DOCTOR KEITH ARMSTRONG & DURHAM
Keith Armstrong was founder of East Durham Writers' Workshop and the Durham Voices community publishing series.
He has compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham. He was Community Arts Development Worker (1980-6) with Peterlee Community Arts (later East Durham Community Arts) and 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.
He has also held residencies in Durham, Easington, Sedgefield, Derwentside, Teesdale and Wear Valley.
His commissioned work includes ‘Suite for the River Wear’ (with Dreaming North) (1989) for BBC Radio; and ‘The Little Count’ (with Andy Jackson and Benny Graham) (1993) for Durham County Council. He was the Judge for the Sid Chaplin Short Story Awards in 2000.
He has long pioneered cultural exchanges with Durham’s twinning partners, particularly Tuebingen and Nordenham in Germany and Ivry-sur-Seine and Amiens in France. In fact, he has visited Tuebingen over 30 times since he first spent a month there in November 1987 as poet in residence supported
by Durham County Council and the Kulturamt, and he has performed his poetry in the city’s Hoelderlin Tower and, on four occasions, as part of its Book Festival.
An archive of his work is held at Palace Green Library, University of Durham.
Posted by keith armstrong at 9:07 pm
AFTER THE UK
Shreds of the UK
flapping in the downturn,
broken into smithereens.
No Kingdom now,
no United State.
with no obligation
in front of an overstuffed Queen.
Get the UK out of your system,
no going back.
We take the power
to rule ourselves,
build our own spaces.
of dead parties,
let debate flower,
conflicting views rage.
We want to breathe
and strip away
the beauty and culture
of these islands
Make good things,
with an autonomous freedom
in a new England,
in a new Europe,
in a New World
of real ownership
and delicate emotion.
Posted by keith armstrong at 8:24 am
Tammy Spence he had no sense,
he bought a fiddle for eighteen pence
and all the tunes that he could play
was ‘O’er the Hills and Far Away’.
From Cow Road to Hud’s Head,
Toppye Knowe Stone and Spittal Point,
we have dredged the coal
and snapped up fish
with ‘Lovely Polly’ and all.
We have ground the corn and bone,
found the iron and cured and smoked.
We have worshipped Bart and lifeboats
and prayed to Paul and John.
We have staggered on in rain and nonconformity.
We have lurched along old shores,
drowned the thirst of sailors
with the rattling old Town Bell and the tunes of jolly Jack,
whistled and fiddled away
in the bright Red Lion light.
Jesus Light of the World,
we are the history in the barrel,
in the soaring wind
and in the foaming waves:
it is our blood,
it is our bread,
it is our Spittal,
our mirrored past.
TALES OF SPITTAL
This small space
for tall tales,
the leprous tongues of centuries,
words drifting out of ward windows
on a dripping wet afternoon.
Church reduced to a hung silence,
ready for a drink.
And there’s this man
like a tea leaf in the corners
of the Blenheim or the Red Lion or The Albion.
He’s gagging for a chat about the old days,
it’s on the lips of driftwood,
swirling in the blown down days.
Tug the fruit machine,
wallop down a pie-eyed dream.
The ghosts of Victorian ladies
hiss along the promenade
as we are hit in the face
with sepia breezes.
They come from North Sea places
and from Kelso,
Selkirk and Hawick,
they ripple the surface of the sea
and the leaves in the border forests.
Take the ancient waters,
sips of iron and sulphur,
bathe yourself in history and grime.
Pellets of sleet,
hail a watery charabanc drive,
run a hot bath
down the prom prom prom.
And let the keen and callous wind
whip up the skirts of the Tweedside girls,
so you can dance for your lives.
We are the Spittal folk,
the old Pierrots,
our songs are shattered
on ancient rocks.
Our children skip through the clutter of news.
bless young hearts.
Splash in Bishop’s Water,
in fishing places,
songs of herring and of salmon.
Leap for breath
in the ways of Spring.
RICHARD MENDHAM’S SPITTAL TIPPLE
Yon tippling illiterate Spittaler,
that smuggler of drunkenness,
thief and copier of the night.
Across the lines of sobriety,
carving a living
from rich streams
Dodging water bailiffs across rooftops,
creeping down trap stairs,
you and your gang
of fleetfooted drunks
shifted illicit dreams.
Eyes glinting in hidie-holes,
disguised in black cloth and gowns,
you sparked like bar-flies in the dark.
Dancing round brightly,
skipping school lightly,
laughed in your dens of warm cackle.
Shook the village with laughter,
gave the rude sign to Berwick,
pranced till they caught you,
hung you high
from your rafter
for daring to test
the stone-sober law.
