Thursday, 23 February 2012


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.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

JOSEPH SKIPSEY (1832-1903)

The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, Neville Hall, WestgateRoad, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1SE. Tel: 0191 232 2201.


Saturday 17th March from 7 – 9pm in the Library.

2012 provides several anniversaries of mining disasters so, to re-balance this a little, we’ll be holding an event celebrating the 180th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Skipsey, the Tyneside Pitman Poet. The event includes Keith Armstrong, Gary Miller (Whisky Priests), Chris Harrison with Skipsey songs, the Sawdust Jacks and pipe player Chris Ormston, with readings from Skipsey’s poetry and an account of his life. During the evening, the annual Northern Voices Joseph Skipsey Award will be presented to a deserving local writer.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

In collaboration with the Poetry Society of New Zealand, Poetry Tyneside presents...

What Will I See?
by Joel Holmes Marler

My eyes are sinking
In a grey-green sea.
What will I see?
Dolphins weave between snapper
Fluttering skyward
Amid crackling sonic war-cries.
Safety is elusive;
The skin of the water
Is pierced by diving cormorants
Who whet their appetites
And turn water into wine.
But that is all.
Far from shore,
The ocean is desert.
Creatures abhor this wasteland
And only enter it
To reach warmer coastlines,
Give birth, or kill.

My eyes are sinking.
Still sinking, climbing down
To a terrifying obsidian landscape
That chokes the light with both hands,
Robbing my only power
Each inch I descend.
Clinging to light particles
Who strip to their bare electrons,
Thin and emaciated, out of their depth,
I stretch twilight to a line;
But even lines have some width,
And when the last quivering lantern is snuffed
The whole game is changed.
I am now twin babies without a mother,
In a land where shadows have jaws.

The journey down continues.
Though without sight
There is no sensation of descent;
Only one of suspension
Of both movement and time.
I am conscious only of my own consciousness
And without the competition of the visual
My thoughts have mushroomed into titans
That eddy around me as a sphere of rainbows,
Rutting with each other for my attention.
They have become my world
And they protect me from the real world
Of vampire squid and hagfish,
Transforming anything that strays too close
To these unfamiliar neon colours
Into a violent flash of light
That chases Darkness into her cave, for a moment,
Until she rallies and reclaims her land.
But I do not notice this.
I do not notice the real world -
To me, my world is now the real world.
The truth is boring.
It only offers snapper scales,
Fluttering downward from the past
Like grotesque confetti.

My thoughts continue to swell,
Erasing all they envelop
Except the immutable granite floor
Of the Earth itself.
The ocean eventually brims
With a cacophony of colours.
They are venomous sea snakes
Who writhe in pleasure
In consuming the Pacific.
Unlike real sea snakes, however,
They are not bound by water.
Imagination is only restricted by itself,
And they soar into the air,
Coagulating into waves
That glitter above islands
With sparkling malevolence
Before extinguishing them
In one awesome swoop.
My eyes throb with megalomania,
Loving this war of the worlds,
But unable to conquer gravity.
Still slowly sinking
To the bottom of a sea.

I at last flop onto bedrock.
The world is encapsulated in light -
It is the Las Vegas of the Milky Way
And even the Sun
Dips his head in respect.
But I cannot swallow the Earth itself
Like a lozenge;
I can only eradicate its surface detail.
My eyes will dim with time,
Clinging to light particles
As the sea inks over once again.
But when the last quivering lantern is snuffed
The whole game is changed,
And the land will rumble with laughter.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Threnody of snow through cables

Slung as monstrous garrottes between

Hunch-shouldered and nethered pylons,

Earth becoming silenced beneath

Fleecy quilting, embroided with

Tyre tread threads along seamless roads.

Urgent dashes of council grit

Sprayed like civic sick spewed across

Otherwise sober pavements. Youths

Drift in and out a cone of light

Yellow as dog-piss beneath soft

Street lamp. A cold confetti spills

Over them, a celebration

Of their mutual vow of life.

They giggle at swaddled oldies

Trudging by, huddled and hapless,

Oblivious that a sowing

Of snow is also a reaping

And how, without exception, each

Flake has its own unique bouquet,

Easily missed in a blizzard.

                                              Dave Alton

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Train Lovers

Maris O'Rourke, a New Zealander, has been writing poetry for four years. She has published in Takahç, Poetry New Zealand, Bravado, Shot Glass Journal (USA), International Literary Quarterly (UK) and Side Stream. She was the inaugural featured poet in the NZPS's (New Zealand Poetry Society) 'a fine line'. In 2010 she was runner-up in the Auckland NZSA (New Zealand Society of Authors) Sonnet competition and awarded an NZSA mentorship. In 2011 she was Second in the Robert Burns Poetry Competition; awarded Highly Commended in the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize; and First place in the South Island Writers Association (SIWA) National Competition

I blame Mr Foster.
Eager eight year olds
we ran to his classes anticipating
unknown journeys to come.

