TYNESIDE POETS!

TYNESIDE POETS!

Friday, 24 May 2019

GORDON PHILLIPS - TYNESIDE POET (1949 - 2017): IN MEMORIAM


























































































Gordon Phillips – Tyneside Poet



I first met Gordon in the early 1970s, both of us “incumdons” to the North East, he from St. Albans while I’d arrived from Burnley. It was poetry that brought us together as active members of The Tyneside Poets.

We shared the ethos of taking poetry away from the self-regarding circles of academe and the cliques to encourage a wider participation. At the same time we developed and honed our own poetic voices.

Gordon’s verse always had a strong musical current pulsing through it and he went on to work with composers to produce work that was lyrical and had strong strains of North Eastern traditions and heritage running through it.

True to the belief in encouraging others we worked together on two anthologies of young people’s poetry under a small press imprint, Pivot Press. For the first one we had a goodly number of contributions and the detailed planning of the anthology was well underway. What we didn’t have was a title. Then Gordon received an envelope with a couple of good poems in it.

The accompanying letter also proved significant. The boy, early teens, was enthusiastic about the possibility of having a poem or two published. However, he was somewhat concerned about how he might be perceived by his peers. This led him to write that he’d be really pleased if we used one of his poems but, “…don’t tell my friends.” Both editions of “Don’t Tell My Friends” were very successful.

Before I left Tyneside in 2012 Gordon had been showing me a poetic project he was working on with St. Mary’s lighthouse in Whitley Bay as its focus. Recently, almost five years later he gave me a copy of the CD, “The Square and Compass”: the project was completed and set to music. A grand piece of work.

Unfortunately, the CD has been followed far too quickly with bad news. On Sunday, 5th February 2017, the illness Gordon had alerted me to finally claimed him. Perhaps it is always too soon, but this is truly so. On my last visit with him he told me of other projects he still had in mind and I had hoped he might at least be able to bring some of them to fruition. It is not to be.

However, as a poet his voice, Gordon’s words, will live on. It was poetry that brought us together, sustained our long friendship and will remain to speak to me.


Dave Alton




POEM FOR GORDON (1949-2017)


Across a Fenham avenue,
through the pools of stars in your eyes,
the seering light of your vision,
I saw your finely hewed words running towards me,
a crystal stream
tearing along these Newcastle lanes.
We tripped along together
in huddled poetry readings,
throbbing public houses
and ancient mansions,
searching for images
to make our days
brighter,
longing for a folk song
to drink with
in the approaching darkness.
Searching,
always searching,
for the right words
to sing to our loved ones,
we crossed the sea
to fulfil our dreams
from the flat land of East Anglia
into the arms of Scandinavia,
returning with that smile of yours
still intact,
beaming with the sun
breaking up the clouds
on any dogged northern day
in your adopted home,
lending a sparkle to Grainger Street,
a twinkle to our beer;
the joy of a lasting friend,
the spilt dreams
forever flowing with us.


 

KEITH ARMSTRONG




THE TREATMENT BELL (GORDON'S FINAL POEM)

 

On the side wall, beside the reception

hangs the treatment bell,

pristine, silver,

its shine an encouraging glow.



Before it, hopeful patients sit.

The next ringer strikes a note for them all:

a customary three times

for an end of plan toll,

excitement measured in the hammering and applause.

 



Gordon Phillips, 18th December 2016


Note from Maureen Phillips:

The first time Gordon and I heard the three rings of the bell was on his first visit to the Department of Radiation Oncology for consultative purposes to evaluate and determine his most optional treatment.  

The inscription on the bell is:
Ring this bell
Three times well
It's toll to clearly say
My treatment's done
This course is run
And I am on my way

 



FOR THOMAS BEWICK

 

In your precious art you raised
delicate species fresh, alive
with every searching niche of blade,
on metalled tints of bone
in flesh, conceived.

Today, our clear eye can review
that aggregate of animals
and speading plants which grew;
now your thoughts to Cherryburn
are our adoption.

Through sludge of field flung back
from my drag of parting feet,
crossing rutted rural lands
you swept in light and shade,
a lock of trees
inside a border to engrave.


 

Gordon Phillips

(as read by Dave Alton at Gordon's funeral on Thursday 16th February 2017 at St Robert of Newminster Roman Catholic Church,  Newcastle upon Tyne)

Sunday, 19 May 2019

HOOKEY WALKER'S FAREWELL TO SHIELDS

































HOOKEY WALKER’S FAREWELL TO SHIELDS

(I wrote the following jeu d’esprit in the year 1852 and had it printed anonymously. It was meant to represent, with that spice of exaggeration permissible in such good natured squibs, the condition and aspect of the Shieldses – South Shields more particularly – as they struck a dispassionate resident in that remote era, before the local sanitary reformers had set about their Herculean task, towards the accomplishment of which they have since gone a great length).





