Tuesday, 15 August 2017

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY FRIEND JACK COMMON (BORN NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE 15TH AUGUST 1903)










































 








 
 
 
 
 
 
Ever since the sixth form,
when I found you, 
a kindred Novocastrian
in a library book,
I seem to have followed in your steps,
stumbled after you 
in rain soaked lanes,
knocked on doors
in search of your stories.
For over forty years,
I have tracked
the movement of your pen
in streets you walked
and on cross country trains
from your own Newcastle
to Warrington
Malvern,
Newport Pagnell,
Letchworth,
Yetminster,
Wallington 
and back again.
I have given talks about you,
supped in your pubs,
strode along your paragraphs 
and river paths
to try to find
that urge in you
to write 
out of your veins
what you thought of things,
what made you tick
and your loved ones 
laugh and cry.
I tried to reach you in a thesis,
to see you as a lad in Heaton,
but I could never catch your breath
because I didn’t get to meet you
face to face,
could only guess
that you were like me:
a kind of kindly 
socialist writer
in a world
too cruel for words.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

Peter Common Well said Keith!


Dear kindly socialist writer - this is great - thanks a lot for sending it

Love
Pat

Thursday, 10 August 2017

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




Saturday, 22 July 2017

MARSDEN ROCK























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,
splashing
with babies.

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

We go.

We dance like the sunlight
on your scarred body:

tripping,
falling,
singing

away.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

Saturday, 8 July 2017

WHITLEY BAY: POEMS BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG
































FRIENDS OF ST. MARY’S ISLAND

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

Long-legged bar-tailed godwit,
expert
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.


 

KEITH ARMSTRONG


THE BEACON
 

A St. Mary’s Light
incandescent
with rage.
A three ton lens,
balanced
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,
clamping
of a prism
constantly
turning.
Since medieval times,
across the ocean fields,
this beacon
has burned,
blinking
on the drink.
Years sailed by,
memories
of shipwrecks,
of Russian soldiers
cholera-wracked
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
sunk.



KEITH ARMSTRONG



GARCIA LORCA IN WHITLEY BAY

"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.
You
sing
on the crests of the girls,
streaming up the Esplanade.
You
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,
dust.

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.

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

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

with candy floss
and cuckoo spit.
                                                                                              



KEITH ARMSTRONG
The Spanish City, Whitley Bay.
                                                                                                                   
 

LIKE THE SPANISH CITY


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
bulldozed
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.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

Monday, 19 June 2017

WALLINGTON MORNING










WALLINGTON MORNING

‘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 looked after for him by fellow writer Jack Common in 1938.
























(for

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

SPLINTERS (FOR MY FATHER)



 




































(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.’

Monday, 29 May 2017

HIER KOTZTE GOETHE (GOETHE PUKED HERE)






 




























‘About Goethe, the legend says that he was invited to stay here in Tuebingen for a while but on the very first day that he was walking around he couldn't stand the smell of the open channels and did what he had to do.’

Goethe puked here
he did.
Poured out a tide of words
on the street.
Couldn’t stand the smell of war,
the decay of stinking empires,
ugly whiff of bad poetry.
He did,
he puked on Tuebingen,
on all the drivel
coursing from the normal text books.
He had to.
To keep his guts open to the theory of beauty,
vomit out the wretched ugliness
from this town’s pouting ulcers.
Clear ‘Coin Alley’
for all the shouting children
to dance along,
for his mate Schiller to rhyme by,
for the swifts to sing
over it all,
over and over again
in this distinct order of loveliness.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

Sunday, 21 May 2017

TELL ME LIES ABOUT NORTHUMBERLAND

















 















(in honour of Adrian Mitchell)

Say this land is ours, 
these pipe tunes do not cry. 
The birds all sing in dialect,
old miners breathe like dukes.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Tell me it isn’t feudal,
that castles were built for us.
We never touch the forelock,
bend to scrape up dust.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your pretty girls don’t stink of slaughter,
your eyes don’t blur with myth.
You’re as equal as a duchess,
saints never smell of piss.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your roots are in this valley,
you were never from doon south.
You never hide your birthplace,
you’re a real poet of the north.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

The churches are not crumbling,
the congregations glow with hope.
We are different from the foreigner,
our poetry rhymes with wine. 

Tell me lies about Northumberland. 

There is no landed gentry,
no homes locals can’t afford.
There’s no army on the moors,
the Romans freed us all.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

That the hurt is in the past,
the future holds no war.
Home rule is at our fingertips,
the Coquet swims with love.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.  

‘The Garden’ is our children’s,
Hotspur spurs us on.
The seagulls are not soaked in oil,
the cows are not diseased.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

This Kingdom is United,
‘Culture’ is our God. 
Everyone’s a Basil Bunting freak,
there’s music everywhere.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We will have our independence,
we’ll get the Gospels back.
We live off museums and tourists,
we don’t need boats or trades.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We’re in charge of our own futures,
we have north east citizens here.
In this autonomous republic,
we’re free as dicky birds.

So shut your eyes.

And tell me lies 

about Northumberland.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

Mo Shevis  I think Adrian Mitchell would have been well and truly honoured by that one Keith!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

TRAVELS IN CUBA WITH DOCTOR KEITH ARMSTRONG





























photos by keith armstrong

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.


MUSEUM OF THE HISTORY OF THE REVOLUTION, MONCADA BARRACKS

Here there are:
field guns,
remnants of scorched earth
and grass
the Guerillas chewed
All enclosed in;
pock-marked walls,
a shot-up barracks
with windows
you can now see children through.

This is:
the Museum of the History of the Revolution;
outside, across the road,
it is being extended,
all the time.


IMAGE OF CHE GUEVARA

Across Revolution Square,
his face beams
redder and larger than
the sun.
Can any one man
be this big?
He is a Christ to them;
an ideal inflatable,
blown by a strong wind
that clenches the U.S. flag
in its grip
and tears it
into what it is:
pieces of bought skin.
Guevara -
whose dreams go on
purposefully drifitng,
pinning shirts
to sweating backs.
In the haze of Havana,
the heat from his gaze
burns a laser way
through the Yankee jungle
to the other side.
Across Revolution Square,
he is above all men
a man.



KEITH ARMSTRONG,

Havana.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

I WILL SING OF MY OWN NEWCASTLE






I WILL SING OF MY OWN NEWCASTLE

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


(as featured on BBC Radio 4) 

"I heard the broadcast. You should be congratulated on your contribution. It was certainly more enjoyable than a man describing the photographs he'd taken on the wireless." (Brian Bennison, North East Laboury History Society).

Monday, 1 May 2017

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