if you think this is democracy,
this quango land
insult to our history,
of false celebrity,
this wretched shallowness,
this shattered ignorance
of all that shines from our fought-for heritage,
this media connivence
and bone idleness,
this following of the fast buck,
this grovelling to the greed of capital,
this sickening homage to materialism,
this lack of human spirit
in our city centres,
this brutal selfishness
encouraged by a government
that denies our European roots,
that scans the wonder of the vast Atlantic
for feeble ideas to run with,
this rat race of a society
that puts self above solidarity,
these feeble careerist substitutes for activism
who have lost any real will for change,
who have become corrupted by a power-lust,
who lack any passion
other than to climb grimly up their greasy poles,
clinging on to their self-delusion,
ignoring, in their centrist way,
the true beauty of community,
handing out their gongs to the servile
and rubbishing the selfless folk
who work their little miracles every breathing day.
Libby Wattis Loved your poem, which I saw on Facebook this morning 'You must be joking'. My thought about our current predicament exactly - but expressed a thousand times more eloquently than I could have done!
Lindy Pin The ending is lovely, opening the heart.
Kim Schroeder Yes, the ending is just lovely. Keith Armstrong is talent-packed, lol. The poem is very pertinent to the political state of play in the UK at the moment - there is a referendum in Scotland this year re Independence.
David Henry Excellent! Definitely would be struck off Gove's GCSE list. Keep it up! Are you going to record this one on Soundcloud, Keith? I'd love to hear it.
Michael Arnell Brutally honest, cruelly accurate.
Really is thought provoking top draw stuff Keith. Well done.
Brian Hall I am sharing this new piece from Dr Keith Armstrong, one of our region's best poets and writers, who is not one to pull his punches.....worth a read, for sure. And Keith somehow is not exactly ever popular amidst the Establishment elite in the north east.....I wonder why!!! Keith......this is brilliant.
Posted by keith armstrong at 7:40 am
Cees Nooteboom, a leading Dutch literary light, wrote a novel translated as ‘In the Dutch Mountains’. I heard that some culture vulture sought a copy in a bookshop over here and was directed by the assistant to the TRAVEL SECTION!
I’ve travelled a lot all over The Netherlands, sometimes with the help of awards from Northern Arts/Arts Council and The British Council, and there have been times, trundling over the endlessly flat polder landscape, that I’ve been just gagging for a mountain or two.
‘Flat’, you might say, but not uninteresting if you’ve got an eye for detail - and that applies to the cultural scene as well as the landscape.
From the hectically cosmopolitan and fast talking Amsterdam to the windswept northern city of Groningen to the carnival atmosphere of Den Bosch in the south, I’ve travelled with poetry in my pocket to give a series of readings and to network madly with mad Dutch poets.
I’ve crashed down in a squat in the former Dutch Foreign Office in The Hague and read there in the basement of the ex-Intelligence Ministry. I’ve performed at three in the morning in the Cuckoo Club in Groningen where, in a sparse yet merry audience, an old hippie glared at me from a murky corner with a hamster in a cage on his knee. I’ve read in a Circus tent in Rotterdam on a Sunday afternoon accompanied by my folk-roots mates ‘The Whisky Priests’, a doped rhino eyeing us suspiciously from its cage as we unloaded our gear.
And then there was the night in Den Helder in a pub so full of drunks that even my Northumbrian Piper was heckled. That same trip, I shared the balcony of a bar with a large stuffed swan, bellowing out my poetry to the punters down below like a demented seagull. Oh and then there was the Beer Museum in Breda, crammed to the rafters with wild and drunken Brabantians on a barmy Sunday afternoon. They roared during the set by ‘The Whisky Priests’ and they roared during my poetry too, so much so that I lost my voice and had to collect it from behind the bar later.
And then there was Utrecht where I had my jacket stolen in a cafe before the gig, passport, bank card, air ticket, glasses, and all. After a visit to the Police Station, it was down to the venue where, after borrowing some reading-glasses from a member of the audience, I took the stage in fighting form. The show must go on!
In Newcastle’s twin city of Groningen, a place I’ve come to love after 20 visits or so, I performed at the Werkman College at a poetry breakfast, part of Dutch National Poetry Day, and I can recall, one wet and windy day, bumping into a pack of Friesian farmers drunk as rats. ‘And what do you do?’ bawled one in my left ear. ‘I’m a poet!’ ‘A poet!’, he mocked, ‘we milk cows!’, demonstrating, graphically, with his fingers the milking technique. Must get myself a real job I thought.
