Monday, 22 April 2019

THE SHADOWS









































THE SHADOWS
 

(for Michael Stephenson, in honour of his father Jim, 1945-2019)

 

We emerge from the shadows
from the womb of our home town
and end up back there
scarred
and weary of life itself
with a globe of the world
in our hardened hands.
Those things we leave behind us
are remnants of a little joy,
a painful love
scattered over the skin of our children,
petals of fuchsias washed away,
drifting
with the Wear
into the wild sea
rocking
with songs
of the lost
and the broken.
The loving themes of our youth though
carry on
in the sunshine
drenching the Stadium of Light
with hope
amongst so much clinging darkness.
Jim, I will look for your smile
in these shadows
and will never forget
your echoing laughter
and the scent of steam trains
that made me
what I am:
a grown up man with a guitar,
strumming in your image,
forever
in the heart
of this place called Sunderland.



 

KEITH ARMSTRONG

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

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

Saturday, 6 April 2019

TUEBINGEN/DURHAM LITERARY/ARTS TWINNING

 
TUEBINGEN/DURHAM LITERARY/ARTS TWINNING

The partnership with County Durham and the City of Tuebingen in South Germany was established in 1969.
Poet Doctor Keith Armstrong, who gained his doctorate at the University on Durham in 2007, following on from Bachelor's and Master's degrees there, first visited Tuebingen in November 1987, with the support of the County Council and the Kulturamt in Tuebingen, to give readings and talks for a period of a month. Since then he has travelled to the city over 30 times and helped arrange for Durham and North East poets, musicians and artists and their counterparts in Tuebingen to visit their respective cultural twins.

TO HELP CELEBRATE THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE OFFICIAL TWINNING, KEITH WILL RETURN TO TUEBINGEN FROM JULY 3RD TO 7TH 2019 AT THE INVITATION OF THE CULTURAL OFFICE IN TUEBINGEN WHEN HE WILL APPEAR AT THIS YEAR’S BOOK FESTIVAL TO READ FROM HIS LATEST TUEBINGEN POETRY AND FROM THE TUEBINGEN/DURHAM LITERARY ANTHOLOGY ‘WORD SHARING’ (WITH GERMAN TRANSLATIONS RENDERED BY CAROLYN MURPHEY MELCHERS).
HE WILL TRAVEL WITH NORTHUMBRIAN PIPER CHRIS ORMSTON AND WILL BE JOINED BY TUEBINGEN PERFORMERS AND FRIENDS FOR THE OCCASION.


From poet Tom Hubbard: Well done Keith! You've achieved a lot there and back at base. Keep me posted with your work and travels!
Aye

Tom.
 

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

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

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

ELIZABETH, FOR YOU IN AMSTERDAM





 


























That spare room of yours,
telephone between us on the floor.
You, mock gun poised to frighten off
junkies who might steal
your bicycle.

World turning,
night falling
all around us.

Your long red hair,
wide free eyes
taking me in
and the cat you’d just taken in
purring
as the phone rang again to say
that ‘Yes, Sadat was dead.’

Semed that a moment of history
got trapped between us.

You, a journalist,
had to record it quickly.

Me,
I just flew back to England in the lightning
as someone else’s plane
crashed over Holland.

Forgive me breathing in your ear,
I just had to telephone to say
that some way I’d come back maybe

meet you for another drink
of Amsterdam
and Amsterdam rain.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

FOR MY MOTHER AND FATHER



























 




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3DffKLEGZA&t=39s

SING A SONG FOR HENSHAW

(FOR YOU MY MOTHER EVA)


Illuminate this slumbering old village for my mother, 
let her country fields glow with a fine light that’s warm.
This radiant song is for Henshaw
to be shared by the birds in the sun.

We scattered her ashes down a lane here,
we took her back home where her dreams could rest in the soil.
We returned her to her happy childhood
and the laughter where she was born.  

She gave all the love in her heart to me,
there was nothing she wouldn’t do for this boy.
She’s gone back to her roots by the river
to join up with my fine father again.

Let those ashes of bones float on this breeze
and glint in the open Northumbrian skies. 
She’s resting now in the joys of spring,
resting in my heart as well full of the breath from her soul.

I relish the days you gave me your all for mother,
I thank you for the darling touch of the dew.
Even in my darkest and scatterbrained times, 
I grew in the glow of your tunes.

I carry your picture all over this world,
show it to accountants in airports and singers in the rain.
I won’t allow myself to forget your lovely tenderness,
community lessons learned from you, your devoted and neighbourly ways.

Your bonny canny lad will be kind for you
and scatter the blue coloured petals of love.
Along every new street I visit,
I’ll always be dancing for you.

This son will revere your oath of caring,
your compassionate concern for the beggar next door.
I’ll go back along the walls you skipped over
to rejoice in your marvellous and wonderful smile.
 

So I have carved out this poem for you and your Henshaw,
it reflects the beautiful flowers in your eyes.
I am breathing a fresh lyric on a Tyneside day,
singing my deepest feelings for Eva and the delicate blossoms she grew. 