Farewell to Shields, the filthiest place

On old Northumbria’s dirty face,

The coal-hole of this British nation,

The fag-end of the whole creation,

The jakes of Newcastle-upon-Tyne,

The banquet-house of dogs and swine,

The paradise of bugs and fleas,

And human vermin worse than these;

A mass of houses – not a town -,

On heaps of cinders squatted down,

Close to the river’s oozy edge,

Like moulting hens behind a hedge;

Huge ballast heaps, from London brought,

And here, like churchyard rubbish, shot,

Half-clad with scurvy blighted green,

Alone diversify the scene,

And furnish, when the weather’s dry,

An inexhaustible supply

Of dust, with every breath that flies,

To torture and to blind the eyes,

And, when it rains or thaws, a flood

Of sticky, stinking, coal-black mud,

Oft ankle-deep, in Claypath Lane,

Making the use of blacking vain;

Brick-yards, the nastiest smoke exhaling;

Green scummy ponds, a source unfailing

Of fell disease, foul middensteads,

Where everything infectious breeds;

Steam-tugs, whose smoke beclouds the river;

Chimneys, forth vomiting forever

All sorts of gas, to taint the air,

And drive the farmers to despair,

Blighting their corn, their quicksets blasting,

And all their prospects overcasting;

For scarcely even a weed will blow,

For miles around no trees will grow

In stunted copse or rugged fence,

Within their baneful influence,

And where stray birds have planted them,

In former better times, each stem

Looms on us, bare, black, mummied quite,

A ghastly and unnatural sight.

Streets, - if the name can be applied

To dingy lanes not ten feet wide,

Bordered by wretched tenements,

Let to poor devils at high rents;

Houses, on Dean and Chapter Land

Which, if not close packed, would not stand,

Whose perfect matches can be found

Nowhere within the empire’s bound;

Sewers, that only serve to stay

Stenches the wind will blow away,

And guide them to our outraged noses,

Concentrated in double doses.

When his sweet pipe Amphion blew

The enchanted stones together flew,

And formed a city. Widely famed,

Thebes by the Syrian Cadmus named.

Not such a dulcet origin

Had Shields, but to the cursed din

Of wheels and axles, saws and hammers,

And competitions thousand clamours,

It rose around St. Hilda’s pit,

For sooty fiends a dwelling fit.

Since Sodom and Gomorrah fell,

By bolts from heaven and blasts from hell,

Satan, with all the skill he wields,

Has formed no counterpart to Shields,

And, in futurity’s dark womb,

Laid up for Shields is Sodom’s doom,

For all that store of bitumen

Was not placed under it in vain.

He who perambulates the place,

Needs no uncommon skill to trace

The features of the inhabitants,

Whose instincts, appetites and wants,

It suits to such a nicety,

That nothing lacking they can see,

But shout “Hourrah for canny Shields”

And deem the Bents the Elysian fields.

Take from the mass a score or twain,

Honest in heart and sound in brain,

Free-spirited, intelligent,

Friendly-disposed, benevolent,

And all the rest are chaff and sand,

Fit only to manure the land,

Mill-horses, pacing round and round

The same eternal spot of ground,

To pick a paltry pittance up,

And smoke and snooze and eat and sup;

Gross gluttons, worshipping their belly;

Boobies, with brains of calf’s-foot jelly;

Creatures, whose souls are in their dress;

Base crawling serfs, idealless;

Crouching, dust-licking parasites;

Prim sanctimonious hypocrites;

Fellows whose lives are one long lie,

To meanly cloak their poverty,

Who, with the bailiffs at the door,

Turn up their noses at the poor,

And living upon shift, despise

The drudge from whom they draw supplies;

Magistrates, void of all pretence

To morals as of moral sense,

Leaving the beershop for the bench,

To send to Durham their own wench;

Lawyers, who know no more of law

But from their clients fees to draw;

Clergymen, dull and dry as dust,

In whom old women put their trust;

Doctors, a shallow, quackish crew,

But that, alas, is nothing new;

As for the so-called “vulgar rabble”,

One learns their status from their gabble;

They can’t be said to speak at all,

But jabber, croak, grunt, burr and drawl;

'Tis neither English, Scotch, nor Norse,

Though it partakes of all, and worse.

