Sunday, 31 March 2013


Thanks for thinking of me......here's a few to show that when I weep it is Tynewater than falls from my eyes......
I was born in Gateshead, into a family who had lived and loved and laughed and struggled and died on Tyneside for at least a thousand years. I left in my early twenties, never to return. But I count myself as much a Geordie as any of my ancestors. My imagination was born in its streets, by its river, its politics, its sorrow and its brio. Right now, I live in the Pyrenees. Zut alors! And write a lot about it, its landscape and its people. But often some wild dragon in my head takes me back to where I started, into a lost past only memory can touch. Here are some sonnets and shih that the dragon found for me. The final sonnet is included simply because I mention my old teacher, Mrs Jones, whose face is among many from old Tyneside that float up to memory all the time.

Grey men in caps are drinking.
Red street tilts to the black Tyne.
I am born in a front room.
Coronation nik-naks spread.
An escaped monkey feels cold.
Dirty drunk fingers grab him.
The Queen crowned on my pillow.
The first face I see goes eek.


Small black castle, gull heckled.
Why go there? they said to me.
Soot rubbed off its lungless stones.
I paid tuppence to the mouth.
Climbed high, replaying nightmares.
The old town pointed fingers.
Gulls foot-slapped the battlements.
I flew with them from cinders.

My Grandfather Smoked

Lungs already quartered he chain-smoked fast.
Volcano shaped, headed with a gruff plug,
Ash fell with his handshake. Always dying.
Fogged in, he frightened, lived shapeless in smoke.
Approach carefully. He must not lose count
Of the betting slips flipping in his hands.
His whippets were stabled with trusty men.
He toured, dog-visiting. They shrank from him.
Just gums. Speechless. He spoke by how he smoked.
At London shows, at the fights, glad handing.
Largesse controlled the monochrome outworld.
Inner life: red fog, pipsqueak sons rising.
There were losing days to rile his short breath.
Last smoke-rings, dawn's grey on black, went nowhere.


Bees asleep in locks hear no crunch of keys
As the girls from the marching band hum home.
The majorette's in, door opened for her…..
But when was this? - The photo does not tell
The old girl still tall in her mother's house.
Where's that baton now, among all objects?
The streets slant just the same. Ghostly oompha.
Her uncrunched bee turns white in favoured sleep.
Marching paths in the allotment fields: gone!
Paved and built on. Does veg still rot below?
With porno mags the boys hid in the sheds,
Buried glossy, defaced under climbed stairs.
For her - see him, photo's edge: smirking blur.
She twirls, throws - this future hand plays a catch.

A Tune That Makes All Soldiers Sleep

To write a tune that makes all soldiers sleep
Was the sort of daft well-meaning notion
That Mrs Jones said would leave him ruined.
He walked through misty pines with his kazoo
Making mild noises, high unwarlike cones
Bombing down for a soft bounce too mute
To inspire his sweet lullaby for grunts.
Carlotta, meanwhile, would take it all back
If he could make history in this way.
Despairing peeps brought out stag and bear cubs,
Wide awake, bored in the wild, uninvolved,
But startled when the redcoats came knees high,
Long gone when he was on the promontory
Blowing his best, buttons aglow below.

Saturday, 30 March 2013



'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

Thursday, 28 March 2013




‘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)

by D.W. Smith

Known as Bloody Monday, the Hexham Riot, which broke out on March 9th 1761, was the outcome of an attempt to introduce a system of balloting for the militia. Balloting met with opposition throughout the north of England but it was in Hexhamshire that feelings ran highest. The local magistrates, well aware of this, had taken the precaution of bringing a detachment of the North Yorkshire Militia into the town of Hexham. Drawn up in the square in front of the Moot Hall, these soldiers only served to increase the fury of the mob that gathered on the day of the ballot. After almost four hours of argument between ringleaders and magistrates, the Riot Act was read.
The mob broke loose and advanced with staves and clubs upon the charged bayonets. Two soldiers were shot by their own weapons and the magistrates, in panic ordered general fire. By the time the firing ceased, the mob had fled through the streets, leaving only dead and severely wounded - a sight that seemed to move even the soldiers. Various figures have been advanced for these fatalities - one source gives 45 dead and 300 wounded, but it is likely that the figure was much higher, for large numbers of the wounded escaped to their own locality and were naturally unwilling to acknowledge their part in the affray. However, with careful investigation, several can be found who probably died from wounds in those days of rudimentary surgery. Joseph Ridley's Hexham Chronicle gives a list of dead and wounded, but it is by no means complete. For example, Dorothy, wife of William Armstrong of Stamfordham, died four days later; Charles Shipley of Gunnerton died a month later - two of his cousins, the Coulsons of Gunnerton, were also involved. Thomas Richardson of Corbridge had been married barely a month before being shot. Many of the dead were claimed by relatives - John Appleby, aged 74, of West Matfen, my own kinsman, was buried at Stamfordham on the 12th. John Leighton, buried at Bywell, was only 21.