There’s a marked difference between north and south. There are carnivals down south in a warm and Catholic spirit. North seems bleaker, even gloomy, though Groningen keeps going all night, as I know to my cost. But try the Den Bosch Carnival in February, which I’ve only just returned from, and you’ll see how crazy The Netherlands can be. The symbol of Den Bosch, just over the border from Belgium, is, of course, the frog. So watch out for mobs of blokes in green tights belting out ‘When the Saints’ on their trombones. Not surprising, therefore, that it’s the home town of the legendary Hieronymus Bosch whose statue peers down on the leaping Carnival revellers, including myself.
And as for Amsterdam, well all of life is there, the nether regions bared for all to see. One Groningen city poet told me that ‘they should bomb Amsterdam!’ Now that’s real national rivalry for you! Yet to me it has a magic - just stay a few times on a Prinsensgracht canal boat or in a mice-ridden tiny-staircased flat or in the dowdy Hotel Utopia reeking of dope, as I have done, and you’ll know what I mean. Or take a jar or two at my Amsterdam local ‘The Karpershoek’, across the street from the throbbing Central Station, and you’ll mix with typical moustached Amsterdammers and Ajax fans, as well as New York cops on holiday rubbing truncheons with re-invading German tourists, guys from Bolton in search of cheap viagra, artists chewing the latest postmodernist cud, sweaty bricklayers, and sweaty social workers - well, and the odd crazy poet too.
So you can sense that my study of Dutch culture has been pretty thorough and, of course, ongoing, with plans for me to be back there for more readings. But it’s not one way traffic - poets and musicians from Groningen have performed in Newcastle and Groningen official city poets have visited here for readings and meetings with Newcastle’s Lord Mayor, as have teachers from the Dutch city's Werkman College. Well, it’s what twinning’s all about, isn’t it?!
Extracts from poems:
I was flown by a Dutchman through a Starry Sky
across the polluted Sea.
I was twinning in a different land
with a song book in my hand.
The train tore across the frozen dykes
as the old town swarmed with bikes
and I thought of Vincent scraping spuds
and Rembrandt spitting blood.
This dark Carnival of frogs and trombones,
leaps from the graves of beggars and cripples;
this dualist fantasy,
this Oeteldonk nightmare,
where even the sewer rats dance
and the River Dieze drinks to high heaven.
I once saw a man who looked like you,
staring at me like a hag of a gargoyle
at the bar of the Bonte Palet.
He was a dribbling grotesque,
the kind you find among the monsters and workmen astride St. Jan’s.
A member, no doubt, of Our Lady’s Brotherhood,
he lived in a dream world,
a glutton for punishment,
ogling a lusty Brabant girl
with his popping, panting, eyes.
He was throwing genevers down his throbbing canal,
drinking at the confluence of Dommel and Aa;
he had brown paint on his hands so I knew it was you,
Master of Alla Prima.
You feed off tourists
on floodlit transparencies
broken by rippling houseboats.
You stay drifting in memories of the Indies;
a small piece of momentary beauty,
prettier than Amsterdam,
more shapely than Holland;
a true Swan
of the World.
In the Hotel Utopia,
we’re as happy as mortal sin.
You can hear an old man crying
through the City din.
There’s a tap that’s always dripping,
and walls that are paper-thin,
and, in this Hotel Utopia,
we’re really dreaming.
Posted by keith armstrong at 7:50 am
Such a postwar circus,
swill of pigs and drawn out cold war,
the bleeding never stops.
Under the straw,
the claw of a miserable history
grabs down the years
at the young who are innocent
of all the butchery and whoredom.
Imperial Germany is a fagged out colonial office,
a sweating prison
of bashed up ideals,
a broken clock
covered in ticks and leeches.
The animals have escaped
and invade the Market Place.
Elephants sup at Neptune’s old fountain,
spurt out the foam of stagnant days,
trunks curling to taste the Neckar water.
This Tuebingen is a surreal pantomime:
barmaids swing from ceilings,
policemen hang from their teeth.
Frau Binder throws them buns.
And our Max Planck is a dream inventor.
Some boffin of his crosses a peach with a tulip,
the genetics of a bayonet in a breast.
The menagerie moves on to the Castle,
a giraffe nibbles at a church.
The sun gnaws at the clouds.
Like a clown,
I leap to down beer.
And a hideously sweet lady cracks a whip
and flashes her milky thigh at me.
It is no good.
I cannot raise a glassy smile anymore.
This circus is a tragedy.
The animals are sad
with the stink of carnage,
from your television screens.
Posted by keith armstrong at 7:07 am
Posted by keith armstrong at 10:00 am
Sara Hauser was born in 1986 in Calw (Black Forest). Living in the University City Tübingen, she studies Philosophy, International Literature and Literary Writing.
In 2012 she received a scholarship from the “First Academy of Reading Arts“. The following year, she and Tübingen‘s poet Tibor Schneider launched “hesse reloaded”, a symposium linking scientific, poetic and musical elements with Hermann Hesse's literary work as well as his relationship to Tübingen.
