Monday, 11 December 2017

FRIENDS OF THE GRAVES (for the Birtley Belgians)


‘Never forget that you are a Birtley Belgian.’
(Ida ‘Anderland’ Dergent)

This is the story of the Birtley Belgians,
the shellers from hell,
the wandering men
and the women they wed.
You can say goodbye to your friends.

These are the remnants of Elisabethville,
the shattered relics of battered soldiers,
the shards of savagery,
the empty shells of discarded folk.

This is what’s left of the carnage,
the last of the war effort,
the smiles of the children
and the severed limbs.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

From Flanders and Wallonia they came
leaving beloved roots behind
to do their bit for the ritual slaughter,
to bring up well their sons and daughters
to dance and sing
under the hails of bullets.

Fishing for sunshine in the Ijzer brook,
kicking stones on the Rue de Charleroi,
the Birtley Belgians
planted their seed on Durham ground
and made do
and made explosive dreams.
What more can we tell?
‘Home is made for coming from,
for dreams of going to
which with any luck
will never come true.’

Sweating in uniform
on assembly lines,
pulverising their brains
to keep the powers that be in power,
they were strong
and at the same time weak
and screamed and cried
like anyone.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

They’re gone now,
blown to dust
in the festering fields,
memories strewn over the way
to fertilise another day
with the same weary mistakes
and thrusts of love.

I can see the boys in the Villa de Bruges
slaking their frustrated fantasies
to drown the horror
and the girls
seductive behind the huts
in between
the grind of daily production.

Let me take you
up the Boulevard Queen Mary,
along the Rue de Louvain,
knock on the door of number D2
and blood will pour
and the ground will open up,
‘mud will take you prisoner’
and devour all those years.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

You can hear their singing on the North Sea wind,
hear them in Chester le Street and Liege,
the brass band and orchestra
drowning out the distant pounding.
In and out of trouble,
we will always dance.

An accordion wails across the little streets,
the Three Tuns welcomes the living.
And at the crack of dawn
and in the battlefields of evening clouds
we will remember them,
in the words of the Walloon poet Camille Fabry proclaim:
‘Our thoughts fly like arrows back to the land of our birth.’

This is the story of the loss of lives
for causes we scarcely understand
but for love and grandeur too
and for the little Belgian children
and the joyous games they play.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.


The Birtley Belgians emigrated from Belgium to Birtley, County Durham during World War 1 to build an armaments factory and lived in their own specially created village.  
Named after the Queen of the Belgians, Elisabethville itself became Little Belgium - a colony of 6,000 people, of boules and of boulevards.

It had its own hospital, cemetery, school, church, nunnery and Co-op; only Flemish and Walloon were spoken.

The Birtley factory was to the north of the town, British built but entirely Belgian run. By 1916 it gave work to 3,500 men, 85 per cent disabled in some way, with 2,500 family members also housed in the adjacent iron fenced village. 

The poem was commissioned by the Birtley Belgians Euro-Network in 2015 in association with Borsolino and Berline Belgian Drama Groups.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Friday, 1 December 2017




Drifting in moonlight,

the dunes sing their songs.

Wings of old battles

fly all night long.

Cry of the seagulls,

curse of the ghosts;

aches of dead warriors

scar this old coast.

Hover the kestrel,

sing out the lark,

we will be free in our time.

This air is our breath,

this sea is our thirst

and our dreams are sailing home.

Wandering through castles,

their walls are our lungs.

Seaching for freedom

in country homes.

Forbears and old cares

blown in the wind;

pull of loved harbours

draws our boats in.

Surge of the salmon

and urge of the sea

leaps in our local blood.

Peel of the bluebells

and ring of bold tunes

reel in all those grey years.

Slopes of the Cheviots,

caress of the waves.

Shipwrecks and driftwood

float in our heads.

Pele stones and carved bones

hide in these hills,

roots of new stories

in ancient tales.

