TYNESIDE POETS!

TYNESIDE POETS!

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

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

MANCHESTER TRIPTYCH BY DAVE ALTON




!

Floret of flame, echo of the big bang,
Flinging innocent creation apart,
Flaying thin skin from an orderly world,
Punching and pummelling breaking bodies,
Undoing flesh with nuts and bolts and screws,
Undoing families in a moment,
Undoing this cause through its own effect,
Discounting the life which this is the sum,
Discounting lives summarily totalled,
Immaculate lives blown out in a flash.

?

Who the bomber? One dressed in his best vest,
High on the opiates of his people?
Or higher, two miles high, super sonic
And scratching the sky so close to the void?
Or miles out to sea, maybe, on a cruise?
Or cruising through cyber space and zapping
Pixilated people deaf to the drone?
And who the victims? Outlines coloured in
With bold strokes broad enough to blur edges,
Such simplified figures, which children count?

$ + £…

Words are not cheap, they do cost lives, spoken
With redacted care to prick sentiments
With forked tongues, justifying calls to arms
For the hundred years and more war, all one
Global war over branding, re-branding,
Bottom lines, arrayed on banners, dressed up
In various uniforms, or civvies,
Obscured by common words, such as Great War,
Second World, Cold and Hot, Insurgency.
And then, on the home front, comes a flash point.

 


Dave Alton

Sunday, 28 May 2017

THE OLD MINERS - BY THE LATE LAMENTED POET GORDON PHILLIPS


Down the long throat of shaft their bodies caged
in bony stoops, rammed joints, scrubbed skin,
they’re heard now for that guttural crack
back of the throat brimmed cough,
its spittle of spent black dust
from an earth-life below,
deep-down as the pockets of city toffs.

They lived by tonnage and beamed light,
the shot-blown or bad dreamed blast.  The wedge 
of each pit prop a third arm or handy leg
that helped raise the sunken roof of seam.
Hackers, drillers at the unbroken face,
they broke through, they broke through,
digging out what spoke for them.


G. F. Phillips 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

WILFRID GIBSON (1878-1962): PEOPLE'S POET


HEXHAM’S ‘PEOPLE’S POET’: Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

‘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 House, Hexham, on October 2 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 published poem appeared in ‘The Specator’ in 1897 and 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.
He was also a reluctant playwright whose verse dialogues were frequently performed. His play ‘Womankind’ was performed in Birmingham and Glasgow, as well as at the Chicago Little Theatre. However, he lacked real dramatic gift and found the conventions of theatre distasteful to a man who was a recluse by temperament.
He was not without his critics, like the poet Edward Thomas who said in 1906 that ‘Wilfrid Wilson Gibson had long ago swamped his small delightful gift by his abundance. He is essentially a minor poet in the bad sense, for he is continually treating subjects poetically, writing about things instead of creating them’. Of Gibson’s later verse narratives, Thomas was equally scathing: ‘Gibson has merely been embellishing what would have been more effective as pieces of rough prose. The verse has added nothing except unreality, not even brevity’.
Gibson first left the middle-class security of his home in Hexham at the age of 34, residing briefly in Glasgow where he was accepted into literary society as a hard up but genteel poet. He reviewed books for the ‘Glasgow Herald’.
In the summer of 1912, with 10 published volumes to his credit, Gibson finally left Hexham for London to broaden his literary horizons and never returned to his native town, except for very occasional visits.
He was known by editors John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield as a contributor to the magazine ‘Rhythm’ and they found a cheap room in the city, above the ‘Poetry Bookshop’, for the penniless poet.
Impressed by Gibson’s ‘singular integrity’, the literary patron Sir Edward Marsh appointed him assistant editor of ‘Rhythm’.
He moved to Dymock in Gloucestershire in 1914 to join a group of poets and his new bride went with him, Geraldine Townshend (daughter 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 at Sydenham, near London. Shortly beforehand, he had embarked upon a successful reading tour of America.
His son Michael was born in 1918.
Gibson always belittled his own work. Speaking about his small volume ‘Battle’, which contained 32 poems about the war, he said ‘I had to publish it as I felt I must make my little protest, however feeble and inneffectual - so don’t be too hard on me’.
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, though it was included in Philip Larkin’s ‘Oxford Book of 20th Century Verse’. 
He died at Virginia Water in Surrey in a nursing home on May 26th 1962, aged 83. He had written to Robert Frost in 1939 that ‘I am one of those unlucky writers whose books have predeceased him’.
Yet ,as Gibson said himself,: ‘We shall always have poets while we have lovers’. To this extent, his poetry lives on in ‘The Heart Of All England’.


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.

WILFRED WILSON GIBSON                    HEXHAM FEB -1901

Inscription on north side of Memorial Fountain in Hexham Market Place
N.B. ‘Wilfrid’ misspelt on Memorial!