Monday, 12 March 2018



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:

of finished pamphlets
nodding at me
in the sunshine.

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


Wednesday, 28 February 2018



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.


Saturday, 17 February 2018


(for Helmut Bugl)

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


Not long ago, I was on a flight to Stuttgart on my way to give a poetry reading in Tuebingen, Durham’s twin-town.  Normally, I’m not given to chatting to strangers on aeroplanes, it’s calculated to be strained and, above all, boring.  This time was an exception – I got talking to a pig farmer.
Helmut Bugl was his name and he was on his way home from a ‘swine-seminar’ in Montreal.  Over a glass of wine or two, he asked me my role in life.  Being in the mood, I responded ‘Poet’.  And it turned out that he lived just up the road from one of the English lecturers I knew at Tuebingen University.
Helmut invited me for an ‘English’ breakfast so it was the least I could do to autograph one of my poetry book (‘Dreaming North’) for him, hovering in mid-air as we were.  Feeling the need to reciprocate, brother Bugl reached into a pocket and drew out a photo of six of his litter, which he promptly signed on the reverse.  I still treasure it.
The plane duly landed and we waved goodbye as a pretty lady friend drove me off to pretty Tuebingen.
Naturally, I got a poem out of all this.  The title (you’ve guessed it!): ‘Pigs Might Fly’.  I hadn’t the time to take up Helmut’s offer of breakfast as it turned out but, once home, I popped a copy of the poem in the post to him.  I never heard back from him.
Until, that is, a trip to Tuebingen one July.  I was performing with the North East folk-singer Jez Lowe at the University’s English Club, a gig arranged by the English lecturer referred to above.  Whilst I was nervously getting my act together in the seminar room, a character bounded towards me in a suit, firm hand extended in greeting.  After an awkward pause, the pfennig dropped.  Yes, it was Helmut Bugl, pig farmer, come to hear me read.
Naturally, I delivered ‘Pigs Might Fly’ to our special ‘guest of honour’.
It had all come nicely full circle!
I’ve recounted this little anecdote in some detail because it raises some interesting points about ‘poetry’ in this country and attitudes towards it. It pleased me, indeed inspired me, to make contact with Helmut Bugl.  After all, you don’t get many pig farmers at Newcastle’s Morden Tower these days!  And, so far as I know, the Arts Council isn’t issuing bacon and egg breakfasts to deserving writers!  Perhaps because they’re mostly vegetarians, I don’t know.
For the truth is most poetry is most boring to most people.  It doesn’t very often strike a chord with their lives.  And a poetry reading isn’t their idea of a night out. 

I have fond memories of being physically ejected from a ‘New Generation’ reading at Newcastle’s Bridge Hotel by a smooth-talking steward from Bloodaxe for muttering dark thoughts at the bar during a mumbled reading by a ‘New Generation Poet’.  Maybe this happening livened up the show.  It certainly needed a kick from somewhere.  In fact, I once heard from a reliable source within the sanctum of  the Arts Council that such incidents have become known on ‘the scene’ as ‘that Keith Armstrong moment’!
The idea that ordinary/real people are going to sit on their butts for up to two hours to hear an indistinct reader render incomprehensible verse from inside a book is scarcely credible.  Especially when ‘SILENCE’ is the order of the day, when there is no space for dispute or discussion and, above all, no music and very little booze.  One must, apparently, revere the mumbling poet and the imprecise wisdoms and insights they are supposedly imparting.  Strictly no heckling and certainly no instinctive behaviour!
Of course, it’s not always like this.  I remember, for example, helping to organise a reading by the Russian poet Yevtushenko at a packed Mining Institute in Newcastle during the seventies.  His passionate rendition was memorable.  I’ve also heard the reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, Scots writers Liz Lochhead and Edwin Morgan and, of course, the great Adrian Mitchell, put it across with real verve.  And I’ve enjoyed the humour of our own shipyard poet ‘Ripyard Cuddling’ and Wallsend’s ‘Herbert Mangle’.  I’ve even seen an Edinburgh poet read whilst standing on his head! Yes, poetry readings can be memorable.  

