Saturday, 7 September 2019

BYKER HILL
































Poems by Keith Armstrong




FIRST PUBLISHED BY INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT CO. LTD.  (NEWCASTLE) ARTS CLUB 1972


byker


antique mart of memory’s remnants

glad bag of fading rags


bedraggled old flag


blowing in the wind over newcastle




   



we stand on street corners shivering in the winter

like birds sheltering from the wind


we do not rattle loose change in our pockets

only the nuts and bolts of poverty


we are splinters

ill-shaven

our clothes droop on us

using our bones for hangers


we avoid mirrors and images of ourselves in shields road doorways

we do not look through windows


we draw curtains of beer across our eyes

we sleep/place bets


every week on dole day hunger prods us awake


it is instinct


it is a fear of never waking







yesterday’s records in a raby street window

yesterday’s news

revolving today


pictures of byker trapped in a camera

yesterday’s photos

developed today


yesterday’s headlines

today’s wrapping paper


yesterday’s wars are bloodless today







snot drips nose

wailing ragman drags a foot

and sniffs



any old rags

any old rags



hair like straw

homespun

snot runs

licks cracked mouth



any old rags

any old rags


as raby street

                declines

          into

water



any old rags

any old rags






watson’s toffee factory

wrapped in mist

melts in the watering mouth of the dawn

another byker child is born


another byker son assumes

the dusty jacket of a byker man






and this is the truth

the wind-ripped reality between the grave and the womb

the aimlessness

the weary broken people

shuffling through the measured lines of architects’ reports


the cripples

the dying streets

behind the brash and snatching shops

the coughing strays


this is all the small print

the drifting words

beneath the glossy covers


and this is mother byker now


a wasteland of schools

                                     churches         public houses

a frail old woman

her mouth and eyes bricked over

tilting


on her last legs






change

creeps like a lizard over the face of byker

dragging behind it its retinue of planners

                                                    wreckers

                                                    builders and

                                                    visionaries


tomorrow

you will wake from your years of sleeping

and find what you knew to be yours being hauled away

over byker bridge on the backs of lorries

your yesterday

in clouds of dust






byker folk are living still

byker folk on byker hill

fading flowers on a window sill

byker folk

                 hang

                          on




 

*As an industrial librarian at I.R.D., from 1968-72,  
Keith was christened 'Arts & Darts', organising 
an events programme in the firm incuding poetry 
readings, theatrical productions, and art exhibitions by 
his fellow workers, as well as launching Ostrich poetry
magazine using the firm's copying facilities and
arranging darts matches between departments!
He also organised a Byker Festival in 1972 whilst 
working at I.R.D..

Monday, 26 August 2019

HEXHAM RIOT 1761







































In 1761 a new Militia Act came into force. Strangely it managed to arouse strong negative feelings in both ordinary working people and the ruling class: the former because a ballot system of recruitment - essentially conscription - was resented; the latter as training the masses to use weapons was felt to be dangerous for the future, priming them for revolution.
On March 9th 1761 a large crowd gathered in Hexham Market Place to protest about the ballot system, some putting the numbers as high as 5000, though a few hundred is more likely. For several hours the leaders of the protest talked with the magistrates, remonstrating about the imposition. Those magistrates feared violence, and brought in a force of the North Yorks Militia as protection against a mob attack. Their presence, however, probably further enflamed tempers.
Eventually the magistrates lost patience, and the Riot Act was read. As the crowd turned uglier, the soldiers fixed bayonets. The mob, by now its fierier members armed with tools and staves, charged. Two soldiers were killed with guns grabbed from them or their comrades, then a volley or far more probably a series of volleys was fired into the rioters. When the smoke cleared at least 50 were dead, including the two soldiers. Another 300 or more were injured, some of them dying later of their wounds. Among the dead were two pregnant women.
A hunt went on over the next few weeks for anyone known to have participated in the riot, taking in not just Hexham but the settlements around it, the list of casualties showing people from Corbridge, Slayley, Stamfordham and Ryall among many others had been involved. Unsurprisingly the North Yorks Militia earned the sobriquet The Hexham Butchers after the event.





