Sunday, 27 November 2016

CUBA, CROCODILES, RAIN

































It is raining on crocodiles,
bullet-tears on the scales.
Here, where the balance of power has changed.
These banks of hardened green-backs, spread
stoned along the water’s edge,
are caged
like old dictators,
reigns ended
as young Cuba
surrounds them.





KEITH ARMSTRONG


photos: Dr Keith Armstrong

Monday, 21 November 2016

MY FATHER WORKED ON SHIPS
































My father worked on ships.
They spelked his hands,
dusted his eyes, his face, his lungs.

Those eyes that watered by the Tyne
stared out to sea
to see the world
in a tear of water, at the drop
of an old cloth cap.

For thirty weary winters
he grafted
through the snow and the wild winds
of loose change.

He was proud of those ships he built,
he was proud of the men he built with,
his dreams sailed with them:
the hull was his skull,
the cargo his brains.

His hopes rose and sunk
in the shipwrecked streets
of Wallsend
and I look at him now
this father of mine who worked on ships
and I feel proud
of his skeletal frame, this coastline
that moulded me
and my own sweet dreams.

He sits in his retiring chair,
dozing into the night.
There are storms in his head
and I wish him more love yet.

Sail with me,
breathe in me,
breathe that rough sea air old man,
and cough it up.

Rage, rage
against the dying
of this broken-backed town,
the spirit
of its broken-backed
ships.




Keith Armstrong

Read your 'My father worked on ships' as one of my choices at our poetry reading group last week, it went down very well!! 

Mo Shevis

Hello! came across your website and really enjoyed above poem. I am now living in the United States having been transplanted from Wallsend, that would be in 1949. I have wonderful memories of my childhood in Wallsend and also High Farm and your poem really piqued my interest...my dear Dad worked for Swan Hunter for many years, he was a shipwright and I remember with great thrill and anticipation, seeing the ships that he helped build being launched. Thanks for the memories! Awa the lads!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

A PRAYER FOR THE LONERS



















The dejected men,
the lone voices,
slip away
in this seaside rain.
Their words shudder to a standstill
in dismal corners.
Frightened to shout,
they cower
behind quivering faces.
No one listens
to their memories crying.
There seems no point
in this democratic deficit.
For years, they just shuffle along,
hopeless
in their financial innocence.
They do have names
that no lovers pronounce.
They flit between stools,
miss out on gales of laughter.
Who cares for them?
Nobody in Whitley Bay
or canny Shields,
that’s for sure.
These wayside fellows
might as well be in a saddos’ heaven
for all it matters
in the grey world’s backwaters.
Life has bruised them,
dashed them.
Bones flake into the night.
I feel like handing them all loud hailers
to release 
their oppressed passion,
to move them
to scream
red murder at their leaders -
those they never voted for;
those who think they’re something,
some thing special,
grand.
For, in the end,
I am on the side of these stooped lamenters,
the lonely old boys with a grievance
about caring
and the uncaring;
about power,
and how switched off
this government is
from the isolated,
from the agitated,
from the trembling,
the disenfranchised
drinkers of sadness.


 



KEITH ARMSTRONG













Kenny Jobson absolutely excellent

Davide Trame This is a great, powerful poem

Libby Wattis Brilliant poem x

Gracie Gray Very evocative Keith. x


Sue Hubbard Very strong


David Henry Fantastic! A powerful and very moving poem 

Strider Marcus Jones A great poem full of so many truths.

Dominic Windram Great stuff Keith... always a vociferous voice for the voiceless! 

Siobhan Coogan Beautiful Keith you give a voice to the lonely

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

THE SUN ON DANBY GARDENS



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.
The nights
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
the signs
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.
Such days:
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.


KEITH ARMSTRONG






Monday, 24 October 2016

TOMMY ON THE BRIDGE




 

























TOMMY ON THE BRIDGE*

You were a miner’s son,
blinded
in the fertile seam they dragged you from
to beg out your time
on the backs of bridges
that joined others
but left you split,
splay-footed between rough stones
and the snapping tomes
of the Law of the Land
and the Water.

Your wore a casual cloth cap
that muffled your bruised head.
Your trousers sagging at your feet,
you filled that dingy trench coat of yours
reluctantly;
resigned to see life life through,
with only coins for eyes
and a bridging loan to buy
derelict clothes.

