day, bumping into a pack of Frisian farmers drunk as rats. ‘And what do you do?’ bawled one in my left ear. ‘I’m a poet!’ ‘A poet!’, he mocked, ‘we milk cows!’, demonstrating, graphically, with his fingers the milking technique. Must get myself a real job I thought.
There’s a marked difference between north and south. There are carnivals down south in a warm and Catholic spirit. North seems bleaker, even gloomy, though Groningen keeps going all night, as I know to my cost. But try the Den Bosch Carnival in February, which I’ve only just returned from, and you’ll see how crazy The Netherlands can be. The symbol of Den Bosch, just over the border from Belgium, is, of course, the frog. So watch out for mobs of blokes in green tights belting out ‘When the Saints’ on their trombones. Not surprising, therefore, that it’s the home town of the legendary Hieronymus Bosch whose statue peers down on the leaping Carnival revellers, including myself.
And as for Amsterdam, well all of life is there, the nether regions bared for all to see. One Groningen city poet told me that ‘they should bomb Amsterdam!’ Now that’s real national rivalry for you! Yet to me it has a magic - just stay a few times on a Prinsensgracht canal boat or in a mice-ridden tiny-staircased flat or in the dowdy Hotel Utopia reeking of dope, as I have done, and you’ll know what I mean. Or take a jar or two at my Amsterdam local ‘The Karpershoek’, across the street from the throbbing Central Station, and you’ll mix with typical moustached Amsterdammers and Ajax fans, as well as New York cops on holiday rubbing truncheons with re-invading German tourists, guys from Bolton in search of cheap viagra, artists chewing the latest postmodernist cud, sweaty bricklayers, and sweaty social workers - well, and the odd crazy poet too.
So you can sense that my study of Dutch culture has been pretty thorough and, of course, ongoing, with plans for me to be back there for more readings. But it’s not one way traffic - poets and musicians from Groningen have performed in Newcastle and Groningen official city poets have visited here for readings and meetings with Newcastle’s Lord Mayor, as have teachers from the Dutch city's Werkman College. Well, it’s what twinning’s all about, isn’t it?!

Extracts from poems:

I was flown by a Dutchman through a Starry Sky
across the polluted Sea.
I  was twinning in a different land
with a song book in my hand.

The train tore across the frozen dykes
as the old town swarmed with bikes
and I thought of Vincent scraping spuds
and Rembrandt spitting blood.

This dark Carnival of frogs and trombones,
leaps from the graves of beggars and cripples;
this dualist fantasy,
this Oeteldonk nightmare,
where even the sewer rats dance
and the River Dieze drinks to high heaven.

I once saw a man who looked like you,
staring at me like a hag of a gargoyle
at the bar of the Bonte Palet.
He was a dribbling grotesque,
the kind you find among the monsters and workmen astride St. Jan’s.
A member, no doubt, of Our Lady’s Brotherhood,
he lived in a dream world,
a glutton for punishment,
ogling a lusty Brabant girl
with his popping, panting, eyes.
He was throwing genevers down his throbbing canal,
drinking at the confluence of Dommel and Aa;
he had brown paint on his hands so I knew it was you,
Master of Alla Prima.

You feed off tourists
on floodlit transparencies
broken by rippling houseboats.
You stay drifting in memories of the Indies;
a small piece of momentary beauty,
prettier than Amsterdam,
more shapely than Holland;
a true Swan
of the World.

In the Hotel Utopia,
we’re as happy as mortal sin.
You can hear an old man crying
through the City din.

There’s a tap that’s always dripping,
and walls that are paper-thin,
and, in this Hotel Utopia,
we’re really dreaming.





Around the low water mark,
kelp beds grow.
Network of rockpools,
boulder shore.

Long-legged bar-tailed godwit,
at finding
mud and sand-living worms.

Seabed of rocky reefs,
shipwrecks dived within and around.
Wrasse and lumpsucker.
Seashore Code.

Remembered rambles,
geology jaunts.
Soft coral communities.
Relic dunes.




A St. Mary’s Light
with rage.
A three ton lens,
on a trough of mercury,
kept revolving,
round the gas mantle,
by a simple pendulum
wound up
on the hour.
A climb
up 137 steps,
inside the 120 foot tower,
a hiss of flame,
of a prism
Since medieval times,
across the ocean fields,
this beacon
has burned,
on the drink.
Years sailed by,
of shipwrecks,
of Russian soldiers
in 1799,
of the ‘Gothenburg City’
and rats with chewed tails.
These heartbreaking waves,
the illumination
of shafts of history:
the rays
and days
of a shining Empire



"I’ve come to devour your mouth
and dry you off by the hair
into the seashells of daybreak."
(Federico Garcia Lorca)

In the rotunda,
your voice lashes out at war.
on the crests of the girls,
streaming up the Esplanade.
scream under a parasol of gulls,
skimming through the fairground,
on a mission to strangle
flying fish.
Haunting poetry
in the dead ghost train,
the palms of the fortune-tellers,

Lorca in a broken-down ghost town,
scattering your petals:
Garcia up against the wall
of last night,
eyes shot;
blood from the evening sky,
dripping down an ice cream cone,
down a sweet lass’s blouse.

Saw you on the Metro, Federico,
saw you in Woolworth’s.
Saw you in the crematorium,
on Feather’s caravan site.
Saw you drown
in a sea of lyrical beauty.

like Community,
you are gone;
torn into coastal shreds.

Still shells
lips on the beach
for kissing again
for the re-launch
of childish dreams,                                                            

with candy floss
and cuckoo spit.

The Spanish City, Whitley Bay.


The days have gone;
the laughter and shrieks
blown away.
We have all grown up,
left old Catalonian dreams
and the blazing seaside bullfights.
We are dazed,
phased out.
Spaces where we courted
to make way
for the tack of tomorrow;
the hope in the sea breeze;
the distant echo of castanets
and voices scraping
in a dusty rotunda.
I remember where I kissed you,
where I lost you.
It was in Spain, wasn’t it?
Or was it down the Esplanade
on a wet Sunday in July?
Either way,
we are still
twinned with sunny Whitley Bay,
and flaming Barcelona too;
and our lives
will dance in fading photographs
from the pleasure dome,
whenever we leave home.



the jingling geordie

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