Monday, 27 June 2011

Salmesbury Bottoms by Dave Alton

Word is silent; my voice can be no more

Than resounding echo of that silence.

Whom these days have any time for church clocks

When a chip, little larger than a tear

Or a glob of blood from a wounded hand,

Is much more precise than venerable chimes,

However divine the charm. With there being

No church hard by and frayed Lancashire cloud

Weaving across the sky, even the sun’s

Become uncertain. A promise of rain

Has been broken, except on distant hills

To the north, where perseverant walkers

Are mocked by baffled resolve of church clocks

As their hearts and their boots fill with water.

Word be silent, my voice can be no more.

Turning from the Preston road, favouring

And unremarkable lane no doubt sold

As rural by estate agents, but bought

For being just near enough to suburban.

Two thirds down and it’s rough grazing for cars,

Metalled roads reserved for tread of pilgrims

Who, in some vague way, hope to expiate

Their doubt, about what they are not quite sure.

It is an unspoken need to gather

By the river, where pegged pavilions

Become canvas carapaces to art

In the garden and artists acting as

Both cultivators and hopeful vendors.

This is another year when the Darwen

Mumbles on its way, and no kingfisher.

There are new pathways though, shaven through woods,

And an old alarming footbridge, except

For kids who can keep fear in suspension.

Galvanised pyramid, quite recondite

As any in the Valley of the Kings,

Yielding up neither bounty nor curses,

Significance cloaked by banality.

Meanwhile, truth behind barbeques is proof

Of a quaint human instinct to gamble:

Delicious tension, tasteless apprehension,

Reward for pleasure, a prospect of pain,

But only after leaving the garden.

Does art really exist? Is it explained

As convention, arrangement of pigments

By process of natural selection?

Just a two dimensional illusion

At which primed brains innocently connive,

A trick of the light. Except it is not

The light – that’s the artist’s fabrication,

Spoken to conceal deeper mysteries –

But shadow, darkness defines, cloud gives shape

To Pendle, concocting a fallacy

Of its moods. Gem of a raindrop on a

Depicted bloom, transparent analogue

Of a tear for those petals to be shed:

Neither light nor darkness in extinction.

What pilgrims fail to see while buying plants

But not paintings, earrings and novelties

With no more than glances towards sculpture,

Is the wraith beckoning towards a tree,

Its roots drawing nourishment from treasure

Buried beneath in more troubled times past.

Assembled painters, even those who are

Truly artists, only depict her in

Their perspectives as momentary shade.

Leaving the poet to compose her tale

Which few will listen to and fewer read.

Unhooked landscapes swaddled in bubble-wrap,

Diaries marked for their re-hanging next year

As the poet nods to the wraith who smiles.

Word is silent, my voice can be no more

Than resounding echo of that silence.

Before any of this had been arranged

There could only be the artist, perhaps

No more than a vague potential artist,

Who, by realisation, became art,

Its flaws, its contrivance of chance and design,

A wilful act, the only evidence

For which are pigments deployed on canvas.

The forecast rain hardly came and numbers

Are up on last year. Sales so slow again,

But scones with cream and jam feed the moment.

Balances are precarious, pilgrims

Struggle to grasp a sense of perspective.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Poet Keith Armstrong and folk musician Gary Miller will appear again in schools and cafes in Newcastle's twin city of Groningen at the end of September following on from  successful appearances in 2010 where they presented their unique poems and songs in the International School, Haren Library (with a specially commissioned performance for Haren's 850th anniversary and a recital of the poems of Charles Dickens) and O'Ceallaigh's Irish Bar. During the September stay, Armstrong will perform his sequence of Groningen poems, written after many visits to the city, with some settings by Miller.

A Groningen delegation made up of poets, publishers, journalists and cultural officers and headed by Councillor for Culture Jaap Dijkstra visited Newcastle in September 2008 and a special performance evening was held at the Ouseburn Boathouse with readings by the Groningen poets and their Newcastle counterparts incuding Keith Armstrong, Paul Summers and Ellen Phethean. 

Successful events were also held in Newcastle in October 2007 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the literary twinning between the respective cities, including a poetry and music evening at the Bridge Hotel and a reception with the City's Lord Mayor.
The new Groningen City Poet Rense Sinkgraven took part, along with fellow Groningen poet Willem Groenewegen, and Nick J. Swarth (City Poet of Tilburg) added colour to the celebrations.
The poets were joined by twinning pioneers Professor Helen Wilcox and jazz performer Allan Wilcox (on double bass and piano) and Groningen Cultural Officer Marieke Zwaving.
Keith Armstrong led the team of Newcastle performers with fellow poets Paul Summers, Poetry Jack, Catherine Graham, Ian Horn and Mick Standen. 

Armstrong first visited Groningen in 1992 with poet Julia Darling to set the ball rolling. Since then there have been readings in pubs, universities, libraries, and schools and at breakfast parties, festivals, cabaret clubs and civic centres in both cities.

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

Groningen literary/cultural visitors to Newcastle since 1992:

Rense Sinkgraven, Marieke Zwaving, Jaap Dijkstra, Tine Bethlehem, Albertina Soepboer, Tsead Bruinja, The Poets from Epibreren (Bart FM Droog, Tjitse Hofmann, Paul Jainandun Singh, Jan Klug), Sieger M. Geertsma, Ronald Ohlsen, Anneke Claus, Willem Groenewegen, Anton Scheepstra, Eric Nederkoorn, Herman Sandman, Emiel Matulewicz, Jeroen Engels, Entre'acte jazz duo (Allan Wilcox, Sina Keuning), Janny Boerma, Helen Wilcox, Henk Muda, Klaas Drenth, Emmeke Schurink-Plas, Willem Smit.

Newcastle visitors to Groningen since 1992:

Keith Armstrong, Julia Darling, The Poetry Virgins, Paul Summers, Ian Horn, Tony Whittle (photographer/musician), Ann Sessoms (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Ormston (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Hartnett (singer/songwriter), John Earl, Alan Clark (Nod), Dave Gaston, Michael Standen, Marie Little (singer), Gary Miller (singer/songwriter).


Tuesday, 21 June 2011


She started off my love.
Believe me,
She could fly.
She straightened me out,
Showed me the space
Between right and wrong.

Don't worry,
All I want to say is 'There's an easier way
To ease the pain.'

She set fire to my heart
And watched it blaze.
I wanted her to stay with me
While I burned.
She wouldn't take my hand.
Instead, she broke my life.

For God's sake, dear!
Didn't you know that I could feel
Your heartbeat?


(st thomas more rc high school, north shields)