At Swing or High Level,
you found a market;
a centrepoint for the rich
to lighten their swollen burden
of conscience a trifle.
And you ‘bored’ yourself
with a dignity that rejected buttons
and accepted only the silver linings
of fat pockets,
bred on a Victorian plenty
and plenty of paupers like you.

You buried your stubbled face
in the crowds that swam the Tyne.
Years across now,
you finally supped
your last cracked gill
of darkness.

And they picked you
neatly from the swollen gutter;
linked your broken hands at rest
to bridge
an empty chest.


KEITH ARMSTRONG



* Thomas Ferens (1841-1907). Born blind and begged on Newcastle’s High Level & Swing Bridges

Saturday, 8 October 2016

FAT MAN LODGED ON DOG LEAP STAIRS







































He pounded the cobbles
of the Castle Garth,
bowling along
with his brain hanging over his neck
and his belly
looming over his huge pants.
His overeducated head
weighed a ton
and bore down
on an arse
fattened on homemade pies.
He was carrying a plan
for the working classes
but forgot his heart was too small,
dwarfed by his huge mouth
and an expensive ego.
He had a board meeting to go to,
the big fart,
and he sweated grants
as he blundered along
to the narrow alley.
He was far too broad of beam really
but he was late for everything,
including his funeral,
and thrust his plates of meat
onto the slippery steps.
History closed in on him,
the Black Gate,
the Keep,
as if to tell him
it wasn’t his,
as if to say
‘get out of my town’.
He squeezed himself onto this narrow stairway
and, like his poetry,
got stuck.
He couldn’t move
for his lack of lyricism.
The Fat Man
was firmly lodged
on Dog Leap Stairs
and the crows
began to gather
to swoop
and pick
the bloated power
from his face.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

Thursday, 29 September 2016

DOCTOR ARMSTRONG'S TUEBINGEN POETRY TOUR!











































GIRL IN HOLZMARKT
(for Susanne, from a photograph)

Near Heckenhauer’s snoozing bookshop,
where Hesse once shelved poems,
you are standing
frail,
arms crossed lightly
in the pouring sun.
Your fine cheekbones
in shadow,
drenched face
in thought,
you listen deeply
to the bright street-harpist
plucking music from the day.
Your hair is flowing
black in the fine afternoon;
you are obviously a thinker,
fragile as a cloud;
withdrawn you are
yet still stand out
in this basking, strolling, crowd:
I think your name is Susanne
and I see your skin is milky;
and I wonder,
twelve years on,
where you have gone.
I sense
that you’ll have babies,
they are plainly in blue eyes,
and, in that filmic moment,
you do look beautiful to me:
a precious one, you’re trapped
in this snapshot album,
delicate
in not knowing
that the wall has been
pulled down.

 

                                                                            
KEITH ARMSTRONG






WOODEN HEART: A NEW SONG IN THE MORNING FOR PHILIPP FRIEDRICH SILCHER  (1789-1860)*

Through an arch of towering plane trees,
I reach to touch the hips
of an upright Swabian girl,
her lips
fresh with strawberries
from a breakfast bowl of kisses
sprinkled with sugar
and yesterday’s cream.
The birds of the Platanenallee
fly on the wings of melancholy,
the breeze of history
scenting their songs.
It dawns on me
that the rain
will lash against our faces
as we push our way
through the saluting wood.
The day is crumbling already
around us
with the leaves memorably
crunching under our futile tread.
Half way along the soaking avenue,
the sun like a song
sparkles in my eyes
and lights my last hours
with the beauty of skies.
And suddenly
you are there
your lump of a statue
bursting though the leaves,
a kind of terrible stone
trapping your crumbling tunes
inside rock.
To take a frail life
and carve it into something immortal
is a folly as well as a tribute
to the hypocrisy of pompous little leaders
seeking to employ music
for their brutal ends.
So I say
and so we sing
of beautiful glances
and military funerals
of dead songbirds
in the path of bullets.
I climb in spirit
to reach the flesh of this lovely girl,
for a moment
I am happy and then it is gone
behind the clouds of war.
And this is for you Friedrich
from my fluttering heart
in a sea of shaking branches,
reaching out
for humanity
to triumph
over the horror
of the mundane,
a gift of a song for you,
a lovely glass of wine
as the armies march again
into the blind alley
of a bleak despair:

Can't you see
I love you?
Please don't break my heart in two,
That's not hard to do,
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.
And if you say goodbye,
Then I know that I would cry,
Maybe I would die,
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.

