TYNESIDE POETS!

TYNESIDE POETS!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

TELL ME LIES ABOUT NORTHUMBERLAND


TELL ME LIES ABOUT NORTHUMBERLAND
(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.




KEITH ARMSTRONG
 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

AUTUMNAL SONNET - NEW FROM DAVE ALTON


Autumnal Sonnet

Unbidden autumn strews dunned-down gardens
With tree-shed tatters of summer passing,
Grey-boned boughs, by this rough undressing,
Are shrouded in mantles of mist again.
Children, armed with throwing sticks, set to then
To conquer horse chestnuts, wrest the blessing
Of their bristled fruit, and by amassing
Wins prove the hardness of the seed within.
Fallen apples perish beneath dense skies,
Wind snatched from blustered branches, while dankness
Saturates the chilled air. Encroaching night
Dulls this fading view in age wearied eyes
Looking out with quiet, resigned distress
At such incremental loss of the light.

Dave Alton

Monday, 9 October 2017

THE GOLDEN ROOM BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG












 



















THE GOLDEN ROOM

‘Was it for nothing that the little room,
All golden in the lamplight, thrilled with golden
Laughter from hearts of friends that summer night?’ (Wilfrid Gibson)


I’m as happy as a daffodil
this day;
sunshine flows around me
over fences,
leaping
with the joy of my poetry.

I am Lord Pretty Field,
a tipsy aristocrat of verse,
become full of myself
and country booze
in the Beauchamp Arms.

Under branches frothy with blossom,
I carry a torch from Northumberland
for Wilfrid Gibson
and his old mates;
for Geraldine
I bear
my Cheviot heart
in Gloucester ciderlight.

We can only catch
a petal from the slaughter,
a bloom
to ease the melancholy
of a Dymock dusk;
hear laughter
over the gloomy murmurs
of distant wars.

A swirling rook cries out
across St Mary’s spire
in dialect
as I climb
back to my White House room
to dream of an England gone,
and a flash of whisky
with Abercrombie.

For Wilfrid you are still
‘a singing star’,
drenched in balladry;
and this I know:
I will keep your little songs alive
in this Golden Room in my heart
and, in my Hexham’s market place,
rant for you
and cover
all our love
with streaming daffodils.


KEITH ARMSTRONG





HEXHAM’S ‘PEOPLE’S POET’: Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962)

‘Heather land and bent-land,
Black land and white,
God bring me to Northumberland,
The land of my delight.

Land of singing waters,
And winds from off the sea,
God bring me to Northumberland,
The land where I would be.

Heather land and bent-land,
And valleys rich with corn,
God bring me to Northumberland,
The land where I was born.’


Wilfrid Gibson, author of poems like ‘Flannan Isle’, ‘The Ice Cart’, and ‘The Drover’s Road’, was born in Battle Hill Terrace, Hexham, on October 2nd 1878, the son of a Fore Street chemist. He grew up under the guidance of an elder sister who was responsible for much of his education.
Not much is known about his early years except for a distinct gift for language and a desire to be a poet.
His first book of poetry was published at the age of 24 and entitled ‘The Golden Helm’. Similarly romantic was his next book, ‘Urlyn the Harper’, published two years later. This was followed, in 1907, by ‘Stonefields’ which depicted the strength and atmosphere of Northumberland and the Borders, and then ‘Daily Bread’, issued in 1910, which went into a third printing, partly because of its down-to-earth style proving that there was a market for poems on everyday life which people could relate to. Gibson had ceased writing pseudo-Tennysonian verse and had begun to write realistic poetry in which he attempted to reflect the speech of ordinary people, based on events stemming from everyday life in Northumberland and eleswhere.
In the summer of 1912, Gibson left Hexham for London to broaden his literary horizons and never returned to his native town, except for very occasional visits. He moved to Dymock in Gloucestershire in 1914 to join a group of poets and his new bride went with him, Geraldine Townshend (secretary of poet Harold Munro of the Poetry Bookshop in London), who he had married in Dublin in December 1913. One of the Dymock Poets, the American Robert Frost, said of Gibson that ‘he is much talked of in America at the present time. He’s just one of the plain folks with none of the marks of the literary poseur about him’. The poet Rupert Brooke affectionately nicknamed him ‘Wibson’.
He was turned down by the Army because of his shaky health and poor eyesight but was recruited to the war effort in 1917 when he served as a clerical worker in the Army Service Corps. Shortly beforehand, he had embarked upon a successful reading tour of America.
In war and in peace, he tried to capture the lives of ordinary people and he acquired a reputation as a poet who identified with the urban poor and who understood the harshness of the lives of working people, what he called ‘the heartbreak in the heart of things’.
‘Wibson’ continued to publish a selection of poems every two years or so until 1950 and he still went on reading and lecturing tours around Britain, despite money problems and the aches and pains of rheumatism and fibrositis. But his work declined greatly in popularity and is scarcely known today.  He had written to Robert Frost in 1939 that ‘I am one of those unlucky writers whose books have predeceased him’.
He died at Virginia Water in Surrey in a nursing home on 26th May 1962, aged 83.