KEITH ARMSTRONG

 

Henshaw is a village on the South Tyne in Northumberland where Keith Armstrong's mother Eva spent her childhood. 


Rob Walton    Love this one, Keith. Great stuff.

Mo Shevis    What a beautiful tribute Keith. Lovely place too.

Toon van den Boogaard    Beautiful poem, Keith.
Must have been a remarkebly nice lady, to recieve these kind words of love and gratitude.

Nick Pemberton     Extra special one there :-) x

Catherine Graham    A beautiful tribute, a beautiful poem filled with love for your beloved Mother. x

Brian Ings    So much love, so much poetry, Keith. Thank you for sharing.






THE BIRD WOMAN OF WHITLEY BAY

(FOR MY MOTHER)


She is out feeding the birds,
on the dot again,
in the drizzle of a seaside morning;
the seed
cast fom her hand
to the jerking beak of a cock pheasant.

She is alone
in a flock of dark starlings,
scattering crumbs to make them shriek.

She is a friend of spuggies,
gives blackbirds water.

Her eyes fly across the garden
to catch a quick robin,
to spot a wee wren,
to chase a bold magpie.

She is innocence,
she is a lovely old lady;
still giving,
still nursing.

She deserves heaven,
she deserves a beautiful nest
to dream out her last hours
in bird song;
in the rich colours of music,
in the red feathers of sunset,
she is my mother,
she is a rare bird
who fed me beautiful dreams.

Thank you for letting me climb
with the skylarks.

Thank you
for the strength of wings.


 

KEITH ARMSTRONG

Thank you very  much for this poem. Ever since I have heard you reading it out at “Poems, Prose, Pints” it has been on my mind – it’s written in such a gentle and honest voice. The poem may be dedicated to your mum, but, as you said in the pub, it’s something you could say about all mums. I certainly feel reminded of my own mother, who died not so long ago, when I read the poem.
Love
Brigitte



Hi Keith

Thanks for this beautiful poem.

Tim G

Dear Keith ! Thank you very much. You read this poem when you were here in Groningen. It moves me each time I read or hear it. Nice talking to you on the phone yesterday. All the best, yours, Henk

Thanks Keith - you moved me.

All best
Chrissie

The Bird Woman of Whitley is a lovely poem, Keith.  Beautiful tribute.

Trish.

You amazing poet YOU
- thank you for that that poem - it deserves a very good moment, but I will translate it.
Uwe

Lovely poem!
Keep sending them!

Julie

Good poem, Keith
Cheers
SallyE

Thank you, Keith, thank you –
 For bringing a fulsome tear to my eye with the sad and beautifully-crafted The Bird Woman of Whitley. How amazingly coincidental and serendipitous that you should have numbered me amongst those privileged to receive it because, just this afternoon, I have put in the post to you my Christmas book (in Irish) An Nollaig sa Naigín (Christmas in the Noggin [my homeplace]), which has in it the story Céad Sneachta na Nollag (First Christmas Snow), which features my own mother feeding two birds, they being the Robin and the Wren!!!!
Bravo, my friend, and thank you for giving me the delight of reading so beautiful a poem.



Thats a nice poem Keith. Is that lady really your mum?


Mick

Thanks for sending me this beautiful poem. It really moved me. I have a special Mother too, she hasn't a selfish thought in her body.

Cheers
Catherine Graham

Hi Keith loved the poem

Mike


Thanks for your beautiful poem Keith. I must write something special to my mum.


Paul


Love the poem and it certainly struck a chord at 'On the Nail'.

Dominic


Thanks for that Keith. She sounds like a beautiful lady - feet on the ground, connected to the earth - heart in the right place. The kind of woman I would love to have known - they can teach us real values.

I wish I had your poetic eloquence. All I could manage when my mother passed away at a similar age to yours was the attached sketch of her life and the affection we had for her, which I read out at the requiem mass.We miss her greatly, but feel her presence all the time. I know she would have loved your mother - they would have got on well together.

Regards,

Gerry.

I want to add . I love this poem. Klaas Drenth, Groningen


What a wonderful poem! If one could write such a poem on mankind, we would be in paradise. Gerd Oberlin (Tuebingen)


Shivvy Coogan And you in turn share your beautiful dreams and poetry with all of us .......


Henk B. Muda One of my favourites !

Donal Thurlow First heard it when you read it in Limerick several years ago... loved it then and have read it many times since.... always brings me to memories of Mum.



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)
 



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
 

Mo Shevis         Bought 'Imagined Corners' recently and was pleased to see this poem there, having read it previously online. When I read it last week at my poetry reading group it was very well received.! It is a powerful piece Keith. We are all of an age to remember the old industries,proud of our heritage and those who worked in them. Thankfully we have people like you to record such images and memories for posterity.
 

Derek Young          What a poem. So evocative of those days. I worked at Parsons Marine Turbine Company as an apprentice marine engineer. My girl friend was a trainee tracer at Swan Hunters.

Michael McNally       Hi Keith, Thank you for sending this wonderful piece of work in my direction.