There's no strings upon this love of mine,
It was always you from the start.
Treat me nice,
Treat me good,
Treat me like you really should,
'Cause I'm not made of wood,
And I don't have a wooden heart.

Muss i denn, muss i denn
Zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus,
Und du, mein schat, bleibst hier?

Muss i denn, muss i denn
Zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus,
Und du, mein schat, bleibst hier?
(Got to go, got to go,
Got to leave this town,
Leave this town
And you, my dear, stay here?).

There’s no strings upon this love of mine,
It was always you from the start,
Sei mir gut,
Sei mir gut,
Sei mir wie du wirklich sollst,
Wie du wirklich sollst,
(Treat me nice,
Treat me good,
Treat me like you really should,
Like you really should),
'Cause I don't have a wooden heart.

 


KEITH ARMSTRONG

*Swabian musician Philipp Friedrich Silcher originally composed the tune, based on a folk lyric, used in the pop song ‘Wooden Heart’. His statue by Wilhelm Julius Frick (1884-1964), erected in 1941, is in Tuebingen by the River Neckar.








UNDER THE TREE: A LULLABY IN STORMY TIMES

(in memory of Ottilie Wildermuth, 1817-1877)

In the ‘Seufzerwäldchen’ (Small Forest of Sighs), at the end of the avenue, is the memorial for the writer Ottilie Wildermuth, the only memorial in Tübingen dedicated to a woman.

Even if thunder rolls,
lightning quivers,
may my little child
fall quietly asleep......

May the little bell sound for me
a quiet peal of funeral bells
when I lay to rest
my brief happiness.



Under the tree,
reading Theory of Colours.
Under the tree,
the light in her hair.

Under the tree,
the birds bathe in dust.
Under the tree,
Otto is breathing.

Under the tree,
the bells in the sun.
Under the tree,
her eyes flash at me.

Under the tree,
her young hips sway.
Under the tree,
sipping days.

Under the tree,
news is poor.
Under the tree,
there is wine.

Under the tree,
no bullets.
Under the tree,
my heart singing.

Under the tree,
Tuebingen lives.
Under the tree,
Tuebingen groans.

Under the tree,
I see for miles.
Under the tree,
I float on the clouds.

Under the tree,
blackbird’s throbbing.
Under the tree,
love life.

Under the tree,
this poem.
Under the tree,
I can sigh.

Under the tree,
feel a moment.
Under the tree,
beauty.

Under the tree,
sense the pity.
Under the tree,
touch this city.
 

Under the tree,
find distance.
Under the tree,
miles away.

Under the tree,
thinking of you.
Under the tree,
learning Goethe.

Under the tree,
drenched in years.
Under the tree,
drunk
forever.



KEITH ARMSTRONG
 




ELEPHANTS IN TUEBINGEN


Such a postwar circus,
swill of pigs and drawn out cold war,
the bleeding never stops.
Under the straw,
the claw of a miserable history
grabs down the years
at the young who are innocent
of all the butchery and whoredom.
Imperial Germany is a fagged out colonial office,
a sweating prison
of bashed up ideals,
a broken clock
covered in ticks and leeches.

The animals have escaped
and invade the Market Place.
Elephants sup at Neptune’s old fountain,
spurt out the foam of stagnant days,
trunks curling to taste the Neckar water.

This Tuebingen is a surreal pantomime:
barmaids swing from ceilings,
policemen hang from their teeth.
Frau Binder throws them buns.

And our Max Planck is a dream inventor.
Some boffin of his crosses a peach with a tulip,
the genetics of a bayonet in a breast.
The menagerie moves on to the Castle,
a giraffe nibbles at a church.
The sun gnaws at the clouds.

Like a clown,
I leap to down beer.
And a hideously sweet lady cracks a whip
and flashes her milky thigh at me.
It is no good.
I cannot raise a glassy smile anymore.
This circus is a tragedy.
The animals are sad
and rotten
with the stink of carnage,
seeping
from your television screens.



KEITH ARMSTRONG


 

I LOVE THE LIGHT IN TUEBINGEN

I love the light
in Tuebingen
streaming down Marktgasse,
flooding in my beautiful blue eyes.

In this light,
I see
the good times
I have dwelt in here
over the bowling years:

the chemistry of Goethe,
the love of books
and poetry that sings
with the joyous swifts,
screeches with
the very pain of life.

This town
casts a glow
in me,
throws me lifelines
to write with,
fishing for ideas
in the sweeping river:

boats
of finished pamphlets
nodding at me
in the sunshine.