O YOU WHO DRINK MY COOLING WATERS CLEAR
FORGET NOT THE FAR HILLS FROM WHENCE THEY FLOW
WHERE OVER FELL AND MOORLAND YEAR BY YEAR
SPRING SUMMER AUTUMN WINTER COME AND GO
WITH SHOWERING SUN AND RAIN AND STORM AND SNOW
WHERE OVER THE GREEN BENTS FOREVER BLOW
THE FOUR FREE WINDS OF HEAVEN WHERE TIME FALLS
IN SOLITARY PLACES CALM AND SLOW
WHERE PIPES THE CURLEW AND THE PLOVER CALLS
BENEATH THE OPEN SKY MY WATERS SPRING
BENEATH THE CLEAR SKY WELLING FAIR AND SWEET
A DRAUGHT OF COOLNESS FOR YOUR THIRST TO BRING
A SOUND OF COOLNESS IN THE BUSY STREET



Inscription by W.W.Gibson on north side of The Temperley Memorial Fountain of 1901 in Hexham Market Place















Saturday, 30 September 2017

FOR JOE SKIPSEY: THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN (1832-1903)



 





















































‘He’ll tell his tale o’er a pint of ale,
And crack his joke, and bad
Must be the heart who loveth not
To hear the Collier Lad.’ (Skipsey)


To be a pitman poet
you drag words
out of the seam of a dictionary,
write against the grain
all the time
feeling the pain
of a small education,
scribbling in the dark
for a bright spark
germ of a poem.
Hewing
for rhymes,
ducking
in case the roof
of the verse
caved in on you,
Joe
it was bloody hard
to learn,
to craft a line
from the black pit
when the whole world
weighed down on you.
A man was forced
to sing,
to render a ballad
like a lamp in the tunnel,
scraping an education
from coal,
crawling along bookshelves
to find daylight,
Shakespeare,
Shelley
and melody
in the stacks
of an underground library.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

Saturday, 23 September 2017

JOSEPH SKIPSEY: PITMAN POET - GATESHEAD EVENT


















































TUESDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 7.30pm

BENSHAM GROVE COMMUNITY CENTRE, SIDNEY GROVE, GATESHEAD

WEA NE History and Heritage Branch & NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS PRESENT:
THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN: JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903)







THE W.E.A. AND NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS PRESENT:
THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN: JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903) 185TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH EVENT WITH TYNESIDE LAUNCH  OF A NEW BOOK ABOUT SKIPSEY PUBLISHED BY NVCP IN ASSOCIATION WITH NORTH TYNESIDE COUNCIL.
FEATURING POETRY AND SONGS BY CONTRIBUTORS TO THE BOOK, TOGETHER WITH READINGS OF SKIPSEY'S OWN POEMS, INTRODUCED BY EDITORS KEITH ARMSTRONG AND PETER DIXON OF NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS WITH FOLK MUSIC BY THE SAWDUST JACKS, KEITH GREGSON AND GARY MILLER AND ALSO FEATURING ANN SESSOMS ON NORTHUMBRIAN PIPES WITH PERIOD TUNES.

TUESDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 7.30PM, BENSHAM GROVE COMMUNITY CENTRE, SIDNEY GROVE, GATESHEAD.













































Thursday, 14 September 2017

NEW POEM FROM DAVE ALTON



Writing Joseph Skipsey
For Gordon Phillips

Plaiting a rope of words, he would have drawn
The Pitman Poet out from his trappings,
Then, from a block of thoughts, begun chipping
A verse, as a sculpture might work his stone.

But, the rope broke. Now he is an absence,
The missing poem in a new collection,
A name not included, an exception,
An ever-present lost to the past tense.

Still the Tyne flows to the sea as always
And kittiwakes screech along the Quayside,
While, in a nearby pub, poets count the days,

Count the syllables, count the feet that reside
In every line they’ve spun, that legacy
Left by pitman or poet once time elides.



  
Dave Alton

Sunday, 10 September 2017

JOSEPH SKIPSEY: PITMAN POET - GATESHEAD EVENT





















































TUESDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 7.30pm

BENSHAM GROVE COMMUNITY CENTRE, SIDNEY GROVE, GATESHEAD

WEA NE History and Heritage Branch & NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS PRESENT:
THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN: JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903)







THE W.E.A. AND NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS PRESENT:
THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN: JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903) 185TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH EVENT WITH TYNESIDE LAUNCH  OF A NEW BOOK ABOUT SKIPSEY PUBLISHED BY NVCP IN ASSOCIATION WITH NORTH TYNESIDE COUNCIL.
FEATURING POETRY AND SONGS BY CONTRIBUTORS TO THE BOOK, TOGETHER WITH READINGS OF SKIPSEY'S OWN POEMS, INTRODUCED BY EDITORS KEITH ARMSTRONG AND PETER DIXON OF NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS WITH FOLK MUSIC BY THE SAWDUST JACKS AND ALSO FEATURING ANN SESSOMS ON NORTHUMBRIAN PIPES WITH PERIOD TUNES.

TUESDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 7.30PM, BENSHAM GROVE COMMUNITY CENTRE, SIDNEY GROVE, GATESHEAD.





Dr Jude Murphy, Project Organiser (Heritage)
Part-time : working days: Tuesday to Thursday

WEA North East Region
Joseph Cowen House, 21 Portland Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 1QQ

0191 212 6125
jmurphy@wea.org.uk
www.ne.wea.org.uk

Saturday, 2 September 2017

SONG FOR NORTHUMBERLAND BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG: NOW ON DISPLAY AT NEW YOUTH HOSTEL




























Keith Armstrong's poem 'Song for Northumberland' now on permanent display, with image of Bamburgh, at new youth hostel at Bardon Mill.

Friday, 25 August 2017

THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN



THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN: JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903) 185TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH EVENT WITH LAUNCH OF A NEW BOOK ABOUT SKIPSEY PUBLISHED BY NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS  IN ASSOCIATION WITH NORTH TYNESIDE COUNCIL.
FEATURING POETRY AND SONGS BY CONTRIBUTORS TO THE BOOK, TOGETHER WITH READINGS OF SKIPSEY'S OWN POEMS, INTRODUCED BY EDITORS KEITH ARMSTRONG AND PETER DIXON OF NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS WITH FOLK MUSIC BY THE SAWDUST JACKS AND ALSO FEATURING ANN SESSOMS ON NORTHUMBRIAN PIPES WITH PERIOD TUNES.

ST JOHN’S CHURCH, ST JOHN’S TERRACE, PERCY MAIN.

PART OF HERITAGE OPEN DAYS 2017.

THURSDAY 7TH SEPTEMBER 10AM. ADMISSION FREE.


FROM A PITMAN POET TO A MAGPIE ANGEL:
TYNESIDE CHARACTERS - A TRAWL THROUGH OUR LOCAL HISTORY WITH POET DR KEITH ARMSTRONG (THE JINGLING GEORDIE) AND FRIENDS, FEATURING THE SAWDUST JACKS FOLK GROUP AND CELEBRATING THE 185TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903) AND THE 125TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF NEWCASTLE UNITED.

A NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS EVENT.

THE RED HOUSE, SANDHILL, NEWCASTLE. THURSDAY 7TH SEPTEMBER 12.30PM. ADMISSION FREE.