TUESDAY MARCH 10TH 1761


‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The ground was stained with blood and the cries of the wounded were pitiful. The following day it rained, washing away the traces.’


Wash away the day,
wash the pain away,
sweep the remains of yesterday
into the racing river.
Beat the Dead March,
bang the old drum,
heal Hexham’s bust bones
and cry me a river,
cry the Water of Tyne.
Wash away the day
and wash this pain away.


 

A PITMAN DEAD


With blood gushing out of his boot tops,
a well-dressed man
leaves town
along Priestpopple.
Thirteen men lie inside the Abbey,
not owned.
Numbers are found dead upon the roads.
Big with child, Sarah Carter shot,
the musket ball found in the child’s belly.
Thrice into a man’s body
lying at James Charlton’s shop door
it’s said they ran theIr bayonets;
and a pitman dead,
a weaver:
all those broken days of history,
all the slain hours in our diaries.
Sound the Abbey’s bells!
Let them toll the severed minutes.
Let them celebrate
the end of torture.
Let them gush
with rejoicing
for more peaceful times.



THERE’S A RIOT


These streets,
in this Heart of All England,
are swept clean of blood.
But the stains still soak our books.
Death upon death,
we turn the pages;
in between the lines,
we read about the screams,
time’s bullets
tearing flesh away.
There is terror lurking in this Market Place,
just scrape away the skin
and, deep down,
there’s a Riot:
a commotion boiling
a terrible turbulence,
a throbbing pain.
It is a Riot of gore,
a torrential downpour
of weeping:
a seeping sore
that is Hexham’s History.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

Thursday, 8 August 2019

LIMERICK DAYS - ARMSTRONG AND DIXON WILL BE BACK THERE ON OCTOBER 3RD!












SHANNON

(dedicated to Richard St. John Harris and the roaring boys of Charlie St. George’s bar)


My heart is bursting its banks
with the songs of the Shannon.
My girl friend wells up with the beauty of daybreak,
her breasts swell with the glory of sunshine,
her eyes are glowing with wisdom.
Swim with me to the Atlantic surge,
we can watch the mighty birds take flight,
we can feel the urge of history in our bones
and ride on the aching backs of workers.
Shannon, you are our breath aglow
with the salmon of knowledge.
You are the spray in our faces,
full of bubbles of inspiration
welling up in our surging veins.
Wise one,
lift me up in your flow,
leave me in awe of your wonder.
Let me sparkle with the birth of new ideas,
reach out for the touch of a sensational moon,
dance in a festival of stars
and drown in the arms of a glorious goddess.

"There will be another song for me
for I will sing it.
There will be another dream for me,
someone will bring it.
I will drink the wine while it is warm
and never let you catch me looking at the sun
and after all the loves of my life,
after all the loves of my life,
you will still be the one.
I will take my life into my hands and I will use it,
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it.
I will have the things that I desire
and my passion flow like rivers through the sky
and after all the loves of my life,
after all the loves of my life,
I will be thinking of you
and wondering why."



(last 2 verses are from 'Macarthur Park' as sung by RIchard Harris who was born in Limerick)





ROOKS AT BUNRATTY CASTLE



We’re Macnamara’s crows,
rooting for sticks and twigs in Limerick days.
We peck the flesh from Lord Gort’s arse,
from the hangers-on to his rich pickings.
We sweep our turbulent wings across the Shannon,
swimming in the Atlantic winds,
flailing over the airport.
We’re building our own
branches of castles,
screaming rebel rants at you below.
Us rooks
have seen the Vikings and the Stoddarts
rave and die.
We are a black brood
swarming though history,
watching you feckless humans
scrap over misery.
See how our wings beat
with the moment’s surf.
How dark our hearts grow
with suffering.


