Welcome to the Armstrong-Dixon Line where North East England based writer Keith Armstrong and artist Peter Dixon share their views on the world and all that surrounds it.
Expect rants, politics, poetry, history, photography and all sorts of........stuff.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.