If brutes have souls, as some pretend,

And after death to Hades wend,

And learn to speak, I do expect,

'Twill be in the Shields dialect.

Farewell to Shields! I shout again;

A long and glad farewell! Amen!

I never liked the place, nor did

The place like me; but God forbid

I should bear witness false against it;

I have writ truth, and here attest it.



HOOKEY WALKER



On board ship “Lizzie Webber”.




Written by William Brockie (1811 - 1890)

Born at the East Mains of Lauder where his father was the tenant farmer, William was educated at the Parish Schools of Lauder, Smailholm, Mertoun and Melrose as his father changed farms.
Starting work as a teacher - he was at Kailzie prior to 1843 - he decided to pursue his real love, writing, and in 1842 he set up the "Galashiels Weekly Review". He also wrote articles for other publications including the "Border Treasury". Before long he was the editor of the "Border Watch" which was to become the "Border Advertiser".
In 1849 he crossed the border into England to become editor of the "North and South Shields Gazette", later becoming editor of the "Sunderland Times" from 1862 to 1872.
During all of this time, he was also busy researching and writing, particularly in the field of local history and folk legends.
Amongst his best known works are:
"The Gypsies of Yetholm" (1884) for which he is best known in the Borders, "Coldingham Priory" (1886), "A Day in the Land of Scott", "Leaderside Legends", "Legends and Superstitions of the County of Durham"(1886) and "Sunderland Notables"(1894).













 


The Lizzie Webber was built in Sunderland in 1851-1852 and sailed from Sunderland to Melbourne 31-7-1852 arrived 4-12-1852.

Monday, 6 May 2019

TWINNING WITH TUEBINGEN!













statue of poet ludwig uhland - photo by peter dixon



































The partnership with County Durham and the City of Tuebingen in South Germany was established in 1969. 
Poet Doctor Keith Armstrong, who gained his doctorate at the University on Durham in 2007, following on from Bachelor's and Master's degrees there, first visited Tuebingen in November 1987 to give readings and talks for a period of three weeks. Since then he has travelled to the city some 40 times and helped arrange for Durham and North East poets, musicians and artists and their counterparts in Tuebingen to visit their respective cultural twins.

TO HELP CELEBRATE THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE OFFICIAL TWINNING, KEITH WILL RETURN TO TUEBINGEN FROM JULY 3RD TO 7TH 2019 AT THE INVITATION OF THE CULTURAL OFFICE IN TUEBINGEN WHEN HE WILL APPEAR AT THIS YEAR’S BOOK FESTIVAL TO READ FROM HIS LATEST TUEBINGEN POETRY AND FROM THE  TUEBINGEN/DURHAM LITERARY ANTHOLOGY ‘WORD SHARING’ (WITH GERMAN TRANSLATIONS RENDERED BY CAROLYN MURPHEY MELCHERS).
HE WILL TRAVEL WITH NORTHUMBRIAN PIPER CHRIS ORMSTON AND WILL BE JOINED BY TUEBINGEN PERFORMERS AND FRIENDS FOR THE OCCASION.

-- Mi. 3.7.19: Cafe Piccolo / Affenfelsen: Auftaktveranstaltung zu "50 Jahre Partnerschaft Tübingen - Durham" mit ACOUSTIC STORM, Keith Armstrong und piper Chris Ormston (Durham) und Akkordeonspieler Peter Weiss (Tübingen), 19 Uhr

-- Fr. 5.7.19: Kulturhalle: Tübinger Bücherfest mit Keith Armstrong und piper Chris Ormston, 21 Uhr


From poet Tom Hubbard: Well done Keith! You've achieved a lot there and back at base. Keep me posted with your work and travels!
Aye
Tom.

 

KEITH ARMSTRONG  
HERMANN HESSE IN THE GUTTER
Tübingen Poems (1987 to date)

In this unique poetry selection, poet Keith Armstrong from the North East of England reflects on over thirty years of visiting Durham’s twin city of Tübingen in Baden-Würtemburg.
Armstrong worked for six years as a Community Arts Development Worker in East Durham and studied at the University of Durham for fifteen years, culminating with his doctoral award in 2007.
In his youth, he travelled to Paris to seek out the grave of poet Charles Baudelaire and he has been making cultural pilgrimages abroad ever since. He has toured to Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, Iceland (including readings during the Cod War), Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica and Kenya.

His poetry has been translated into Dutch, German, Russian, Italian, Danish, Icelandic and Czech.

