Saturday, 31 December 2016

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




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)

As ever, a lovely poem & one I can easily relate to. (Geoff Holland)









(from forthcoming book and film -
written for an exhibition at Bellingham Heritage Centre, June 2013)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

BURNS NIGHT EVENT

































BURNS NIGHT: A LITTLE CELEBRATION - WITH POEMS, JAZZ AND FOLK MUSIC!


FEATURING:

JAZZ POEMS:
Keith Armstrong and the Don Forbes Trio

FOLK MUSIC:
The Sawdust Jacks
Ann Sessoms (Pipes)

POETRY:
Dave Alton
Robert Lonsdale
Gordon Phillips
Katrina Porteous
Paul Summers
Trev Teasdel
Rob Walton
Dominic Windram



THE RED HOUSE, QUAYSIDE, NEWCASTLE WEDNESDAY 25TH JANUARY 2017 7.30PM 

ADMISSION FREE

FURTHER INFO: NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS TEL 0191 2529531

Monday, 19 December 2016

DREAMING OF JACK COMMON



 








































I dreamt I glimpsed Jack Common on a train.
He had his nose stuck in a book;
the Newcastle rain seeped from his eyes.
Jack looked sad
and I dreamt he sleepwalked across the station bridge
and staggered down The Side;
he’d had a drink,
and couldn’t believe
the things he saw.
He bowled along the corridors through Milburn House
and stalked the nightmare of his past;
all around him fell bulldozed history
and his suit shook with soot.
He sensed a shallowness in the air,
a city with its guts ripped out.
He blinked at the scale of the new Law Courts
and thought of battles the workers lost:
Sons of the Battleaxe,
bands of brass.

The Tyne slid by him
and his big heart
swelled with the agony of years;
a great history swilling in his veins
and the banks of the river cleansed
for millionaires.
We live in hope I would suppose
but how many games must we Geordies lose?
Jack looked down at his shredded roots
and felt his home city shudder with pain.
It was the ache of the starving in an age of plenty,
the shudder of a rudderless future:
the Johnny Riddle trickle of the lonely Ouseburn
running
down the drain.


 

Keith Armstrong

Sunday, 11 December 2016

ELVET BRIDGE

























 













(inspired by Guillaume Apollinaire)


Under Elvet Bridge the rain
flows with our loves.
Must I recall again?
Joy always used to follow after pain.

The days pass, the weeks pass
all in vain.
Neither time spent nor misspent
nor love comes back again.

Under Elvet Bridge the rain
flows with our loves.
Must I recall again?
Joy always used to follow after rain.




Keith Armstrong






Durham photos by Peter Dixon

Sunday, 27 November 2016

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.





KEITH ARMSTRONG


photos: Dr Keith Armstrong

Monday, 21 November 2016

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

Read your 'My father worked on ships' as one of my choices at our poetry reading group last week, it went down very well!! 

Mo Shevis

Hello! came across your website and really enjoyed above poem. I am now living in the United States having been transplanted from Wallsend, that would be in 1949. I have wonderful memories of my childhood in Wallsend and also High Farm and your poem really piqued my interest...my dear Dad worked for Swan Hunter for many years, he was a shipwright and I remember with great thrill and anticipation, seeing the ships that he helped build being launched. Thanks for the memories! Awa the lads!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

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

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

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






Monday, 24 October 2016

TOMMY ON THE BRIDGE




 

























TOMMY ON THE BRIDGE*

You were a miner’s son,
blinded
in the fertile seam they dragged you from
to beg out your time
on the backs of bridges
that joined others
but left you split,
splay-footed between rough stones
and the snapping tomes
of the Law of the Land
and the Water.

Your wore a casual cloth cap
that muffled your bruised head.
Your trousers sagging at your feet,
you filled that dingy trench coat of yours
reluctantly;
resigned to see life life through,
with only coins for eyes
and a bridging loan to buy
derelict clothes.

At Swing or High Level,
you found a market;
a centrepoint for the rich
to lighten their swollen burden
of conscience a trifle.
And you ‘bored’ yourself
with a dignity that rejected buttons
and accepted only the silver linings
of fat pockets,
bred on a Victorian plenty
and plenty of paupers like you.

You buried your stubbled face
in the crowds that swam the Tyne.
Years across now,
you finally supped
your last cracked gill
of darkness.

And they picked you
neatly from the swollen gutter;
linked your broken hands at rest
to bridge
an empty chest.


KEITH ARMSTRONG



* Thomas Ferens (1841-1907). Born blind and begged on Newcastle’s High Level & Swing Bridges

Saturday, 8 October 2016

FAT MAN LODGED ON DOG LEAP STAIRS







































He pounded the cobbles
of the Castle Garth,
bowling along
with his brain hanging over his neck
and his belly
looming over his huge pants.
His overeducated head
weighed a ton
and bore down
on an arse
fattened on homemade pies.
He was carrying a plan
for the working classes
but forgot his heart was too small,
dwarfed by his huge mouth
and an expensive ego.
He had a board meeting to go to,
the big fart,
and he sweated grants
as he blundered along
to the narrow alley.
He was far too broad of beam really
but he was late for everything,
including his funeral,
and thrust his plates of meat
onto the slippery steps.
History closed in on him,
the Black Gate,
the Keep,
as if to tell him
it wasn’t his,
as if to say
‘get out of my town’.
He squeezed himself onto this narrow stairway
and, like his poetry,
got stuck.
He couldn’t move
for his lack of lyricism.
The Fat Man
was firmly lodged
on Dog Leap Stairs
and the crows
began to gather
to swoop
and pick
the bloated power
from his face.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

Thursday, 29 September 2016

DOCTOR ARMSTRONG'S TUEBINGEN POETRY TOUR!











































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