Dew on our lips

and beer on the breath,

drinking the countryside in.

Bread of the landscape

and wine of this earth,

flows on these river beds.

Drifting in moonlight,

the dunes sing their songs.

Wings of old battles

fly all night long.

Cry of the seagulls,

curse of the ghosts;

aches of dead warriors

scar this old coast.

Hover the kestrel,

sing out the lark,

we will be free in our time.

This air is our breath,

this sea is our thirst

and our dreams are sailing home.



Twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.

There’s this comrade in Barrels Ale House,
looks like Nikita Khrushchev.
There’s a Moscow moon on top of his head,
his face is all ruddy and red.
Back in Russia,
there’s a border reiver,
a wild vodka look in his eye,
he’s riding a horse like a cossack
from Vladivostok to Tweedmouth and back.

Reach across water me darling,
it’s worth it.
Spread out your nets and your arms.
You might get a hot Russian lover
and Igor a sweet Berwickshire lass.

So twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.

There’s this strapping lad in the Kremlin,
he’s from a Spittal back lane.
He’s wearing old Lenin’s disused fur hat,
there’s a Marxist tattoo on his chest.
Back in Berwick,
there’s a soviet cosmonaut,
with a fishing rod in his hand,
he’s trying for a catch in the gathering dusk
as the river slides from yellow to black. 

Share a strong jar with me sweetheart,
it’s warm now.
Hold the smile on your face.
You can sail light on the Baltic
and fly to the Urals with me.  

So twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.


(Commissioned by Berwick-upon-Tweed Council, 2006)

Because it changed hands between Scotland and England so many times, when the Crimean War was declared, Berwick received a separate namecheck, along with England, Scotland and Queen Victoria's overseas dominions. But, alas, it was left out of the Treaty of Paris which concluded the war. Thus Berwick remained at war with Russia until 1966, when a visiting diplomat signed an armistice with the town.
"At last," declared the Mayor, "the people of the Soviet Union can sleep safely in their beds."



Tammy Spence he had no sense,
he bought a fiddle for eighteen pence
and all the tunes that he could play
was ‘O’er the Hills and Far Away’.

From Cow Road to Hud’s Head,
Toppye Knowe Stone and Spittal Point,
we have dredged the coal
and snapped up fish
with ‘Lovely Polly’ and all.
We have ground the corn and bone,
found the iron and cured and smoked.
We have worshipped Bart and lifeboats
and prayed to Paul and John.
We have staggered on in rain and nonconformity.
We have lurched along old shores,
drowned the thirst of sailors
with the rattling old Town Bell and the tunes of jolly Jack,
whistled and fiddled away
in the bright Red Lion light.
Jesus Light of the World,
we are the history in the barrel,
in the soaring wind
and in the foaming waves:
it is our blood,
it is our bread,
it is our Spittal,
our mirrored past. 




These rough stones,
carried for miles to build
such a Castle,
mounted on fields
of bitter sweet slopes.

Stoned lions,
countrified gargoyles
hunch, unpouncing;
their stiff glares fixed
on us fee paying visitors,
taking a stroll through
the dusty chapters,
the library dungeons.

And I would suppose
this afternoon to be,
for us, some piece of history,
both strolling through
crisis after crisis,
hearts beating heart beats
and blood warm, flowing
through us as we walk between
such cold walls,
older than a Duke,
but never as wise as this love of mine
nor as fragile as
that historic moment inside the Castle
when once you smiled at me
so wonderfully.


Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

(published in From Both Sides of Hadrian’s Wall.
Contemporary poetry from south Scotland and north England)



(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!



'I thought the Cuthbert poems were very powerful...Do go on writing and performing like that.' (John Mapplebeck, Bewick Films).