These poems reflect his love of Tübingen and the friends he has made there.

‘Now we are all able to read these poems. We are happy that Keith Armstrong has realised a long nourished idea with this unique publication. It shows the attraction and radiance which Tübingen has with a sensitive visitor from far away and it shows the liveliness of our connection with our English twin County Durham in the domains of words and music.’

(Margit Aldinger)


‘This poet is someone who in his biography and work inseparably unites wit and long gained knowledge, enthusiasm and great talent, pluck and social commitment....This is a man who conquers, with his poems and charms, pubs as well as universities. He has always been an instigator and an actor in social and literary projects, an activist without whom the exchanges between the twin towns of Durham and Tübingen would be a much quieter affair.’

(Uwe Kolbe)

‘Different poets have different triggers to set off poetic imagination and a main one for him is finding himself in a city street and invoking great spirits who once lived, loved and drank there. This unique publication brings together poems written over twenty years in this 'special town'. I almost think he has earned consideration for a Keith-Armstrong-Strasse - and he is the ideal subject for a civic statue!’

(Michael Standen)


PRICE  £5 ISBN 1 871536 23 5

ORDERS (ADD £1.50 POSTAGE PER COPY) TO: NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS, 35 HILLSDEN ROAD, WHITLEY BAY, TYNE & WEAR NE25 9XF, ENGLAND. TEL 0191 2529531.







INTRODUCTION TO KEITH'S BOOK:

 

People warn you against the profession of poet,
Also against playing the flute, the drums, the violin,
Because riffraff of this sort
So often tend toward drinking and frivolity.

(Hermann Hesse)



I first visited Durham’s twin city of Tübingen to give a series of poetry readings for three weeks in November 1987.

I proceeded to fall in love with the place.

Having now been there over thirty times and written all of these poems about it, I am still trying to work out just what it is, what peculiar magic, that draws me back.

Gunter Grass once said that ‘In Germany you’re always noticing how present the past is’ - and he, especially in the light of recent events, should know.

A lot of that past is ugly, we all know that. Just visit the memorial on Gartenstrasse to the burning down of the synagogue on Kristallnacht to remind yourself. And, of course, the Wall is down, its loss followed inevitably by all the grand schemes and tragedies that grow in its great shadow.

Yet, in Tübingen, I have always detected the lovely whiff of beauty.
I have found it all over town - in the glint of a girl’s hair, in the light on The Neckar, in the sweep of cobbled streets, in the trill of the blackbirds on Corrensstrasse, even in the candlelight of a favourite bar 'The Boulanger’.

Of course, it’s a university city, ‘a town on a campus’ some have said, and that gives it a somewhat ‘bookish’ air, which I have found inspiring - and not only because I have been a guest poet at its Bücherfest on a few occasions.
The ghost of Hegel stalks The Boulanger’ still, the young Hesse’s boots clatter up Lange Gasse at night, Hölderlin slips by in a ‘poetry boat’ - and, yes, Goethe continues to puke here!

I have ‘crashed’ all over Tübingen’ - under the old beams of Lange Gasse 18 (‘The Old Slaughterhouse’) with the church bells clanging in my brain; in a lonely basement on Gartenstrasse, in an idyllic hillside villa - and I always head back for more.

I have performed my poetry on a poetry stroll along the river and into town, as well as in the Castle, the University, the Public Library, in the Uhland and Kepler Gymnasiums, behind the Church, at an Erotic Cabaret, a Poetry Slam, in the Club Voltaire, in bars all over town, from a punt on the river, in the Hölderlin Tower, the Hesse-Haus, the D.A.I, the Jazz Kellar, at the nearby Theatre Lindenhof, on regional radio - still I can’t get enough!

I can remember bowling round the town with poet Julia Darling and finding a bag of coat hangers in a shop doorway, then walking into an art gallery through its open window and giving out the coat hangers in question to a bemused crowd at an exhibition opening before we left, minus coat hangers, through the window again. They all thought that this was ‘a happening’! I suppose it was, in a way.

I have joined in with the mania of the annual Stockerkahnrennen boat race in the heat of June, wandered through trees along the Platanenallee with a lovely lady, and slid drunk along Tuebingen gutters in white winters. I have seen this twinned place in all its moods and seasons, shared its glories with a bizarre selection of poets and musicians from Durham and North East England and, all the while, arranged literary exchanges, with a range of Tübingen poets and musicians visiting Durham, culminating in a unique joint anthology ‘Word Sharing’ published by the Kulturamt in 2007.

