Friday, 23 March 2018


Poems by Keith Armstrong



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
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
snot runs
licks cracked mouth

any old rags
any old rags

as raby street

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

on her last legs

creeps like a lizard over the face of byker
dragging behind it its retinue of planners
                                                builders and

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

Monday, 19 March 2018



(in honour of Adrian Mitchell)

Say this land is ours,
these pipe tunes do not cry.
The birds all sing in dialect,
old miners breathe like dukes.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Tell me it isn’t feudal,
that castles were built for us.
We never touch the forelock,
bend to scrape up dust.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your pretty girls don’t stink of slaughter,
your eyes don’t blur with myth.
You’re as equal as a duchess,
saints never smell of piss.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your roots are in this valley,
you were never from doon south.
You never hide your birthplace,
you’re a real poet of the north.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

The churches are not crumbling,
the congregations glow with hope.
We are different from the foreigner,
our poetry rhymes with wine.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

There is no landed gentry,
no homes locals can’t afford.
There’s no army on the moors,
the Romans freed us all.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

That the hurt is in the past,
the future holds no war.
Home rule is at our fingertips,
the Coquet swims with love.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

‘The Garden’ is our children’s,
Hotspur spurs us on.
The seagulls are not soaked in oil,
the cows are not diseased.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

This Kingdom is United,
‘Culture’ is our God.
Everyone’s a Basil Bunting freak,
there’s music everywhere.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We will have our independence,
we’ll get the Gospels back.
We live off museums and tourists,
we don’t need boats or trades.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We’re in charge of our own futures,
we have north east citizens here.
In this autonomous republic,
we’re free as dicky birds.

So shut your eyes.

And tell me lies

about Northumberland.


Mo Shevis: I think Adrian Mitchell would have been well and truly honoured by that one Keith! 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


In My Dreams”

(J. Brown)

This man who didn’t play the banjo,

This man didn’t play there and then,

This man through all eternity

Didn’t play the banjo again.

This man plays the ukulele

And such is his endeavour,

This man plays a ukulele

Forever and forever.

Dave Alton

Saturday, 10 March 2018

ALAN C. BROWN 1922-2014



Tchaikovsky-man, I found you on manoeuvres; or, well at least when I went off to War
In Air Force blue, against Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
You’d won my heart, the red heart of a teenager.
Your rich sound bursting in upon my soul,
Filling it with refreshment - hope’s last brave star.
That was like the discovery of some new planet;
I dialled into whenever I was alone,
Played your first record, or tuned into the camp radio.
For me HAMLET floated like mist across dimmed fields.
MANFRED and FRANCESCA filled my blue eyes with warm tears
Of love, and pain, unknown in earth and sky;
Until seldom cut off like some hard crooked knot,
Or stygian gloom, that nothing could unravel or remove;
I learned to love and touch, like a white stone,
Your breathing heart, to me a second home,
For you were music, poured into me like blood,
And set me marching out, bravely on dark hard roads.
Until we praised everything life gives us, or takes away.


The present is the funeral of the past,
And man the living sepulchre of life.”

Stood stiffly in one corner poor John Clare
Became a woman’s shoe – a stricken elm tree.
“I have no voice,” he said in a solemn tone,
“Stranger are you a screech-owl or a dead star?”

At a smooth polished table top he’d stare,
And glancing up suddenly say, “Alas, why?”
“I was a poet once you know. But I
Am now an elm with winter in my hair.

“A strong taste’s in my mouth of sour peaches,
Like Mary’s breasts, or was it some other bint’s?
A hyacinth is forking in my pants.
Young man are you a doctor? Where’s my pulse?
It’s funny what the night wind calls and teaches;
Don’t listen, what she says is always false!”


“Come here into the candlelight, 
I’m not afraid to look at the dead.”

You who walked into other peoples’ deaths,
As if that wasn’t an odd thing to do,
And even more write about it so well,
As if the passage to death and life were one.
And could be possessed again by new-minted words,
You constructed out of thin misty air,
Something undoubtedly saw as the poet’s task,
And his alone, to know such hard-edged secrets
And write of them as if you were a God,
Who saw everything eventually was good,
Although most of them took a long time indeed,
To cross over, in praise, from death to life,
For the Eternal owns still a thin gold key
That opens everything closed – helps us see souls.



