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
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