I wouldn’t trust Saints,
goody goody two shoe Christians,
they wouldn’t pull me out of the mire
with their do-gooding ways.
I do my praying in the trough,
sweaty trotters grubbing together,
not in anyone’s heaven
but rooting in the soil
for bread.
Don’t get me wrong,
I like a drop of wine
with me nosh,
and I can put the fear of God
in me neighbours
to keep them off me land;
shoot them stone-dead if I have to.
They can go to Hell
for all I care,
whole lot of them:
Poets and Peasants,
Pipers and Plovers.
I just get on with growing me crops,
no time for preaching Love and Hate.
This Northumbrian sun is all I know,
and the gannets swooping over me.
What I can’t touch or feel or smell or taste
is no good to me:
you can’t eat hymns
but I can catch rabbits.


The bones of Prophets
rot in this sacred land.
Cuthbert’s spirit soars with the gulls
over the ancient ground.
North Country hearts
beat with the songs and ballads
of missing centuries;
lyrics in the rough wind,
notes in the margins.
The Saints and the Scholars
scribble down the years -
but who can make sense of it all?
Bind up the volumes
of human endeavour
in this vast universe,
let the dust of our thoughts
feed the insects.
Northumberland is in truth
a bleak land
held together by dreams,
fantasies of us all being Saints:
an open slate,
still wet with the drizzle
of the scribe’s pen.


This burning beam
that did for Aidan,
Bamburgh’s finest
fallen King of Northumbria
in ashes.
Palaces of Pretence,
Gefrin on a summer’s afternoon,
basking by the Glen
where Paulinus
baptised us with pelting sleet,
and where the late Josephine Butler
spread her kind smile
for the welfare of wor women folk,
for the goodness of touch.

Oh Edwin oh Oswald,
oh Ida oh Hussa,
carry my head in your hands.
My mighty warriors of Christ,
is that you in the curlew’s cry?
Is that you in the breeze on my face?

Cuthbert’s a hermit crab,
a ‘Wonder-worker of England’,
and I am an empty shell of a man,
talking to birds
because they make more sense of my life.

Listen to me Bede, I’m the Universal Soldier,
I have rubbed ointment
on Cuthbert’s sore knee,
ridden with him across the sheep-snow hills,
and bathed his suppurating ulcer
in red wine.
Light a torch for me
for I am no Saint.
Yet I speak
the Gospel Truth:

Grant to me, Lord Christ, for this pilgrim journey through life,
Your ready hand to guide me, your light to go before me,
Your protection to guard me from evil,
Your peace to rest within me, your love to sustain me,
That through all the joys and sorrows that meet me
I may know the promise of your abiding strength,
Until I reach my final homecoming with you forever.

commissioned by berwick museum 2007


‘Hides lifted from a lime-pit were soaked for days, scraped and ‘bated’ in solutions of dog excrement and ground bark before hanging up to dry.’

You ancient company
of skinners and glovers,
you gossiping crafts.

You hatters and tanners,
leather-dressers and cutters,
we can hear you and sniff you in Hexham’s dank lanes.

You clockmakers and bookbinders,
pipemakers and joiners,
we touch your worksore hands.

You shoemakers and collarmakers,
weavers and saddlers,
we bear your burdens and your smiles.

You dressmakers,
Tinsmiths and
butchers and

You 1000 sewing women in your homes,
you bakers and tapestry-makers,
you’ve led us here -

we worship you,
we drink your sweat.




The following poems are by Tyneside writer Dr Keith Armstrong. They were first written in the year 2000 for his poetry residency at Hexham Racecourse and an exhibition of the poems with artwork by local artist Kathleen Sisterson was launched at an event at the Racecourse in September of that year, introduced by Hexham based sports writer Harry Pearson, with readings from Keith and folk music from Mike and Peter Tickell and Ray Sloan on Northumbrian Pipes.
Since 2000 Keith has been a regular visitor to Hexham Races and continues to find inspiration for his poetry in every visit.