PART OF HERITAGE OPEN DAYS 2017.

FURTHER INFORMATION FROM NVCP: TEL 0191 2529531.



THE W.E.A. AND NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS PRESENT:
THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN: JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903) 185TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH EVENT WITH TYNESIDE LAUNCH  OF A NEW BOOK ABOUT SKIPSEY PUBLISHED BY NVCP IN ASSOCIATION WITH NORTH TYNESIDE COUNCIL.
FEATURING POETRY AND SONGS BY CONTRIBUTORS TO THE BOOK, TOGETHER WITH READINGS OF SKIPSEY'S OWN POEMS, INTRODUCED BY EDITORS KEITH ARMSTRONG AND PETER DIXON OF NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS WITH FOLK MUSIC BY THE SAWDUST JACKS AND ALSO FEATURING ANN SESSOMS ON NORTHUMBRIAN PIPES WITH PERIOD TUNES.

TUESDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 7.30PM, BENSHAM GROVE COMMUNITY CENTRE, SIDNEY GROVE, GATESHEAD.

Friday, 18 August 2017

THE STREETS OF TYNE





 


































I kicked out in Half Moon Yard,
bucked a rotten system.
Fell out with fools in All Hallows Lane
and grew up feeling loved.

She dragged my hand down Rabbit Banks Road,
there seemed nowhere else to take it.
We mucked about in Plummer Chare,
soaked up the painful rain.

I wanted to control my life,
shout songs on Amen Corner.
I’d carry bags of modern ballads,
hawk pamphlets on Dog Bank.

Wild girls who blazed through Pipewell Gate
taught my veins to thrill.
I caught her heart on Pandon Bank,
my eyes filled up with fear.

Wanted to carve out a poem,
inspire the Garth Heads dreamers.
A lad grew up to dance along
the length of Pilgrim Street.

I take my wild hopes now to chance
the slope of Dog Leap Stairs.
Follow the pulse of my Tyneside days,
burn passion down The Side.




KEITH ARMSTRONG  

Thursday, 10 August 2017

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




Michael Callaghan Absolutely brilliant Keith!

Friday, 14 July 2017

WHITLEY BAY: POEMS BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG





































FRIENDS OF ST. MARY’S ISLAND

Around the low water mark,
kelp beds grow.
Network of rockpools,
boulder shore.

Long-legged bar-tailed godwit,
expert
at finding
mud and sand-living worms.

Seabed of rocky reefs,
shipwrecks dived within and around.
Wrasse and lumpsucker.
Seashore Code.

Remembered rambles,
geology jaunts.
Soft coral communities.
Relic dunes.


 

KEITH ARMSTRONG


THE BEACON
 

A St. Mary’s Light
incandescent
with rage.
A three ton lens,
balanced
on a trough of mercury,
kept revolving,
round the gas mantle,
by a simple pendulum
wound up
on the hour.
A climb
up 137 steps,
inside the 120 foot tower,
a hiss of flame,
clamping
of a prism
constantly
turning.
Since medieval times,
across the ocean fields,
this beacon
has burned,
blinking
on the drink.
Years sailed by,
memories
of shipwrecks,
of Russian soldiers
cholera-wracked
in 1799,
of the ‘Gothenburg City’
and rats with chewed tails.
These heartbreaking waves,
the illumination
of shafts of history:
the rays
and days
of a shining Empire
sunk.



KEITH ARMSTRONG



GARCIA LORCA IN WHITLEY BAY

"I’ve come to devour your mouth
and dry you off by the hair
into the seashells of daybreak."
(Federico Garcia Lorca)

In the rotunda,
your voice lashes out at war.
You
sing
on the crests of the girls,
streaming up the Esplanade.
You
scream under a parasol of gulls,
skimming through the fairground,
on a mission to strangle
flying fish.
Haunting poetry
in the dead ghost train,
the palms of the fortune-tellers,
dust.

Lorca in a broken-down ghost town,
scattering your petals:
Garcia up against the wall
of last night,
eyes shot;
blood from the evening sky,
dripping down an ice cream cone,
down a sweet lass’s blouse.

Saw you on the Metro, Federico,
saw you in Woolworth’s.
Saw you in the crematorium,
on Feather’s caravan site.
Saw you drown
in a sea of lyrical beauty.