LIMERICK DAYS
(for Barney)


The greyhounds lash along the track,
as fists bash on the windows of Limerick Gaol.
I am staggering in the darkness of White Wine Lane,
and my path lies lost in the rain.
Let the horses run wildly out of control,
like my brain on too much whiskey and gin.
Let them throw my heart off the broad Shannon Bridge,
I have to die somewhere and this night will do.
I shout my poems out to the odd few who’ll listen,
be it Wolfe Tone or O’Dwyer or Davitt or Griffin.
I am lying dead drunk in the People’s Park,
I am knocked out with girls on poor Punch’s Row.
O Limerick Days you are haunting my soul,
my songs cry out for your old Summer Street.
Make love when I pour you a glass of my verse,
with hope may it set your ancient soul free.


CHE GUEVARA IN HANRATTY’S HOTEL



All the beer mats turned red in Limerick
the night that rebel Doctor Che Lynch took a wander
along Glentworth Street,
pouring
the jingling city
down his throat
on this island of his ancestors.
With a beard
as dark as the comforting Guinness,
he slaked his ruggerman’s thirst,
his well-shaken mix of Irish and Galician roots,
by the night-soaked Shannon.
Thirty months later, he was dead in Bolivia;
smashed bones,
splintered beads
of a revolutionary’s sweat
rolling down the guttter.
Now, I am sending this green poem
to your own heaven, old Che;
for your spirited lapel,
a singing sprig of shamrock
to light up the culture shock
of your long wild hair.
You chanced it in Hanratty’s ‘Gluepot’ bar,
you plunged from the leaden sky
to chat up all this local talent
in the eloquent lilt of a roaring evening.
Mighty ‘Red Bird’,
icon at the bar,
no better or worse
than the barman
who served you
a pint or two of Irish love,
to make your heart
grow even bigger;
to set you up
for your flight
from Limerick,
‘three sheets to the wind’,
rocking across the mighty expanse
of the rolling drunk Atlantic to Havana,
to a certain
martyr’s death.
And, amid the glorious beauty
of trees,
in the murderous jungle
of brutal dreams,
we soaks
will remember you
and celebrate the night
you fell in with us.





(Che Guevara visited Limerick fleetingly whilst his plane was delayed at Shannon Airport)


POEM FOR A LOCAL HISTORIAN
(in memory of Jim Kemmy 1936 -1997)


‘Old people mumbling
low in the night of change and of ageing
when they think you asleep and not listening -
and we wide awake in the dark,
as when we were children.’
(Desmond O’Grady)
'It was poignant,
when walking away from the graveyard
that very warm midday,
that the only sound which could be heard
after he was buried
was that of a member of his trade, a stonemason,
simply chipping away
at a monument.'
(Mary Jackman)

In this city, in every town, in every village,
there is this man
dusty with archives
and old snapshots;
this deep fellow
who digs out truths from scraps,
who drinks from a bowl of swirling voices
and makes sense of things,
makes sense
when all else
lies in chaos.
In his dreams,
wars are not dead.
They scream
from his books.
He will not let
the suffering go -
he owes the children that.
There is something noble
in his calling,
in his bearing.
His work is beautiful.
In this particular place,
you can call him 'Jim'.
You can see his face forever
in the autumn leaves,
the leaves of books,
and the dance of history,
a local historian
and carver of tales
so memorable
that every street must value his love:
the love of our people though the ages,
the love of learning,
the search for dignity
that underpins these lanes.
In Limerick,
Jim's imagination still blossoms
and keeps us rooted
in the drift of memory.
He teaches us lessons.
Listen to his spirit breathe
deep as the Shannon.
His voice forever flies
with the power of knowledge.
'Beautiful dreamer wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for Thee.'



KEITH ARMSTRONG



(Jim Kemmy was a well known Limerick politician and local historian)