*Richard Mendham - 1830s Spittal smuggler and counterfeiter who was tried and executed at Jedburgh in the presence of Sir Walter Scott, Sheriff of Selkirkshire.
DRINKING IN SPITTAL
See me fall out of The Elephant bar,
where I’ve been drinking with salmon.
Spittal foaming from my open mouth.
Lame, maimed, drunken,
dissolute, boisterous and poor,
I have become intoxicated by parties of pleasure.
I have strayed from the Holy Island to Brandy Well,
become awash in luggers of boozers,
staggering on smugglers’ sand.
Gin, brandy, tobacco and silk,
let me cleanse myself in the morning light,
take the clean waters of Jesus.
Walk to the Hallowstell,
past the lepers’ huts,
for drops of holy blood,
strip away with bare hands
this ugly scorbutic humour.
Clean the beaches,
clean my weary soul.
I will launch myself
into a seawater bath
and blow hot and cold
with the seasoning.
Calybeate waters of Spittal,
salts of pure iron,
you have me
chained to your heavy drinking cup.
Let my lovely heart sing
with children and larks.
Let me go plodging
GIRL IN A SPITTAL WINDOW
I was wondering
where to go,
what to do
in the seaside fret.
I am growing
misty with dreams:
welcome to my Spittal World.
I am little in this universe,
the sun is falling,
the stars are poised.
The window cleaner
will come in the morning
and wipe yesterday
The coastal scenery around Berwick is very fine, with rocks and cliffs, only occasionally interrupted by small bays and harbours. The nearest bathing beach to the town is in the little seaside resort of Spittal, to the south.
I was very impressed by the picture you and Tony created of Spittal.
It struck me that it was in the very best traditions of photo-journalism -
Picture Post recreated for the electronic age. I thought images and text
showed great respect and sensibility.
JOHN MAPPLEBECK (Bewick Films)
Posted by keith armstrong at 4:58 pm
Riding on a stream
severing the veins of clouds in my mind,
soaring over the little tragedies
in every single house,
ready to touch the agony again
rising from creaking floorboards
and worn-out lanes,
and poetic sewers.
What really is the point
of getting out of my tossing bed,
squirming through a vice-tight Security,
carrying a soiled and fraying bundle of poems
to give out via my nagging tongue to friends (and enemies);
donations to charity,
lines wishing for better days
and an end to the self-inflicted pain
we humans saddle ourselves with.
Off the plane,
I walk boldly through the jetsam
following the sun
to find a miracle of positive light
on a gleaming Weinhaus table.
It is then,
facing the rays of the new morning,
that I feel the creativity surge in my agitated bones again;
the gift of a poem from an unknown Warrior God,
liquid refreshment from a statue of Neptune,
out of place in the Marketplace,
looking for hope in a Googled world of despair.
Tell me yon Swabian chap striding past me,
someone whose handshake I’ll never know or care to,
do they call you ‘Knulp’?
And where do you think you are going
with those ashes in your overcoat pocket?
Down below to a slaughterhouse cell
or, screaming with bats, into a clanging belfry?
And yet you know I wish you well in your water,
I wish you fins and wings,
the chance to fly
with a Gypsy Moth
out of tragedy
to a little bliss
in the City of Tuebingen.
Posted by keith armstrong at 8:34 am
The sun on Danby Gardens
smells of roast beef,
tastes of my youth.
The flying cinders of a steam train
spark in my dreams.
Across the old field,
a miner breaks his back
and lovers roll in the ditches,
off beaten tracks.
Off Bigges Main,
my grandad taps his stick,
reaches for the braille of long-dead strikes.
fair draw in
and I recall Joyce Esthella Antoinette Giles
and her legs that reached for miles,
tripping over the stiles
in red high heels.
It was her and blonde Annie Walker
who took me in the stacks
and taught me how to read
that led inside their thighs.
Those Ravenswood girls
would dance into your life
and dance though all the snow drops
of those freezing winters,
in the playground of young scars.
And I remember freckled Pete
who taught me Jazz,
who pointed me to Charlie Parker
and the edgy bitterness of Brown Ale.
Mrs Todd next door
was forever sweeping
leaves along the garden path
her fallen husband loved to tread.
the smoke of A4 Pacifics in the aftermath of war,
the trail of local history on the birthmarked street.
And I have loved you all my life
and will no doubt die in Danby Gardens
where all my poems were born,
just after midnight.
Michael Callaghan: Absolutely brilliant Keith!
Conrad Atkinson: Another gem Keith Best Conrad
Posted by keith armstrong at 9:00 am