Lorca,
like Community,
you are gone;
ideals
torn into coastal shreds.

Still shells
glisten,
lips on the beach
ready
for kissing again
ready
for the re-launch
of childish dreams,                                                            
sticky

with candy floss
and cuckoo spit.
                                                                                              



KEITH ARMSTRONG
The Spanish City, Whitley Bay.
                                                                                                                   
 

LIKE THE SPANISH CITY


The days have gone;
the laughter and shrieks
blown away.
We have all grown up,
left old Catalonian dreams
and the blazing seaside bullfights.
We are dazed,
phased out.
Spaces where we courted
bulldozed
to make way
for the tack of tomorrow;
the hope in the sea breeze;
the distant echo of castanets
and voices scraping
in a dusty rotunda.
I remember where I kissed you,
where I lost you.
It was in Spain, wasn’t it?
Or was it down the Esplanade
on a wet Sunday in July?
Either way,
we are still
twinned with sunny Whitley Bay,
and flaming Barcelona too;
and our lives
will dance in fading photographs
from the pleasure dome,
whenever we leave home.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

Thursday, 29 June 2017

SIGN OF THE FLEECE




Who favoured a commonweal and its peace
Gathered their thoughts at the Sign of the Fleece,
To sing out their anthems of liberty,
For songs charmed the censor and set tongues free.
Promoting pamphlets and seditious tracts
Were daring, but undeniable acts,
Safer to conceal refractory talk,
Then publish it on walls with sticks of chalk.
In this manner was sketched liberty’s plan:
As Marsden, so London – The Rights of Man.
Before the hobgoblin, radical sense
Was set on its stall, not by Marx, but Spence.
Let the power of landlords be abated,
Let the parish be incorporated,
Let every parishioner seek good health
Through the remedy of the commonwealth.
No one will be master, no one will serve,
Justice assures all get what they deserve
In Spensonia, perfected city
Raised on foundations of equality
Where people relish contentment’s embrace,
Opulence and grandeur are commonplace,
Industry and leisure freely combine
Along both banks of an unblemished Tyne.
But, no matter how thoroughly debased,
The Crown is not so readily displaced,
While the agitator, with truths to tell,
Becomes acquainted with the prison cell:
By the Thames, it was, Spensonia fell.
All too easily ideal cities fall
And the fleece proves not golden after all.


Dave Alton

Sunday, 25 June 2017

NEWCASTLE: A POETIC STROLL WITH DR KEITH ARMSTRONG







I WILL SING OF MY OWN NEWCASTLE

sing of my home city
sing of a true geordie heart
sing of a river swell in me
sing of a sea of the canny
sing of the newcastle day

sing of a history of poetry
sing of the pudding chare rain
sing of the puddles and clarts
sing of the bodies of sailors
sing of the golden sea

sing of our childrens’ laughter
sing of the boats in our eyes
sing of the bridges in sunshine
sing of the fish in the tyne
sing of the lost yards and the pits

sing of the high level railway
sing of the love in my face
sing of the garths and the castle
sing of the screaming lasses
sing of the sad on the side

sing of the battles’ remains
sing of the walls round our dreams
sing of the scribblers and dribblers
sing of the scratchers of livings
sing of the quayside night
 
sing of the kicks and the kisses
sing of the strays and the chancers
sing of the swiggers of ale
sing of the hammer of memory
sing of the welders’ revenge

sing of a battered townscape
sing of a song underground
sing of a powerless wasteland
sing of a buried bard
sing of the bones of tom spence

sing of the cocky bastards
sing of a black and white tide
sing of the ferry boat leaving
sing of cathedral bells crying
sing of the tyneside skies

sing of my mother and father
sing of my sister’s kindness
sing of the hope in my stride
sing of a people’s passion
sing of the strength of the wind


KEITH ARMSTRONG


(as featured on BBC Radio 4)





WILLIAM BLAKE IN THE BRIDGE HOTEL


A few pints of Deuchars and my spirit is soaring.
The child dances out of me,
goes running down to the Tyne,
while the little man in me wrestles with a lass
and William Blake beams all his innocence in my glass.
And the old experience sweats from a castle’s bricks
as another local prophet takes a jump off the bridge.