Other commissioned work by Keith includes ‘Fire & Brimstone’ the story of Tynedale artist John Martin and ‘The Hexham Celebration’, both for the Hexham Abbey Festival.
He also has also compiled and edited a local history book ‘The Town of Old Hexham’ and organised a festival celebrating the life and work of Hexham born poet Wilfrid Gibson. 


(for Miss Lamb on Rubislaw)

I am a lady jockey;
dark stallions
course my veins,
and my heart
with a herd of wild hoofbeats,
blood pulsing
hot breath
of bold horses.

I jump the frantic fences
of my daydreams,
eyes lit
with a glow of life:
I toss and turn
and thrash
in the sunlight;
my mighty steed
across the warm grass,
my taut body.

I am joyous
to be alive,
skylarks fill
my thirsting throat.
I will ride forever
breathing ecstatically;
an animal love
in my lungs;
and the smell
of a bold Northumberland
my bracing hair.


(forJack Randall)

In return
for your soiled cash,
he gives you scraps
of paper that fly
across these hard earned fields of Yarridge,
through history.




His cap bobs
above the fray
of punters
who have not got a prayer.
They say that every day
is Billy’s Day
and every bet
more breath
in his kids’ bodies.




The poems below were written by Keith Armstrong for a touring show ‘O’er the Hills’ by Northumberland Theatre Company in 1988, recounting the life of Northumbrian Piper, Jamie Allan (1734-1810), and based on an original idea by Armstrong.
The show featured Armstrong in performance with associate writer Graeme Rigby together with  musicians Kathryn Tickell, on Northumbrian Pipes, Rick Taylor, on trombone, Paul Flush on keyboards, Keith Morris on vocals and saxophone and Joan McKay on vocals, with original music by Taylor, Flush and Tickell.


A mischievous man you might say
but with beauty did he play,
with his wee fingers
over songs.

When he piped,
the rivers and girls came
The world danced
when Jamie drooled
on his lance.
Yes, when Jamie smoked,
the salmon
leapt in his pipes.

A bit of a lad and bad
but oh what a way he had;
with the fish
and his hands leaping,
he set the salmon and some women

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart
in your hymns,
your wild Northumbrian hymns -

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart.


I see him.
Everytime I see
the Coquet,
I see him.
I walk
the Cheviots,
I sense his voice.
I hear him
in the Curlew;
I hear Jamie
in the wind.
His tunes
haunt me still;
his wandering fingers
ripple through
the grass.
His tunes splash
across the river,

in me.


In the young days,
I swam,
dipped in the River Coquet.
Along the banks I ran,
shouting for the sun.

In all wild flowers,
I’d lie,
picking out such scent,
jinking jaunty amongst sheep,
dancing for my keep.

Now by the Ganges I walk,
the evening streaming blood;
such wanders through a different land,
such songs of our dead brothers.

In the scale of things I am
but a small fish abroad;
all rivers flow together,
all wonders outlive man.

Jamie Allen I,
piper by the sea;
notes flow inside me,
streams flow by.


I never really knew my station,
my destination.
I was restless,
Could never settle
for second best.
Yet I was
Ending my days
dingily alone,
stripped of illusions
and riddled
with humility.
My ego starved,
my regal palate fed
on bread
and Coquet water.

*performed by Mike Tickell on the Kathryn Tickell album ‘Common Ground’ (1988)

Jamie Allan, the most renowned inhabitant of the House of Correction, Elvet Bridge, was born of gypsy parentage near Rothbury in the 1730s and his accomplishment on the Northumbrian pipes earned him recognition from the Duchess of Northumberland.
He became resident at Alnwick but misbehaved and lost her favour. Subsequently he led a remarkable and irresponsible itinerant life throughout Europe, Asia and Africa but on his return was convicted in 1803 at Durham Assizes of horse stealing, and condemned to death. This sentence was later commuted to transportation but, probably due to his advanced age and poor health, this last journey was not enforced and he spent the remaining seven years of his life in the House of Correction. This is the building where Hollathan's is now housed.
He died in 1810 on the day before the Prince Regent granted him a free pardon. It is said that his ghost wanders the dank, dark cells and that the plaintive sound of his pipes can sometimes be heard.
No Wonder! What greater punishment to a wandering gypsy than this? Even his request to be buried in his native Rothbury went unheeded and he was interred in St. Nicholas' Churchyard, now part of Durham's busy Market Place. 