To Christine Keeler

In twenty twelve you’re still alive, confessing your
Youthful sex experience wasn’t that great,
You seldom really enjoyed it; and what’s more
Affairs with men were now less frequent of late,

Since you are now aged 70, and far less
Addicted - as you were in the sixties to it.
What claims your love now? A cat and garden birds
Men are so shallow, you do not want to hit
On them; they either are big heads or nerds,

Now at your age you’re wiser, and don’t sink
Under the weight of sneers, scandals or stress,
Nor do you blush with shame, or even blink
At being called - a dumbbell, or honey-trap.
Nor can you be summed up as just – a gap.

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759 - 1797

Such things don’t grow often from thin-boned childhood,
Or infant gold, to fine womanhood, brave as
a solitary night–star in a full sky, silent and held
As in our arms, a welcoming wounded wonder;
The soft arms of caring love, something often
Evading you Mary, though always worthy of you,
As pain-born sorrow, accepted as new day,
One you autosensed, because you lived on earth,
One you remembered in heart and mind
More than a million others could have, because,
They once lived and died, as women among us,
Leaving behind them the thin perfume of your special
mystical, ghostly, mark of perfection, on all that
You touched, or tasted and were in your fine bones;
Women marked out to be all gold, but few who star
Our ordinary skies, then as now; even though imperfect
under a dark cloud, that shadows you strongly;
Even as an anti-saint by suffering made one and great;
Blessed by strange light and dark alternately
Textured by what it means to be new white love,
Love, even god cannot remove from such as you,
Try as he may, Mountain Top of our hopes,
And surely also His, in an intense way.
His, the crucified, with nailed hands, reaching out
For your wounded hands alone, even though
They are imperfect and not ivory innocent;
You, of the chosen few who speak for themselves.
And all of us whatever we are; loosen or hold.
Plain women or men, charcoal at heart, or gold;
Whispers or shadows, pearls and sea-shells.


I am now at the stage of shutting doors, against
Rainfall and nightmare; doors, left carelessly half ajar.
At the half-way stage of rusted wheels and wires,
Entanglement of sharp thorn-branches, closing off
Invisible roads, obscure signposts, of what
Once was, but cannot be born again now.

I bend down to pick up scattered dusty shards,
Tea-cups, torn papers, full ash trays left on a small
Table, and carpeted corridors, empty of unexpected
Visitors, who seldom knock, but enter now,
Or leave early if they do, without pebbled words
In their mouths, or acknowledgement in glazed eyes.

I am now at the time of carefully locking windows,
And doors at night, before mounting stairs,
To sleep, or else to lie with scratched open eyes,
Staring at dark walls, blank ceiling, or shut windows;
I am an insomniac, turning like dark waves,
The noise of waters, against a dark shore.

When at last, asleep, I recall – myself, alone
Outspread like water or a bent flower.
Where the sun takes off her shoes and walks
Among trees, splashing like wind or rain;
And the moon removes her clothes and sings
Like a nightingale, lost among green branches,

The moon’s body is made of mother of pearl.
She shines like a candle-lit human skull;
I want to embrace her naked as wind,
I want to embrace her as a sultry wind
In Spain does, among chill cherry trees,
Or distant hills of mist before ashen nightfall.


to Anais Nin 
When it began, with Joaquin perhaps,
The fugue and counterpoint of Paris life; 
Drunk on music, first and last - the child,
And yes the woman differently; the Persian 
Venus, a temple prostitute, baptised as such; 
Drowned, by the beauty in men, in women;
Incense, black slaves, cushions, lilies,
Fantasies, follies; ambience, openness; 
The sterile love of two ghosts; cold mirrors.

What else? Dark eyes. Red mouth. Noh mask, your self, 
Seeking a new image in others, impossible. 
With eyes the colour of water; open to miracles;.
Astarte, caged behind bars of gold, you go 
Already imprisoned by myth, masked. 

Tired, too tired to fight on, too tired to hope;. 
Music, flowers, at the last, these only, 
Bending pain into a harp of gold; 
Until over blue ocean a scatter of ashes fall; 
And come full circle; emptied, you’re full;
Naked as dawn - without the mask.

