Tuesday, 8 January 2019

DOCTOR ARMSTRONG'S TUEBINGEN POETRY TOUR!


http://keithyboyarmstrong.blogspot.com/2019/01/doctor-armstrongs-tuebingen-poetry-tour.html







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withdrawn you are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

Monday, 17 December 2018

A HAPPY XMAS FROM WHITLEY BAY




WHITLEY BAY POEMS BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG




























 



photos by 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



THE YEAR OF THE OX




TALE-PIECES
THE BLOG OF THE BEWICK SOCIETY
SUNDAY, 29 MARCH 2009

THE YEAR OF THE OX
The Whitley Great Ox Festival – Saturday 28 March 2009.
In memory of the 18th century Quadruped immortalised by Bewick in his copperplate engraving of The Whitley Large Ox.

The original Ox engraving was produced for the owner Mr Edward Hall and published on the 10 April 1789. The Ox became a beast of folklore in the 1780s due to its immense size, growing to a height of over 5ft 9ins and weighing a massive 216 stones. It was said to have grazed near the site of the aptly named Fat Ox pub in Whitley Bay before it was walked all the way to Newcastle to be slaughtered.

Keith Armstrong has penned these lines:






THE YEAR OF THE OX

It was 1789 the Year of the Great Ox,
the year the beast got loose in Paris,
when Whitley Bay was sleeping.
The year of the storming,
when John Martin was born in Haydon Bridge,
his heart breaking with painting visions;
the year of the slaying
of old regimes
when royalty hung in the slaughterhouse.
The Ox walked seven days,
like a doomed aristocrat
to have its tallow used to light the night,
to show the way
for the Rights of Man,
to sacrifice its beastly life
to keep a candle burning
and give us hope
and faith and charity,
a glint from God
and a gleam in Thomas Bewick’s eye
as he engraved the swollen moment
for all to see.


KEITH ARMSTRONG


THROUGH THE EYES OF A GREAT OX

Exhausted,
what could you see?
The mob grabbing your life,
and Tom Horsley’s butcher’s axe
hanging over your great spirit
as you valiently strode
the mucky road,
along the throbbing seashore,
through the pestilence of Tyneside,
its filth and flames,
its poisoned air and quack’s potions,
its Geordie beauty and debauch.

Edward Hall thought he owned you.
After a few beers, he thought the very universe was his.
But you, my sturdy fellow, were your own Ox
and could see the folly
of the swinish multitude
as it came to get you
to rip out your guts
and feed the Duke and Duchess,
and all their grasping subjects,
to satiate their appalling vanity.

You had more dignity than them.
You gave up your animal life
for others.
While Eddie Hall he died in pomp,
you, my massive beauty, were unselfish,
a Great Beast
full of love,
the very meat
of life itself
in all its morning glory,
in all its starry wonder;
the wide and beautiful sky
through the miraculous eyes of an Ox.


KEITH ARMSTRONG



THE CONSTITUTION OF AN OX

It had the Constitution of an Ox:
Girth at the belly 10 feet 9 inches
Girth at the loins 10 feet 4 inches
Girth at the shoulders 10 feet 3 inches
Girth behind the shoulders 9 feet 9 inches
Breadth at the hips 3 feet
Breadth at the shoulders 2 feet 6 inches
Height at the fore-crop 5 feet 9 iches
Height at the loins 5 feet 11 inches
Height from the ground to the breast 1 feet 6 inches
Weight 216 stones 8lbs.

That was the Constitution of the Ox.
The track record, shape, volume, build, realm, history, cut and nub of it, the scale of things, the order of the Ox, the full measure of the beast drawn by Thomas Bewick for all of us in awe of it, in a world that never ceases, to astonish.



KEITH ARMSTRONG




IN THE FIRE STATION




photo by keith armstrong


 



























The screen
in the corner
flashes celebrity images
above the hunched heads
of craggy regulars.
Subtitles punctuate
the horror of Syria,
shallowness of Beckham’s mouth
gabbing
like a demented fish
over supping plebs.
Their talk is of aches and pains
and scraping through,
their question time has no answers,
only weary
resignations.
The TV mocks
the ordinary
struggles
to bring up soft babies
with tough futures.
The thing
is forced upon us,
dumped upon us,
scoffing
at the weak
on cheap beer.
It says:

THERESA MAY IS IN INDIA.
Well, we are drinking in Whitley Bay
and SHE,
she can piss off.
In the Fire Station,
we have thirsts to slake,
bets to be placed
on whether we’ll make it
through to another tomorrow
just the same
and just as unjust.

 


KEITH ARMSTRONG


 

FIRE IN WHITLEY BAY

















 



























Rooted,
in our own coldness,
we study
the burning,
from the other side
of pain.
We are in awe
of it,
the fire,
lashing its crazy head
against the sky;
a comforting kind
of fear
it is:
the warmth of flames,
of passions
that cannot burn us.
Here, across the road
from the sting of suffering,
we cling to the pavement
and look
into the deep horrors of a scream:
an insight
of the heart’s volcano,
viewed from the narrow edge of life
by our own 
melting
eyes.



Keith Armstrong

Sunday, 9 December 2018

SEASONAL GREETINGS!




SEASONAL GREETINGS

FROM ARMSTRONG & DIXON!



MARSDEN ROCK


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

Sunday, 2 December 2018

LOCKERBIE























‘Futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.’


(Patricia Coyle)




In Lockerbie,
the sky is red
and the clouds are banked like grieving hills.
In this curled up sleeping town,
humble in its sandstone walls,
you can hear
the hooves of history
clipping the soaking streets
and the high heeled girls
clattering on a Saturday night
with the cutting wind
ripping up their thin skirts
as they bleed into town,
past the sheep feeding on the ancient land
by Rosebank Crescent
where ‘The Maid of the Seas’,
Pan Am 103,
exploded on a sunk estate.


And life throws strangers together,
throws a suitcase of junk together.
And all our memories are ashes,
all our fantasies smoke.
And no one but the simple bending vicar knows
why The News dropped through our roof that night,
crashed onto our TVs that night.
Only the God in the angry sky has a glimmer,
only the groaning tombstones of Lockerbie have an idea,
the silent sandstone
and the biting rain;
only the old Scots lady knitting
for the refugees,
ducking her head under a leaden sky
for fear
the future lands on her.
And, in a field not far away,
someone’s diary lies rotting;
a love letter
scattered in the wind;
the wind
that won’t leave Lockerbie
alone:
the red dust on a broken past;
this town’s historic wound
aching on the map.











KEITH ARMSTRONG









Your poem 'Lockerbie' was published by the Scottish Review and it impressed me so much (I was a journalist at the time of the Lockerbie incident) that I introduced my Higher English students to it. They too found it very powerful. I would now like to incorporate it into the course work material I am working on but need your permission to do that.




I look forward to hearing from you - and having looked at other work on your website, can I say how much I admire your style.



Best wishes



Marian

Thursday, 22 November 2018

OUR SPITTAL - POEMS: KEITH ARMSTRONG PHOTOS: TONY WHITTLE






































































































































































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,
hospitalised gossips,
words drifting out of ward windows
on a dripping wet afternoon.
Church reduced to a hung silence,
closed hearts
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 them,
bless young hearts.
Splash in Bishop’s Water,
in fishing places,
songs of herring and of salmon.
Spittal Rovers
sing again.
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,
you lurched,
carving a living
from rich streams
of whisky.
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 Spittal,
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
in daffodils.


GIRL IN A SPITTAL WINDOW


Glancing moment,
chance look.

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 
away.



KEITH ARMSTRONG












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)