I recall being in Iceland with fellow poet Peter Mortimer during the Cod War and hitting the headlines there with my treasonous poem ‘Cod Save The Queen’!  I love poetry when it connects with everyday life, when it is song-like and echoes the lyricism you sometimes hear in pub conversations.  Gone, I hope, are the days of the egg-head poet reading only to fellow poets.  Let’s celebrate the music of words, the flow of wine and good conversation.
Let our poetry dance!
Back to the seventies.  I’m with the Tyneside Poets in Elsinor, Denmark.  The poetry evening’s wearing on as only poetry evenings can.  ‘Cullercoats’ Mike Wilkin is on stage.  The organiser’s worried that we’ll miss the last ferry back to Sweden.  ‘Please finish now!’ he shouts to Mike.  ‘Poets do not have watches,’ comes the response.  ‘But if you don’t finish now we’ll miss the last ferry home.’ ‘In that case, I’ll finish,’ says ‘the poet’, sobering up somewhat! Yes, even poetry has its limits!
Once in Georgia at the ‘Palace of Culture’ in a provincial steel town, after much wine, I swapped shirts with a well-built worker-writer.  His shirt was like a tent on me, and he couldn’t fasten the buttons on mine.  But what a great night out it was! :
‘Last night we swapped our shirts.
They didn’t fit our bodies too well,
But they fitted our mood exactly.’
Now that’s the spirit!  As an ‘Old Generation’ poet, I remember launching a booklet called ‘Giving Blood’, with blood dripping from my upper lip, having been attacked by another poet before my reading!
Those were the days! Poets for the Revolution! Maybe they’ll come back? Yes – and ‘Pigs Might Fly’!

Keith Armstrong 


Thursday, 15 February 2018


Golden Boy,
I remember you 
made me queue
with all the other Geordie lads
in one straight line
down the car park
for your autograph.
one by one,
you signed for us. 
A Swansea son, 
footballing gentleman,
all those years ago,
you impressed me
with your calm consideration:
a measured passer
of dignity
through generations.


*Ivor Allchurch (1929 -1997) played for Newcastle United 143 times between 1958 and 1962 and scored 46 goals.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018



(I wrote the following jeu d’esprit in the year 1852 and had it printed anonymously. It was meant to represent, with that spice of exaggeration permissible in such good natured squibs, the condition and aspect of the Shieldses – South Shields more particularly – as they struck a dispassionate resident in that remote era, before the local sanitary reformers had set about their Herculean task, towards the accomplishment of which they have since gone a great length).

Farewell to Shields, the filthiest place

On old Northumbria’s dirty face,

The coal-hole of this British nation,

The fag-end of the whole creation,

The jakes of Newcastle-upon-Tyne,

The banquet-house of dogs and swine,

The paradise of bugs and fleas,

And human vermin worse than these;

A mass of houses – not a town -,

On heaps of cinders squatted down,

Close to the river’s oozy edge,

Like moulting hens behind a hedge;

Huge ballast heaps, from London brought,

And here, like churchyard rubbish, shot,

Half-clad with scurvy blighted green,

Alone diversify the scene,

And furnish, when the weather’s dry,

An inexhaustible supply

Of dust, with every breath that flies,

To torture and to blind the eyes,

And, when it rains or thaws, a flood

Of sticky, stinking, coal-black mud,

Oft ankle-deep, in Claypath Lane,

Making the use of blacking vain;

Brick-yards, the nastiest smoke exhaling;

Green scummy ponds, a source unfailing

Of fell disease, foul middensteads,

Where everything infectious breeds;

Steam-tugs, whose smoke beclouds the river;

Chimneys, forth vomiting forever

All sorts of gas, to taint the air,

And drive the farmers to despair,

Blighting their corn, their quicksets blasting,

And all their prospects overcasting;

For scarcely even a weed will blow,

For miles around no trees will grow

In stunted copse or rugged fence,

Within their baneful influence,

And where stray birds have planted them,

In former better times, each stem

Looms on us, bare, black, mummied quite,

A ghastly and unnatural sight.

Streets, - if the name can be applied

To dingy lanes not ten feet wide,

Bordered by wretched tenements,

Let to poor devils at high rents;

Houses, on Dean and Chapter Land

Which, if not close packed, would not stand,

Whose perfect matches can be found

Nowhere within the empire’s bound;

Sewers, that only serve to stay

Stenches the wind will blow away,

And guide them to our outraged noses,

Concentrated in double doses.