It’s the spirit of Pat Foley and the ancient brigade
on the loose down the Quayside stairs
in a futile search,
just a step in the past,
for one last revolutionary song.

All the jars we have supped
in the hope of a change;
all the flirting and courting and chancing downstream;
all the words in the air and the luck pissed away.
It seems we oldies are running back
screaming to the Bewick days,
when a man could down a politicised quip
and craft a civilised chat
before he fed the birds
in the Churchyard.

The cultural ships are fair steaming in
but it’s all stripped of meaning -
the Councillors wade
in the shallow end.

O Blake! buy me a pint in the Bridge again,
let it shiver with sunlight
through all the stained windows,
make my wit sparkle
and my knees buckle.

Set me free of this stifling age
when the bland are back in charge.
Let us grow our golden hair wild once more
and roar like Tygers
down Dog Leap Stairs.



KEITH ARMSTRONG





GRAINGER MARKET

 

(1)

A city
within a city

light cage

bazaar and blind
these swollen alleys


flow with a teeming life’s blood

Geordie  !

Swim for your life  !




(2)

this is life
the gloss and the flesh
weigh-house of passion and flame

you can get lost in this market’s amazement
but you can never lose yourself

sometimes
a sleep-walk in these grazing crowds
can feel like a stroll through your brain





 

MAUD WATSON, FLORIST
bred in a market arch
a struggle
in a city’s armpit
that flower
in your time-rough hand’s
a beautiful girl in a slum alley
all that kindness in your face
and you’re right
the time are not what they were
this England’s not what it was
flowers shrink in the crumbling vase
dusk creeps in on a cart
and Maud the sun is choking
Maud this island’s sinking
and all that sleeping sea is
the silent majority
waving
Keith Armstrong


GREY’S MONUMENT

 

Grey –
this man and his brain’s conception,
clasped in stone.
Disdainful figure
raised
on a firm dry finger;
proud-stiff
above a time-bent avenue of dwindling lights.

The Earl’s pale forehead is cool and cloudy;
unblinking,
he views us all (as we view him)
in the same old, cold, way –
through the wrong end of a battered telescope,
through the dusty lens of history.

Strip away the tinsel
and this city’s heart is stone.



Keith Armstrong





BLACK GATE


Black Gate,
an oxter of history,
reaches for me
with a stubby finger,
invites me into Old Newcastle,
its vital cast
of craggy characters,
Garth urchins,
dancing blades
and reeling lasses.
Black Gate,
I can read
the lines
on your brow,
the very grit
on your timelined walls,
the furrowed path
down the Geordie lane
where Alexander Stephenson stoops
to let me in
and the merchant Patrick Black
still trades in memories.
Once
there was a tavern
inside you,
that’s why
the bricks cackle
and the windows creak
with the crack of old ale
and the redundant patter
of publican John Pickell.
Black Gate,
you could say
my childhood is in your stones,
my mother and father figures,
my river
of drifting years,
waiting to greet me.
Hoist up your drawbridge,
in the startling chill
of a Tyne dawn,
this boy is with you
and with himself
in this home city
of old bones,
new blood
and dripping dreams.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

*The Black Gate is named after the seventeenth century merchant Patrick Black.





CASTLE KEEP


Keep,
this history by the river.
Keep,
the stairway to the past.
Keep,
the memories singing folk songs.
Keep,
the cobbles wet with blood.
Keep,
those ballads down the centuries.
Keep,
the ancient voices in your head.
Keep,
these stones alive with music.
Keep,
the wind howling in the brick.
Keep
the days that speed our lives.
Keep,
the rails to guide you there.
Keep,
the people that you meet.
Keep,
the children's faces dancing.
Keep,
the devil in your fleeting eyes.
Keep,
the bridges multiplying.
Keep,
the moon upon the Tyne.
Keep,
the flag of lovers flying.
Keep,
your feet still
Geordie hinny.


 

KEITH ARMSTRONG

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, 12 June 2017

BYKER HILL






















POEMS BY KEITH ARMSTRONG

FIRST PUBLISHED BY IRD 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