WORD SHARING!

WORD SHARING!

17.12.17

SKULLHEAD


Oh, how soon
Beauty and form disappear.
You shine with your cheeks
Just like milk and purple shine.
Alas, the roses are withering.
(Wilhelm Hauff)

An aging, independent scholar disturbed my musings - a dessicated, lonely and embittered bachelor known as ‘skullhead’. For years he has been living all alone. He injected his bitter mockery into the elegy I had just begun and walked around those paths with me for a whole hour, talking and grumbling. It was a strange thing to watch: he couldn't help making bitter and angry jokes, yet he needed so badly to talk about himself and be sociable that he thrust himself upon me in a manner I found almost moving.
(Hermann Hesse, letter from Tuebingen 2/10/1898)

I clocked him
again 
yesterday,
a long and lonely Sunday,
falling out of the Boulanger
with the moon in his top pocket.
He’d had a schnapps too many
and it showed
on his slobbering tongue.
He was hanging round 
nooks and crannies,
last year’s stubble
stuck
on his crazed cranium.
He could have been Hermann Hesse
but he found himself 
in a rut,
got his heart broke too often
got his bones frozen
too many times,
embittered,
brittle as old crumbs.
But his eyes
gleamed
with knowledge
and foreboding,
his wiseness
bothered people
in their aimlessness:
folk growing kids
to make themselves feel useful.
Skullhead knew different,
he knew that the Neckar
was full of piss,
that the trees on the Platanenallee
had brains
and feelings,
that the sky screamed
and churches were awash 
with shit.
Young girls and boys
basking by the Cafe Piccolo Sole d’Oro,
eyes playing
with sunlight,
flinched
when they saw him.
They might just end up like him,
brilliant and unloved,
stuck in a town called Tuebingen,
shoelaces trailing 
down Hafengasse,
branches creaking,
river murmuring,
footsteps in the memory,
fallen leaves.
That 
and the dull thud 
of spiritless music
everywhere,
no God,
no hope.
Only Skullhead
to remind us
that we’re going nowhere
but the graveyard,
like Hoelderlin
without the poetry.
KEITH ARMSTRONG


14.12.17

TRY TO UNDERSTAND ME



Try to understand me,
where I come from, where I’m going;
I’m drifting and I need you
to save my hopes from ruin.

You’ll need to know what splits me,
my need for roots and dreams;
it’s not the earth that hurts me,
it’s the tyrants and their schemes.

My father sailed the world before me,
to Rio and to Spain;
his father taught him shells and ships
and how to smile in pain.

Mother stayed at home and nursed,
came from a quiet place;
she ran the river and the green,
grew strong, with a gentle face.

I split my tongue in the early days,
shook off asthma as I grew,
fell into school and struggled out,
just clutching what I knew.

I was bred for something ‘better’,
for an office on fifth floor,
away from sea spray and stray sheep,
with my name upon the door.

My mother and my father
scraped and saved for me,
bruised each other in the process,
gave up smoking and the sea.

Try to understand me,
why I’ve come back to earth;
it’s because I need to know myself
and the landscape of my birth.



                                                                                

KEITH ARMSTRONG


11.12.17

FRIENDS OF THE GRAVES (for the Birtley Belgians)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgE9ltf_Az4

























‘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.



KEITH ARMSTRONG


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.



What a good job you've made of it!  Like you, I find these nooks and crannies of the 20th century totally fascinating. (John Mapplebeck, Bewick Films).

KELSEY GRAMMER AND ME


























 








The man from Buckie
who works with fish
is out of water 
on the flight home from Dublin.
He tells me that I’m the second most famous man 
he’s ever met
after Kelsey Grammer
who he shared a table wIth 
in New York City.
Such airy tales,
how am I to take them?
A very humble poet
flying out of his depth
to the safety of his own bed
after spreading his verse
all over Limerick
and Dublin.
Of course,
If I’d really sought success,
I wouldn’t be here now
in the blue and yellow of Ryanair
needing a can of Magners
to relax in the clouds
that befuddle my eyes
with the accumulated tears
of artistic failure.
I could also take it 
as a compliment
that I am just like Frasier
all of a twitch
in the morning studio,
ready to land abruptly on the scary runway
of my trembling verse,
back in my own Newcastle
and the pitter patter of too many Geordies
too early on the razzle dazzle
in this shit-stained broon ale toon.
So thank you Mr Buckie man
for killing a good hour or so together in the air,
we made each other’s day.
And even if you
were seriously taking the piss,
I still hope you get to sleep,
up to your eyes in bleeding thistles
and dawn cargoes 
of flying fish.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

9.12.17

BLEEDING SKETCHES - DOCTOR ARMSTRONG & THE WHISKY PRIESTS (FROM 1995)!


https://whiskypriests.bandcamp.com/album/bleeding-sketches

WILLIAM BLAKE IN THE BRIDGE HOTEL













































A few pints of Deuchars and my spirit is soaring.
The child dances out of me,
goes running down to the Tyne,
while the little man in me wrestles with a lass
and William Blake beams all his innocence in my glass.
And the old experience sweats from a castle’s bricks
as another local prophet takes a jump off the bridge.

It’s the spirit of Pat Foley and the ancient brigade
on the loose down the Quayside stairs
in a futile search,
just a step in the past,
for one last revolutionary song.

All the jars we have supped
in the hope of a change;
all the flirting and courting and chancing downstream;
all the words in the air and the luck pissed away.
It seems we oldies are running back
screaming to the Bewick days,
when a man could down a politicised quip
and craft a civilised chat
before he fed the birds
in the Churchyard.

The cultural ships are fair steaming in
but it’s all stripped of meaning -
the Councillors wade
in the shallow end.

O Blake! buy me a pint in the Bridge again,
let it shiver with sunlight
through all the stained windows,
make my wit sparkle
and my knees buckle.

Set me free of this stifling age
when the bland are back in charge.
Let us grow our golden hair wild once more
and roar like Tygers
down Dog Leap Stairs.

 



KEITH ARMSTRONG

4.12.17

ANGELS PLAYING FOOTBALL












































Some weeks before he died in 1988, the legendary Newcastle United footballer Jackie Milburn was sitting in his Ashington home with a granddaughter on his knee. Outside, there was thunder and lightning, which frightened the wee girl: ‘What’s that noise?’, she asked her grandad anxiously. ‘Don’t worry’, ‘Wor Jackie’ replied, ‘It’s just the angels playing football.’
It was this incident which inspired the following poem, given added poignancy by the placing of an Alan Shearer shirt on the Gateshead Angel’s prodigious back by local fans before the 1998 F.A. Cup Final!



Sprinkle my ashes on St. James’s Park,
Fragments of goals on the grass.
Hear the Gallowgate roar in the dark.
All of my dreams came to pass.

Pass me my memories,
Pass me the days,
Pass me a ball and I’ll play:

Play with the angels,
Play on their wings,
Play in the thunder and lightning.

I leave you these goals in my will,
Snapshots of me on the run.
I leave you these pieces of skill,
Moments of me in the sun.

Pass me my memories,
Pass me the days,
Pass me a ball and I’ll play:

Play with the angels,
Play on their wings,
Play in the thunder and lightning.




                                                                               

Keith Armstrong

3.12.17

THE SUN ON DANBY GARDENS



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.


KEITH ARMSTRONG




Michael CallaghanAbsolutely brilliant Keith!


Conrad Atkinson: Another gem Keith
Best Conrad 

2.12.17

NEW PUBLICATIONS FROM KEITH ARMSTRONG





the jingling geordie

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whitley bay, tyne and wear, United Kingdom
poet and raconteur