Unruly spirals of red hair.
Dashing matching moustache
from his World War II pilot days.
Slow smile starting from his smoky grey eyes.
He was easily diverted, especially in Maths,
with a question about trains.

He’d pull out the maps.
Trace tracks with his finger.
Sing the names.
Like music.
Like poetry.

We racketed up alongside the Nile
on slatted wooden seats
to the end of the line at Aswan.
Sailed slowly back on a red-sailed felucca
a huge Nubian at the helm
in a white galabiyya.

We hung on every word
of all the things he’d done and seen.

We rocked along the wide-gauge Trans-Siberian railway
in Edwardian splendour
all the way to Vladivostock.
Pulling back red velvet curtains to see
Cossacks galloping across
the great steppes on wild horses.

Escapes conjured up nightly
on bombing raids to Berlin.
Like smoke.
Like dreams.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


Verse too

While most Newcastle fans will no doubt go drinking after Wednesdays's Champions League tie at PSV Eindhoven, Keith Armstrong, will go to a poetry reading.
The 51-year-old poet and Toon nut will be performing his own works in an all night cafe in Eindhoven, with topics ranging from Jackie Milburn to Hughie Gallacher. Goodness knows how they will go down if Newcastle win.
Keith was invited to perform by the Dutch poet Bart FM Droog, whom he met while visiting the Cuckoo Club in Groningen, Newcastle's twin town. So, when PSV play in Newcastle on November 5, Keith has invited Bart and three other performers, including a didgeridoo player, to do their stuff at a poetry reading in Newcastle.
Hopefully Bart will find a quiet place to stay. For when Keith and his fellow poet Ian Horn slept on the floor of Bart's squat, the avid Magpie got in a flap during the night. Recalls Keith: "We were woken up by three budgies mating in a cage in a corner."

(Martin Thorpe, The Guardian, (UK), 18-10-97)

from the archive: poetry meets jazz

Trumpet                                  Don Forbes
Tenor Saxophone                 John Rowland
Alto Saxophone                    Paul Gowland
Baritone Saxophone            Danny Veitch
Guitar                                     Andy Pattinson
Bass Guitar                           Stuart Davies
Piano                                      Alan Laws
Percussion                           Dave Francis
1. ‘Because I Drink Too Much’ by Keith Armstrong; music composed by Don Forbes, using ‘Bah Lues For U’s’.
2. ‘Afternoon In Amsterdam Bar’ by Ian Horn; music ‘Little Blue Eyes’ composed by Don Forbes.
3. ‘Sugar Daddy’ by Ian Horn; music composed by Don Forbes.
4. ‘The Poet Of Rain’ by John Earl; music composed by Don Forbes.
5. ‘Drips’ by Michael Standen; music ‘Rollano’ composed by Juan Lazaro Menadas.
6. ‘New Idea’ by Michael Standen; music composed by Don Forbes.
7. ‘The 8.5 Brought Us Ears And Feet’ by John Earl; music ‘Mark Time’ composed by Kenny Wheeler. 
8. ‘Lockerbie’ by Keith Armstrong; music composed by Don Forbes.  

Friday, 3 February 2012

"Still the Sea Rolls On" at the Mining Institute

On Thursday 26th January, the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers hosted a book launch. The publication, "Still the Sea Rolls On", has been compiled and edited by Keith Armstrong and Peter Dixon. The sub-title, "The Hartley Pit Calamity of 1862", explains why the Institute’s Neville Hall was such an appropriate venue.

The book explores the history of the tragedy and marks its 150th anniversary with poems, photographs and illustrations. The poems range from Joseph Skipsey’s, "The Hartley Calamity" written and read by him to raise funds for the bereaved families, to reflections written by poets of today.

With the disappearance of coal mining none of today’s writers have direct experience of the industry, although many can claim close family connections. My own father worked down the pit on the South Yorkshire coalfield during World War 2 as a Bevan Boy.

So this was no academic historical exercise for the contributors, and a common theme of the evening was community. Rather than that artificial construct, "The Big Society", the Hartley Calamity was a true expression of people coming together for mutual aid and support. The socialism of disaster, the best of people brought out by the worst of circumstances, rather than the social disaster presently being perpetrated by the Coalition government.

The book is itself the product of collaboration, as was the evening that launched it. A well informed and informative lecture on The Hartley Disaster preceded the well attended reading. The evening was enlivened by an eclectic mix of songs accompanied by both acoustic and electric guitars, along with the soulful music of the Northumbrian pipes.

Overall, this was a fitting tribute and memorial, even down to the day of the week. As Joseph Skipsey wrote: 
"Twas on the Thursday morning, on
The first month of the year,
When there befell the thing that well
May rend the heart to hear."

Dave Alton