I love the light
in Tuebingen
streaming down Marktgasse,
flooding in my beautiful blue eyes.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

Friday, 2 September 2016

FOLLOW THE SUN BOOK LAUNCH



Follow the Sun Book Launch: Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Dial Cottage Sundial

George Stephenson Museum, Dial Cottage, 108 Great Lime Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE12 7DQ

A special event organised by Northern Voices Community Projects to mark the 200th anniversary of the creation of the iconic sundial by Robert and George Stephenson at their Dial Cottage home. The event will include the launch and readings from 'Follow the Sun', a new book commissioned to commemorate the bi-centenary of the sundial. Contributors to the book will perform their poems, stories and songs as well as new materials inspired by the sundial and Stephenson legacy. They will be introduced by local poet and editor Keith Armstrong with specially commissioned music from the Sawdust Jacks Folk Group and folk singers Gary Miller and Tony Morris. Also featuring Ann Sessoms on Northumbrian Pipes with a selection of appropriate tunes, and others.

Opening Times
Friday 9 September: 10.30-11.30

Saturday, 13 August 2016

SING OF MY OWN NEWCASTLE - POEM BY KEITH ARMSTRONG, PHOTOS BY PETER DIXON



































sing of my home city
sing of a true geordie heart
sing of a river swell in me
sing of a sea of the canny
sing of the newcastle day

sing of a history of poetry
sing of the pudding chare rain
sing of the puddles and clarts
sing of the bodies of sailors
sing of the golden sea

sing of our childrens’ laughter
sing of the boats in our eyes
sing of the bridges in sunshine
sing of the fish in the tyne
sing of the lost yards and the pits

sing of the high level railway
sing of the love in my face
sing of the garths and the castle
sing of the screaming lasses
sing of the sad on the side

sing of the battles’ remains
sing of the walls round our dreams
sing of the scribblers and dribblers
sing of the scratchers of livings
sing of the quayside night
 

sing of the kicks and the kisses
sing of the strays and the chancers
sing of the swiggers of ale
sing of the hammer of memory
sing of the welders’ revenge

sing of a battered townscape
sing of a song underground
sing of a powerless wasteland
sing of a buried bard
sing of the bones of tom spence

sing of the cocky bastards
sing of a black and white tide
sing of the ferry boat leaving
sing of cathedral bells crying
sing of the tyneside skies

sing of my mother and father
sing of my sister’s kindness
sing of the hope in my stride
sing of a people’s passion
sing of the strength of the wind


KEITH ARMSTRONG

Monday, 8 August 2016

WALLINGTON MORNING


































 


(for Peter Common & Dan Pinnock)




But the thing I saw in your face

No power can disinherit:

No bomb that ever burst

Shatters the crystal spirit.' (George Orwell).



I stood at your door,

knocked in the English sunshine,

bowed to greet you

but could not hear

the chatter

from your typewriter

or the rain pecking

at the tin roof,

only the plummet of the leaves

brushing against my face

and the birds

falling over the fields.



Thought of you and Jack Common,

shaking hands

in open debate,

patched sleeves

damp on the bar counter,

ploughing through

tracts of history,

eyes on the horizon

looking for War

and bombs

over Datchworth's spire.



This magic morning,

clear sky in our hearts.

No September showers,

only goats bleating,

a horse trotting

down the lane

and, in the day dream,

St Mary's bells

glistening

with Eileen asleep

in the clouds.



What should I say?

We are weak.

I know you were awkward

but, like Jack, full of love.

Out of bullets,

flowers may grow;

out of trenches,

seeds.

The roses

and acorns of thoughts

you planted

those years ago

in Kits Lane,

nourish us now

in these brief minutes,

gifts

from your writing hand

farming for words,

the eggs of essays,

the jam on your fingers.



You were scraping a book together,

smoking the breath

out of your collapsing lungs,

taking the world

on your creaking bent shoulders,

riding across fields

for friends,

bones aching,

fighting to exist

in the cold breeze.



Still the Simpson's Ale

was good in the Plough,

the old laughter still

flying down this Wallington lane,

with the crackling children

sparkling

on an idyllic day.



Enjoy this beauty,

it will turn to pain.

Sing your folk songs,

dig your garden,

dance in your brain.

Graft and graft

until all the breath is gone.

Leave a brave mark

in the dust

round Animal Farm.



What a good thing

to be alive

where songbirds soar

and daffodils nod.