When his sweet pipe Amphion blew

The enchanted stones together flew,

And formed a city. Widely famed,

Thebes by the Syrian Cadmus named.

Not such a dulcet origin

Had Shields, but to the cursed din

Of wheels and axles, saws and hammers,

And competitions thousand clamours,

It rose around St. Hilda’s pit,

For sooty fiends a dwelling fit.

Since Sodom and Gomorrah fell,

By bolts from heaven and blasts from hell,

Satan, with all the skill he wields,

Has formed no counterpart to Shields,

And, in futurity’s dark womb,

Laid up for Shields is Sodom’s doom,

For all that store of bitumen

Was not placed under it in vain.

He who perambulates the place,

Needs no uncommon skill to trace

The features of the inhabitants,

Whose instincts, appetites and wants,

It suits to such a nicety,

That nothing lacking they can see,

But shout “Hourrah for canny Shields”

And deem the Bents the Elysian fields.

Take from the mass a score or twain,

Honest in heart and sound in brain,

Free-spirited, intelligent,

Friendly-disposed, benevolent,

And all the rest are chaff and sand,

Fit only to manure the land,

Mill-horses, pacing round and round

The same eternal spot of ground,

To pick a paltry pittance up,

And smoke and snooze and eat and sup;

Gross gluttons, worshipping their belly;

Boobies, with brains of calf’s-foot jelly;

Creatures, whose souls are in their dress;

Base crawling serfs, idealless;

Crouching, dust-licking parasites;

Prim sanctimonious hypocrites;

Fellows whose lives are one long lie,

To meanly cloak their poverty,

Who, with the bailiffs at the door,

Turn up their noses at the poor,

And living upon shift, despise

The drudge from whom they draw supplies;

Magistrates, void of all pretence

To morals as of moral sense,

Leaving the beershop for the bench,

To send to Durham their own wench;

Lawyers, who know no more of law

But from their clients fees to draw;

Clergymen, dull and dry as dust,

In whom old women put their trust;

Doctors, a shallow, quackish crew,

But that, alas, is nothing new;

As for the so-called “vulgar rabble”,

One learns their status from their gabble;

They can’t be said to speak at all,

But jabber, croak, grunt, burr and drawl;

'Tis neither English, Scotch, nor Norse,

Though it partakes of all, and worse.

If brutes have souls, as some pretend,

And after death to Hades wend,

And learn to speak, I do expect,

'Twill be in the Shields dialect.

Farewell to Shields! I shout again;

A long and glad farewell! Amen!

I never liked the place, nor did

The place like me; but God forbid

I should bear witness false against it;

I have writ truth, and here attest it.


On board ship “Lizzie Webber”.

Written by William Brockie (1811 - 1890)

Born at the East Mains of Lauder where his father was the tenant farmer, William was educated at the Parish Schools of Lauder, Smailholm, Mertoun and Melrose as his father changed farms.
Starting work as a teacher - he was at Kailzie prior to 1843 - he decided to pursue his real love, writing, and in 1842 he set up the "Galashiels Weekly Review". He also wrote articles for other publications including the "Border Treasury". Before long he was the editor of the "Border Watch" which was to become the "Border Advertiser".
In 1849 he crossed the border into England to become editor of the "North and South Shields Gazette", later becoming editor of the "Sunderland Times" from 1862 to 1872.
During all of this time, he was also busy researching and writing, particularly in the field of local history and folk legends.
Amongst his best known works are:
"The Gypsies of Yetholm" (1884) for which he is best known in the Borders, "Coldingham Priory" (1886), "A Day in the Land of Scott", "Leaderside Legends", "Legends and Superstitions of the County of Durham"(1886) and "Sunderland Notables"(1894).



The Lizzie Webber was built in Sunderland in 1851-1852 and sailed from Sunderland to Melbourne 31-7-1852 arrived 4-12-1852.