“What fortitude the soul contains.
That it can so endure.”
 Emily Dickinson
Though you resist I think you back earth-side: 
Amherst - soil-smell, breathing buzz if bee-sound;
Life-fever in your living veins – enough joy;
Absence – a presence, fractured light behind woods.
I grow in the heat of your shadow, comforted.
My bones stitched to Naked Voltage – yours;
White absence under my hands, earth-heat and home,
However late by owl-light I yet return,
As you did - Wayward Nun - to holy ground. 
Rooted in arid earth you’re still answering gold.
Groomed for death – no-where abandoned by God.
See how your words – small children – each one in turn
Held heavily in the crook of one bent arm,
Dazzle like liquid light, being re-born.
Did you taste death before them? No, you’re alive!
Un-menaced by the world; by whirling cinders 
Of love; you balance equally – heaven and earth
With inexhaustible tenderness, shouldering still 
The numinous - in everything - low or high.
Back of you fields of grain - vast as the sky. 
“For me love is always more significant more sacred than
The object that stirs it” Rosa Luxemburg

I enter you, dangerous sanctuary
Through the flash of your intense eyes.
Sister of Judith and Faust’s betrayed beloved,
You flare out from those enigmatic mirrors.
In every dark fibre of your voice
There’s no escape; I lose myself 
Afraid to scald your wounds 
With impotent broken-backed words.
Your malevolent assassination is
A window of farewells; a caravan
That goes off, leaving behind sour ground.
The thud of rifle butts, the lugers fatal bark!
The malice of mangy, jack-booted dogs.
Look! You wait for me even though
You died three years before I was born.
You are a bridge without a road, 
A night-star not yet named; 
Receding light, moving on yet 
 towards a vague, distant shore.
No you’ve not missed your time.
 It’s yet to come. I reach out my hand 
Testing the tracks - they’re inaccessible!
Look, through yourself you’ve gone!
Through your self the universe flows,
History slows and is stopped
By what you marked out as yours.
Anxious we ask, where now can 
Someone like you be found,
(Shrewd, erudite, passionate)
To seed unsown fallow ground?
Look! Full harvest brightens -
Serene, harmonious, abundant,
(Not the silliest of political programmes.)
Something alive earth-side you 
never knew. But posthumously saw.
Something textured in your veins:
A terracotta jug wedged in sand?
A portrait unframed behind cracked glass?
No. For you, to whom love was a faculty of seeing;
Freedom, always for the one who thinks differently;
Mens santa in corpore sano
(The wise keep up with the spirit of the times)
Revolutiona fanfare declaiming
Jch war, ich bin, ich werde sein!
(“I was, I am, I shall be again!)

Don’t fret because of you stature,
Small things can also bewitch us!
Look now the sky over you – is an epiphany!

Sir Alan!

Alan C. Brown was a founder of the Tyneside Poets and kept it going with his monthly poetry workshops in Newcastle upon Tyne. He was a true stalwart of the Tyneside poetry scene and deserved a medal for his amazing stamina and ongoing commitment to the encouragement of others. 
Here is a selection of his recent poetry:


Believe me –the greatest enjoyment of existence
is: to live dangerously

Friedrich Nietzsche 

Brittle glass? Not that. But inevitable shakedown
Came surprisingly on the gentler front 
Of his women; not many, but all fatal:
The Leipzig whore who gifted a student lapse
With slow, but predictable paralyses;
Lou Andreas, a repressed intellectual,
He nicknamed, ‘A Monkey with false breasts’
A Queen Bee who’d droned, de-winged his adversary
In courtship, Paul, with the same blank coin she’d dished
Out to all cocksure males that crossed her path;
Until later on absorbing Sigmund Freud,
Deflowering Rilke, she put herself in line
For something else: a continuous springing of Seed.
The third, an unexpected distanced hope at best,
Recipient of his last note, signed, Dionysus.
Elizabeth, his sister, sinister shattered glass,
Closed all accounts with lies- She was his last.

Brittle glass? No, rather a catatonic rock-crest
When Zarathustra burst in on his mind like magma;
And all was collusive, given the death of God,
Glistening icy cold unstable as water.
Mistaken? Driven?  Recall his dark saying,
“There was only one Christian – he died on a cross” 
Crossed out? Double-crossed? Going unarmed to women;
Had he who’d advised us all to use the whip
Done so himself, perhaps we’d snatch our souls back,
And become supermen, even should the bomb drop.


We must follow after God, never precede Him,
When he gives the signal we must leave all and follow him.
Francois de Salignac de la Mothe Fenelon

Kept in the dark, we gain all being stripped
Of everything. The surgeon would need no sharp knife
If the flesh were sound. If we were not gripped 
And wounded by our last enemy – the self.