Many’s the time I’ve enjoyed lunch at the Wurstküche or Neckarmüller with Margit, Carolyn and Karin, shared a glass with the lyrical poet Uwe Kolbe in Weinhaus Beck and sat under the tree with the stalwart Otto Buchegger, sipped ale with rocking Jürgen and mates in the Cafe Piccolo, indulged in literary breakfasts with talented young poets, savoured fine wines and dinners with Carolyn, Christoph and Carmen at Corrensstrasse 45. The list, my friends, is endless.

I have measured out my life in Tübingen days and here are the poems to prove it. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed living, breathing and singing them.

See you again soon - back in The Boulanger’! Have the drinks waiting for me!

Dr Keith Armstrong. 

Durham,
2019.



Like a sunflower my soul has opened wide,
Longing,
Outreaching
In love and hope. Oh spring,
What is your will, when shall
My thirst be satisfied?

I see the cloud drifting, the river flowing,
And deep into my veins I feel
The golden kisses of the sun are going;
My eyes, bound by a spell,
Are drunken and seem to slumber...
Oh, does my heart not know
What memories it weaves
Into the twilight of the gold-green leaves?
The nameless days of long ago!


(Ludwig Uhland)


For the record, here's a list of those who have made it happen so far:

Tuebingen visitors to Durham since 1987:

Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Karin Miedler, Gerhard Oberlin, Uwe Kolbe, Johannes Bauer, Eva Christina Zeller, Simone Mittmann, Florian Werner, Juergen Sturm, Mary Jane, Wolf Abromeit, Christopher Harvie, Eberhard Bort, Marcus Hammerschmitt, Henning Ziebritzki, Andy and Alessandra Fazion Marx, Otto Buchegger, Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser, Anna Fedorova, Yannick Lengkeek, Manuela Schmidt, Florian Neuner, Andrea Mittag, Matthias Kaiser.

Durham visitors to Tuebingen since 1987:

Keith Armstrong, the late Michael Standen (Colpitts Poetry), the late Julia Darling, Andy Jackson, Fiona MacPherson, Katrina Porteous, Marie Little, Ian Horn (Colpitts Poetry), the late Alan C. Brown, Linda France, Jackie Litherland (Colpitts Poetry), Cynthia Fuller, Margaret Wilkinson, Jez Lowe, the late Jack Routledge, Gary Miller, Matthew Burge, David Stead, Hugh Doyle, Peter Dixon, Paul Summers.




FURTHER INFORMATION: NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS TEL. 0191 2529531.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

FIRE IN WHITLEY BAY











































Rooted,
in our own coldness,
we study
the burning,
from the other side
of pain.
We are in awe
of it,
the fire,
lashing its crazy head
against the sky;
a comforting kind
of fear
it is:
the warmth of flames,
of passions
that cannot burn us.
Here, across the road
from the sting of suffering,
we cling to the pavement
and look
into the deep horrors of a scream:
an insight
of the heart’s volcano,
viewed from the narrow edge of life
by our own 
melting
eyes.


 


KEITH ARMSTRONG


Wednesday, 20 March 2019

MARSDEN ROCK





Sensational Rock,
swimming in light.
Bird cries clinging to ancient ledges,
Kittiwakes smashing against time.
What tales you could tell.

Your face is so moody,
flickers with breezes,
crumbles in a hot afternoon.

Climbing your powdery steps,
we look down on the sea
thrashing at you.

We join a choir of birds at your peak,
cry out to the sky
in good spirits.

Nesting for the sake of it,
our lyrics are remnants on the shore.

We keep chipping away,
do we not?

We slip
through the pebbles,
splashing
with babies.

We leave our mark,
a grain
on the ancient landscape.

We go.

We dance like the sunlight
on your scarred body:

tripping,
falling,
singing

away.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

Friday, 1 March 2019

FRACTURE



 

It is still too early for leaves
Even though daffodil shoots
Are already pressing green fingers
Through. Meanwhile, as a crow loots

An unnecessary bird feeder,
There’s a woman of four score
Years and more waiting, with her frame,
For transportation. The door

To the ward won’t open on home,
Or those leafless trees beyond
Her back hedge, and the crow will fly
From the daffodil grasped ground.

                                                                


Dave Alton

Friday, 8 February 2019

OLD STATIONS































(for Kathleen Sisterson)






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.











KEITH ARMSTRONG



Lovely poem & so evocative of an area which has changed much since you were a ‘reivers’ lad on your journey through the North Tyne Valley. (Geoff Holland)





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)