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.


(written for an exhibition at Bellingham Heritage Centre, June 2013)


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)

Bob Beagrie Lovely poem Keith

Dory Dickson Memories flooding back, very evocative poem.

Alan Clark Smashing poem Keith. I walked the route when we were teenagers, camping along the way. I got fascinated reading big orange LNER timetables when we were at school in 1965 and it was long gone. Here's a shot I took a few years back, just over the border from Kielder, between Deadwater and Saughtree...

I love that.  (Kathryn Tickell) 



‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The ground was stained with blood and the cries of the wounded were pitiful. The following day it rained, washing away the traces.’

Wash away the day,
wash the pain away,
sweep the remains of yesterday
into the racing river.
Beat the Dead March,
bang the old drum,
heal Hexham’s bust bones
and cry me a river,
cry the Water of Tyne.
Wash away the day
and wash this pain away.



With blood gushing out of his boot tops,
a well-dressed man
leaves town
along Priestpopple.
Thirteen men lie inside the Abbey,
not owned.
Numbers are found dead upon the roads.
Big with child, Sarah Carter shot,
the musket ball found in the child’s belly.
Thrice into a man’s body
lying at James Charlton’s shop door
it’s said they ran theIr bayonets;
and a pitman dead,
a weaver:
all those broken days of history,
all the slain hours in our diaries.
Sound the Abbey’s bells!
Let them toll the severed minutes.
Let them celebrate
the end of torture.
Let them gush
with rejoicing
for more peaceful times.



These streets,
in this Heart of All England,
are swept clean of blood.
But the stains still soak our books.
Death upon death,
we turn the pages;
in between the lines,
we read about the screams,
time’s bullets
tearing flesh away.
There is terror lurking in this Market Place,
just scrape away the skin
and, deep down,
there’s a Riot:
a commotion boiling
a terrible turbulence,
a throbbing pain.
It is a Riot of gore,
a torrential downpour
of weeping:
a seeping sore
that is Hexham’s History.


(Poems featured in Hexham Local History Society Newsletter Autumn 2011) 


Birds hurl themselves at the leaping Tyne;
I catch them through the evening window.
It is cold for the time.
My throat is stuffy with poems left unsaid.
Weary troubadour I am,
swimming with visions of ancient European tours.
Now I have landed, with my seagull wings, in Haydon Bridge
to honour a famous son.
I am lodged in the Anchor Hotel,
another lonely night of a whirlwind life:
lorries howl around me
and I can hear a village trembling
in the blinding dark.
Restlessly at anchor,
I cannot sleep for the ghost of John Martin
lighting up my room
with dynamic visions
and the thunderous clatter of his wild dreams.
Stuck in the rut of my own poetry,
I force myself to sleep,
bobbing by the river,
under the fantastic sky.
The community lights shine on my imagination,
and the screams of swifts
make a life worthwhile.

Keith Armstrong,
Haydon Bridge,

John Martin (1789-1854). Historical Painter. Born Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789. Died Isle of Man 1854.

Thursday, 23 November 2017


Becoming Ninety Years Old
(For Margaret Alton, b. 1927)

Long, long was a year to the child,
Yet so quickly ninety passed by
It seems, how nine decades can fly,
As if life itself so beguiled
By living, that time being compiled
Was barely noticed. Just how sly
The clock in its counting, how “I”
Lives on in long memories filed.
Ninety years are a goodly sum,
Trumping scripture’s ordinance,
Too many friends already passed
And a husband who has become
A still raw absence. Fate or chance?
Whichever, this life has been cast.


Dave Alton




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.