Influenced by the “cut-up“ technique, Sara Hauser combines and “recycles“ in her miniature and short prose splinters of films and literature as well as fragments of personal memories to a new entity. Her current writing is inspired by films of Ingmar Bergman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Additionally, she is influenced by writers like Daniil Charms, Friederike Mayröcker or Albert Camus and his philosophy of absurdism.
Excerpts of her writing have been published in Tübingen´s magazine for literature and art “]trash[pool ”.
Posted by keith armstrong at 8:16 am
hermann hesse in the gutter: tuebingen poems by keith armstrong
In 1987, Dr Keith Armstrong, this poet from our North East England twin of County Durham, spent three weeks in Tübingen and performed his poetry in the Municipal Library, in the Culture Club at the University, at the Leibniz College, and in Tübingen schools.
Since then, Keith Armstrong has kept coming back to Tübingen.
Tirelessly, he has made contact, and has kept in touch with, authors and musicians in Durham and in Tübingen and also put them in contact with each other. Meanwhile, he has his own self made network of numerous persons and institutions, within which he moves here and there proposing new projects to the partners. His friendly dynamism brings him in contact with more and more new people and maintains friendship with the old ones.
Locations and opportunities for his readings have become more numerous and multi-faceted over the years: new additions to the list are the Castle of Hohentübingen, the Irish Pub near the castle, the Hölderlin-Tower, the Hesse House in Herrenberger Street, the Jazz-Cellar, Lindenhof Theater in Melchingen on the Swabian Alb, the former 'Depot' on the Reutlingen Street (at a poetry slam organized by students), the German-American Institute, the square behind the Stiftskirche or a reading in a tent at the Market Square at the Tübingen Book Festival and, last but not least, The Boulanger, where he is a regular guest.
During his readings, which were real performances since his rhythmic way of reciting turns every location into a stage, he often performed together with musicians – he performed poems on topics from his North East England home, where there were numerous coal mines until 1992, and he also performed some of his Tübingen poems. In them, he talks about great Tübingen authors as well as passers-by on the streets and squares which captivated him for a short time and which now live on in the poems. He imagines what it is like to be one of the buildings in Tübingen like the Stiftskirche or the Castle, or he echoes the droning of Tübingen bells thundering up and down the streets.
Or he records an encounter in a plane, where the man next to him turns out to be a pig farmer from Wurmlingen (near Tübingen) with whom he drinks to the successful twinning between Tübingen and County Durham.
‘And pigs might fly’ is the title of this poem.
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.
(translated by Karin Miedler)
‘To the Very Honourable Poet Mr Keith Armstrong:
I wish you good luck for all the seasons in your life and always a high inspiration for your poems.’
(Jochen from the Hoelderlin Tower)
‘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.’
‘I am not surprised that so many people with odd corners come fom Tuebingen...for the town is itself nooked and crannied.’
I first visited Durham’s twin city of Tuebingen to give a series of poetry readings for three weeks in November 1987, with the assistance of the Tuebingen Kulturamt and Durham County Council.
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 at least twice a year.
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 Tuebingen, 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 my local 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 Buecherfest on three occasions.
The ghost of Hegel stalks ‘The Boulanger’ still, the young Hesse’s boots clatter up Lange Gasse at night, Hoelderin slips by in a ‘poetry boat’ - and, yes, Goethe continues to puke here!
I have ‘crashed’ all over Tuebingen’ - 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 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 Hoelderlin Tower, the Hesse-Haus, the D.A.I, the Jazz Keller, 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 several Tuebingen poets and musicians visiting Durham.
Many’s the time I’ve enjoyed lunch at the Neckarmueller with Margit, Carolyn and Karin, shared a Guinness with the lyrical poet Uwe Kolbe and jocular academics Eberhard Bort and Christopher Harvie, sat under the tree with the stalwart Otto Buchegger, sipped wine with rocking Juergen and mates in the Market Place, indulged in literary badinage with Gitte and Hans Schwarze, savoured fine wines and dinners with Carolyn, Christoph and Carmen at Corrensstrasse 45, and gladly accepted the remarkable hospitality of Gerd and Gabi Oberlin, who later drove me to Lake Constance. The list, my friends, is endless.
I have measured out my life in Tuebingen 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, Karl!
Dr Keith Armstrong,
School of Education, University of Durham.
HERMANN HESSE IN THE GUTTER
Tübingen Poems (1987-2007)
In this new poetry selection, poet Keith Armstrong from the North East of England reflects on twenty 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, 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, 93 WOODBURN SQUARE, WHITLEY LODGE, WHITLEY BAY, TYNE & WEAR NE26 3JD, ENGLAND. TEL 0191 2529531.
Posted by keith armstrong at 2:33 pm