Saturday, 3 February 2018




People meet, get to know one another, exchange views – and each time something is left behind: a memory, a thought, a connection, an idea which can go on to have a significant impact even many years later.
Twinning, or city partnering, harnesses the very power of meetings to constantly open up new possibilities for citizens to break down barriers. This was why County Durham and the university town of Tübingen first became partner communities in 1969. Many individuals care for and promote this link, which brings together schools, experts, artists, musicians as well as politicians. This is what twinning relationships are all about; strong commitment on the part of people and associations who enjoy taking part in exchanges and which leave an unforgettable and long lasting effect on them and their communities.
One individual in particular stands out in this ongoing exchange between Durham and Tübingen; someone who has connected both places on a literary level for not just a few years, but more than three decades – author, poet and literary activist, Dr Keith Armstrong. Thanks to his commitment over the past 30 years, more than 30 authors have found their way to their respective partner regions to seek inspiration for their work.
On the 30th anniversary of Keith Armstrong’s first visit to Tübingen in 1987, this publication seeks to serve as a testament to the strength of the partnership, as well as acknowledging those who have taken part in the project and as a chronicle of all their achievements. Twenty-two authors have contributed their texts, bringing together multiple generations and styles in this anthology which offers a vivid insight into the literary creativity of the twinned communities.

County Durham and Tübingen, Autumn 2017




Thursday, 25 January 2018



‘When’er my muse does on me glance, I jingle at her.’  (Robert Burns).

Such an eye in a human head,
from the toothless baby
to the toothless man,
the Edinburgh wynds
bleed whisky.
Through all the Daft Days,
we drink and gree
in the local howffs,
dancing down
Bread Street.
Like burns with Burns
these gutters run;
where Fergusson once tripped,
his shaking glass
in our inky fingers,
delirium tugs
at our bardish tongues;
dead drunk,
we dribble down
a crafty double
for Burke & Hare,
heckle a Deacon Brodie
on the end
of the hangman’s rope.

In all these great and flitting streets
awash with cadies,
this poet’s dust
like distemper to our bones.
We’re walking through
the dark and daylight,
the laughs
and torture
of lost ideals.
Where is the leader of the mob Joe Smith,
that bowlegged cobbler
who snuffed it on these cobbles,
from this stagecoach pissed?
Where is the gold
of Jinglin’ George Heriot?
Is it in the sunglow on the Forth?
We’re looking for girls of amazing beauty
and whores of unutterable filth:
‘And in the Abbotsford
like gabbing asses
they scale the heights
of Ben Parnassus.’

Oh Hugh me lad
we’ve seen some changes.
In Milne’s, your great brow scowls the louder;
your glass of bitterness
deep as a loch:
‘Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun.’

Oh Heart
of Midlothian,
it spits on
to rain
still hopes.
Still hope in her light meadows
and in her volcanic smiles.
And we’ve sung with Hamish
in Sandy Bell’s
and Nicky Tams
and Diggers,
a long hard sup
along the cobbles
to the dregs
at the World’s End:
‘Whene’er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.’

Bright as silver,
sharp as ice,
this Edinburgh of all places,
home to a raving melancholia
among the ghosts
of Scotland’s Bedlam:
‘Auld Reekie’s sons blythe faces’,
shades of Fergusson in Canongate.

And the blee-e’ed sun,
the reaming ale
our hearts to heal;
the muse of Rose Street
seeping through us boozy bards,
us snuff snorters
in coughing clouds.

on display
in this Edinburgh dream:
the polished monocle
of Sydney Goodsir Smith,
glittering by
his stained inhaler;
and the black velvet jacket
of RLS,
slumped by
a battered straw hat.

And someone
wolf whistles
along Waterloo Place;
and lovers
kiss moonlight
on Arthur’s Seat:
see Edinburgh rise.

from her eyes.


(from Imagined Corners, Smokestack Books, 2004).


That was a great event -- really good fun. You read well and held it together brilliantly. Ormston played beautifully. Gary sang his heart out. The Sawdust Jacks were good too, and everything moved along well. Everyone enjoyed themselves. Another triumph for Armstrong! (Katrina).

Enjoyed the evening.Thanks. Had not appreciated it was the first.
Thought it great to be able to assemble such a collection of gifted folks together
for such a worthwhile celebration. Good to be there and meet some friends too.
Great. Lets do it again.

Saturday, 20 January 2018


Robert Gilchrist was born in St Mary’s Parish in Gateshead on 8th September 1797. His father was a sailmaker, part owner of Payne & Gilchrist sailmakers, before becoming head proprietor. After Robert finished school he was apprenticed to William Spence, sailmaker, before working in the family business.