Over the slaughter

of motorways,

we are following

your large footprints

into this bright countryside

where good people

adopt another's children

and still

fall in love

with England.







KEITH ARMSTRONG













Written after visiting Orwell’s cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire, where he lived with Eileen O’Shaughnessy and which was once looked after for him by fellow writer Jack Common.



'The more I read ‘Wallington Morning’ the more I like it.  Very well done, an extremely clever and well written poem!' (Peter Common, son of Jack)

'I love this! Very emotive! Draws pictures in my brain and melts my heart. Thank you.' (Denise Byrne, daughter of Peter).

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

SPLINTERS



 

























(FOR MY FATHER)

You picked splinters
with a pin each day
from under blackened fingernails;
shreds of metal
from the shipyard grime,
minute memories of days swept by:
the dusty remnants of a life
spent in the shadow of the sea;
the tears in your shattered eyes
at the end of work.
And your hands were strong,
so sensitive and capable
of building boats
and nursing roses;
a kind and gentle man
who never hurt a soul,
the sort of quiet knackered man
who built a nation.
Dad, I watched your ashes float away
down to the ocean bed
and in each splinter
I saw your caring eyes
and gracious smile.

I think of your strong silence every day
and I am full of you,
the waves you scaled,
and all the sleeping Tyneside streets
you taught me to dance my fleeting feet along.

When I fly, you are with me.
I see your fine face
in sun-kissed clouds
and in the gold ring on my finger,
and in the heaving crowd on Saturday,
and in the lung of Grainger Market,
and in the ancient breath
of our own Newcastle.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

‘This is one of the poems I'll never forget. I see the struggling of my own dad in your words.
Thanks for your fine poem.’ (Klaas Drenth)

‘Beautiful poem. Loving, moving memories. Most excellent Keith.’ (Strider Marcus Jones)

‘Love the poem Keith. That’s my dad.’ (John McMahon)


Annie Sheridan ‘Beautifully visual Keith, nice to share your memories.’ x


Imelda Walsh ‘Lovely poem, loving memories too.’

Kenny Jobson ‘So, so good, Keith - I'll share this, if you don't mind.’


       

Thursday, 14 July 2016

AND PIGS MIGHT FLY



 


























(for Helmut Bügl)


On this evening flight,
necks stuck out,
we dart in formation
to a Stuttgart dream.
Complete strangers,
we share a common French wine
to celebrate clouds.
With your rough words,
you ask me what I do.
“Write poetry”, I say,
and sign away a verse or two for you,
hovering in mid-air, between snow and sun.
“And you?” “I breed pigs I do”,
flying home from a swine seminar in Montreal.
To prove it, you sign me a photo of six of your litter,
the Swabian breed of Helmut Bugl.
It’s a flying cultural exchange,
a rhyme for a slice of time.
The stars are sizzling in the thrilling sky
and, tonight, pigs might fly.
Tonight, pigs might fly.







Keith Armstrong

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A PRAYER FOR THE LONERS





























The dejected men,
the lone voices,
slip away
in this seaside rain.
Their words shudder to a standstill
in dismal corners.
Frightened to shout,
they cower
behind quivering faces.
No one listens
to their memories crying.
There seems no point
in this democratic deficit.
For years, they just shuffle along,
hopeless
in their financial innocence.
They do have names
that no lovers pronounce.
They flit between stools,
miss out on gales of laughter.
Who cares for them?
Nobody in Whitley Bay
or canny Shields,
that’s for sure.
These wayside fellows
might as well be in a saddos’ heaven
for all it matters
in the grey world’s backwaters.
Life has bruised them,
dashed them.
Bones flake into the night.
I feel like handing them all loud hailers
to release 
their oppressed passion,
to move them
to scream
red murder at their leaders -
those they never voted for;
those who think they’re something,
some thing special,
grand.
For, in the end,
I am on the side of these stooped lamenters,
the lonely old boys with a grievance
about caring
and the uncaring;
about power,
and how switched off
this government is
from the isolated,
from the agitated,
from the trembling,
the disenfranchised
drinkers of sadness.



KEITH ARMSTRONG


Kenny Jobson absolutely excellent

Davide Trame This is a great, powerful poem.

Libby Wattis Brilliant poem x

Gracie Gray Very evocative Keith. x


Sue Hubbard Very strong

David Henry Fantastic! A powerful and very moving poem

Strider Marcus Jones A great poem full of so many truths.