 

JANIS BLOWER

Thursday 26 June 2014

HAVE YOUR SAY
 

IT’S gratifying to see that on-line readers have taken an interest in one or two topics recently.
One was that smashing poem, My Father Worked on Ships, by Keith Armstrong, in which correspondent, Geordiman, reckons he recognised himself in its depiction of an old shipyard hand.



Friday, 8 February 2019

OLD STATIONS































(for Kathleen Sisterson)






There’s an old station


I keep dreaming of


where I wandered


as a child;


flower baskets


seep with longing


and engines


pant with steam.


It might have been


at Chollerton,


in a summer’s field,


when I realised


how good 


life could be,


in the sunshine


of my songs;


or it might have been


at Falstone


where the roses


smelt of smoke


and I felt


the breath of railwaymen


wafting in my hair.


This little boy,


with his North Tyne lilt


and the dialect


of ancients,


ran up the platform


of his life


and chased


the racing clouds.


It was a first taste


of Kielder Forest


and the light


that skimmed the hills


and the engine


rattled through the day


to drive me 


to my roots:


to Deadwater


and Saughtree,


the hours flew


for miles


and the railway


ran into my veins


and sparked 


history in my soul.


In this album


of a fragile world,


I’d like to leave 


these lines 


for you to find


in Bellingham


or Wark,


a tune to play


in Reedsmouth


in Woodburn 


or in Wall.


Along this route, 


I hope you'll find


a glimpse of me in youth;


the smiling child,


inside the man,


who took the train


by chance


and found his way 


with words


and leaves


to Thorneyburn 


and Riccarton,


along the tracks


of dreams.











KEITH ARMSTRONG



Lovely poem & so evocative of an area which has changed much since you were a ‘reivers’ lad on your journey through the North Tyne Valley. (Geoff Holland)





Beautiful and evocative. (Conrad Atkinson)



Thanks for your wonderful poem 'Old Stations'. It's a truly moving piece of work, tapping childhood nostalgia but in away that seems naturally to a young imagination being born of the lore and physicality of the trains and railway stations. (Noel Duffy)



Really liked that one, so descriptive, I could see it all in my mind’s eye! (Marie Little)





Wonderfully evocative, Keith. (Sid Smith)



Like it! (Pete Thompson)





It's great Keith! (Peter Common)

Monday, 21 January 2019

FOR 'CUNY' - JOHN CUNNINGHAM PASTORAL POET 1729-1773












FOR CUNY



‘Search where Ambition rag'd, with rigour steel'd;
Where Slaughter, like the rapid lightning, ran;
And say, while mem'ry weeps the blood-stain'd field,
Where lies the chief, and where the common man?’

(John Cunningham)

‘Unto thy dust, sweet Bard! adieu!
Thy hallow'd shrine I slowly leave;
Yet oft, at eve, shall Mem'ry view
The sun-beam ling'ring on thy grave.’

(David Carey)

This week an elegant tombstone, executed by Mr. Drummond of this town, was set up in St. John's church-yard to the memory of the late ingenious Mr. John Cunningham. The following is the inscription thereon:

‘Here lie the Remains of JOHN CUNNINGHAM.
Of his Excellence as a Pastoral Poet,
His Works will remain a Monument
For Ages
After this temporary Tribute of Esteem
Is in Dust forgotten.
He died in Newcastle, Sept 18, 1773,
Aged 44.’

The ritual slaughter
of traffic,
hurling itself
against the furious economy,
the commerce of suffering,
the pain of money,
nudges your bones
in this graveyard of hollow words.
I hear you liked a jar
well, here’s me 
sprinkling
your precious monument 
with a little local wine,
lubricating the flowers
that burst from your pastoral verses.

You toured the boards like me,
torn like me,

with your heart,
terrific heart,
pouring real blood on your travelling sleeve.
Oh, my God!
your lips trembled
with a delicate love
for the fleeting joy,
the melancholic haze,
the love in a mist,
that Tom Bewick sketched in you
amd Mrs Slack fed
as you passed along 
this way and that
despair in your eyes.
The fact was
you were not born
for the rat race
of letters,
the ducking and fawning
for tasteless prizes,
the empty bloated rivalry,
the thrust of their bearded egos.
You wanted wonder,
the precise touch
of the sun on your grave,
the delicious kiss
that never comes back.
I’m with you, ‘Cuny’
in this Newcastle Company of Comedians;
I’m in your clouds of drunken ways;
I twitch with you
in my poetic nervousness
along Westgate Road.
And the girls left their petals for you
like I hope they do for me
in the light of the silver moon,
thinking of your pen 
scratching stars into the dark sky.


KEITH ARMSTRONG


'In another part of the field, another field, let's
face it, sits Keith Armstrong's rakish gaff. (His)
poems are rooted in the Tyneside music hall tradition,
closely behind which was the august balladry of the
Borders. His is an unashamed bardic stance, actor
rather than commentator. His politics are personal.
Throughout the collection the authentic lyrical note
of this northern poet is struck.'  (Michael Standen,
Other Poetry).