Robert started writing poetry from a young age and found support in a thirving local community of poets, songsters and bards. He gained the friendship of Thomas Thompson (1773-1816), who was considered to be one of the finest and earliest Newcastle poets. Gilchrist was held in high regard. In 1818, at the age of 21, he received a silver medal from his companions in appreciation of his poetry. His special place amongst the community was recorded in the song ‘Thumping Luck to Yon Town’, by painter and politician William Watson. Watson notes Gilchrist’s “comic song” amidst the wit and humour of notable others such as Thompson and William Mitford.

A number of Gilchrist’s poems and songs were published, lending him a degree of local fame. Gilchrist's first book-length poem Gothalbert and Hisannawas published in 1822. In 1824 his Collection of Original Songs, Local and Sentimental was published by W.A. Mitchell. A second edition followed in the same year, with the title altered slightly to A Collection of Original Local Songs, and the addition of an extra poem, ‘The Loss of the Ovington’. Poems, a collection of eighty-four verses, followed in 1826 published by W. Boag. In all, Gilchrist’s published output of songs and poetry numbered over a hundred separate and original pieces, appearing in these collections and in the local press, including: The Newcastle Journal; Tyne Mercury;The Newcastle Courantand  Newcastle Magazine. Many of Gilchrist’s songs, drawn from his 1824 Collection of Original Songs, Local and Sentimental, upon which a biographer noted his fame largely rested, were republished in local anthologies in his own lifetime and beyond. These included: Fordyce's 1842 Newcastle Song Book, Joseph Robson's 1849 Songs of the Bards of the Tyne, Thomas Allan's 1862 Tyneside Songs and Readings and Joseph Crawhall’s 1888 A Beuk O’Newcassel Sangs. 

Upon the death of his father, John Gilchrist, in 1829, Robert took over his father's business near the Custom House on the Quayside. He was not successful in the business preferring the country and long walking tours. Gilchrist resided in the old house facing Shieldfield Green, reputed to have housed King Charles during the English Civil War as a prisoner of the Parliamentarians. In 1838 he wrote a poem 'The humble petition of the old house in the Shield Field' to Town Clerk Mr John Clayton Esq. complaining of plans which threatened to destroy this house. The house was spared. A memorial plaque stands on Shieldfield Green to commemorate the famous inhabitants of the house, which eventally succumbed to redevelopment in the 1960s.
Gilchrist had some involvement in local politics and must have had a degree of status in Tyneside. He was a freeman, a member of the Herbage Committee, which tended Newcastle's Town Moors, and took part in the annual Barge Day event, a local custom in which the Mayor and barges representing the Town's Guilds sailed the length of the Town Corporation's boundaries on the Tyne. Following the Poor Law Reforms of 1834 and the creation of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Poor Law Union in September 1836, Gilchrist was elected to the Board of Guardians, representing the All Saints' Parish. This role would have meant him adjudicating between deserving and undeserving poor, deciding on the fate of unfortunate individuals and families as they entered the newly constructed Newcastle Workhouse. He was involved in an inquiry into the controversial death of the pauper Elizabeth Graham in 1838; an event which garnered national press coverage.

Robert died on 11 July 1844 at the Old House in Shieldfield, aged 47, and was buried at the East Ballast Hills burial ground. The cause of death is given as a stomach cancer. John Luke Clennell, the son of the engraver and poet Luke Clennell (1781-1840), paid tribute to his old friend in the poem below, dated 16 July 1844:

                            If honest, manly, unpretending worth
                            May justly claim from us a tribute dear,
                            And those who were respected whilst on earth,
                            Deserve a passing dirge sung o’er their bier,
                            Then may I write me ROBERT GILCHRIST here.
                            No vain and empty words are these to tell
                            A tale of sorrow in an idle rhyme;
                            I knew the simple-hearted fellow well,
                            And felt his kindness also many a time.
                            Thus it is fitting memory should dwell
                            In pensive sadness on a man who gave
                            Good cause for us to sorrow o’er his grave,
                            And that the Muse bear record with a sigh,
                            When now it is the poet’s lot to die. 

Dr Paul Gilchrist