Whatever we cling to too much must be snatched; 
Form us, before we can enter eternal life,
Our sufferings, only when they are matched
By cowardice are doubled, disabling relief.

Kept in the dark is gain, come leap into it,
As into the absurd, that makes no sense,  
That is a place where love and faith exist, 
That brings the grace of final recompense.

Kept to the Other’s Will, avoids disgrace,
And passions us to see God face to face.


Potted indoor plants on a smudged window sill,
A prospect into a Zen garden seen through glass
Such dumb things with their own quietness fill
Out the present moment, wood fences, sparse grass,
Together with a flat dull redbrick wall 
Have the same fluid mood flooded with grace,
If we allow them like a presence to fall 
Into our mind detached from time and space.

There is a green gift given of quietude,
Something we miss, rushing from place to place;
But something brief moments of solitude
Open to watchful eyes like a flower’s soft face,
A healing wholeness, waiting to enter us,
Locked in inert things, placid, at peace.


The winged chair, you sat in 
Unable to sleep at night - Remains. 
Glows beneath protective glass;
But now you are not there.

The rose-beads on a snapped chain,
The rusted crucifix discoloured by time, 
Are those you fingered once in prayer.

The frayed old books 
Their pages yellowish-brown with age, 
Survive out-spread, untouched, unread;
Closed off from your hands

But we are aware, of them, and 
Of what you were: 
Something taken up by God 
And laid aside, like a broom. 
And also of what you are 

Beyond these left things.
Glittering like a white star
Undimmed by time - Not frayed 
Or rusted, broken or unused 
Your prayer – takes wings!


I am waiting to find fine amber words
To float me in a row boats flaxen moonlight.
But they‘re too quick, and slippery to hold,
Nimble as pink sea urchins detected in 
Creviced wet sand, beneath a lifted stone.

I wait to lift up in two wet cupped hands,
Words, brittle and spent, as shrivelled leaves,
Agape and moist as specimens in glass jars,
Exact and limpid as a child’s rock-pool eyes,
Words, simple as open light, or printed sand. 

Those, no screwed down lid, or rippled water sheaths;
But these are those, not I, but others find.
Those that run sideways like quicksilver crabs,
Others restrain, and join with easy linkage, 
Like the knotted stems, of a child’s daisy chains.

Words round and clear, lacking raw empty spaces,
Others nail down, against a darkening landscape
That shine like moonlight lakes or stars;. I turn
Mine over gently, like indistinct coins,
Sunsets with bandaged eyes, throbbing with fever; 

But when I look once more they’re scarecrow thin.


We must love our own poverty, as Jesus loves it.

Thomas Merton 

Think your own thoughts, do your own thing – alas
Unlike the Desert within, where few survive,
Most of us chose the easy way, and pass
Into distractions - where Love cannot live. 

What to do then? Uprooted from ourselves 
How can we keep the spark within alive? 
Don’t compromise, be patient with yourselves;
Only by honest courage can you thrive

And grow aware of God in everything,  
And yes, content with what we have right now,
This alone can to our weak struggles bring
Us to a place, unlike the one we know,
One wholly other, ever emerald green, 
With nothing overhead - or in between.


“We have burned our bridges – more, 

we have burned the land behind us.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Beginning your metronomic rise to F├╝hrer, from grotesque zero,
We follow your staggered course with eyes half shut. 
What was it made such possible, smooth as butter?
That question still has no clear answer to us.
Maybe that’s why your shadow still haunts our steps;
There seems to be a flaw in this old fascination;
But we can’t yet put a probing finger on it.
Does it go deeper in us, than most can guess,
That we can’t shut the book, or shift acid debris,
Clotted with blood, from off our hands, our face?
The answers crumble in us, thick as laid dust.
Why’s that? To go back enlightened of mind 
Should give us strength to understand the black lust 
Within all of us, that is unbeaten, unhurt,
We don’t like to concentrate on that overmuch,
Like Rousseau we like to look on the bright side,
And think, we weren’t born tainted and weak,
And if evil exists, it isn’t our fault at least;
We wouldn’t accept a crooked, evil mystique 
What can we say in conclusion about our theme?
That seems to have an extended life, half blind:
Nietzsche would not have been fazed by such bald lies;
Spinoza, not by Hitler’s threadbare mind.