BACK IN TUEBINGEN NOVEMBER 15TH TO 18TH FOR TUEBINGEN/DURHAM 30TH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY LAUNCH

BACK IN TUEBINGEN NOVEMBER 15TH TO 18TH FOR TUEBINGEN/DURHAM 30TH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY LAUNCH

25.4.16

SO DON’T COME TO MY FUNERAL








































You never knew
how beautiful I could be.
You never saw
just how blue my eyes were.
You couldn’t feel me fly
and did not sense
the passion in my beating words.

So don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.

You were never there
when my heart broke.
You didn’t pick me up
when my ideals drowned.
You never got drunk with me
in the sunshine of my smiles.
You never felt the love in me.

So don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.

You hemmed in my free spirit
with your overeducated mind.
You trapped the birds in my poems
and caged my strong ideas.
You couldn’t act the fool
for fear you lost your face.
You never risked a dance.

So don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.

You never studied the art of chance,
the sudden surge of love in a stranger,
the golden coin in an Edinburgh gutter.
Your education controlled your heart.
Would you save me as I fell from the sky?
Would you bleed for me?
I sense not, I sense you are cold.

So don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.
I don’t want to see you there.

Because you lied to me forever.
Because you couldn’t play a tune in your poems.

Don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

22.4.16

AN OUBLIETTE FOR KITTY






























There’s a hole in this Newcastle welcome,
there’s a beggar with a broken spine.
On Gallowgate, a heart is broken
and the ships have left the Tyne.

So what becomes of this History of Pain?
What is there left to hear?
The kids pour down the Pudding Chare lane
and drown a folksong in beer.

So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,
somewhere to hide your face.
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place.

There’s this dirt from a history of darkness
and they’ve decked it in neon and glitz.
There are traders in penthouse apartments
on the Quayside where sailors once pissed.

So where are Hughie and Tommy, Kitty?,
the ghosts of Geordies past?
I don’t want to drown you in pity
but I saw someone fall from the past.

So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,
somewhere to hide your face.
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place.

While they bomb the bridges of Belgrade,
they hand us a cluster of Culture  
and tame Councillors flock in on a long cavalcade
to tug open the next civic sculpture.

And who can teach you a heritage?
Who can learn you a poem?
We’re lost in a difficult, frightening, age
and no one can find what was home.

So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,
somewhere to hide your face.
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place.

So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,
somewhere to hide your face.
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place.



 KEITH ARMSTRONG

BABY SEAHORSES































 










Incubated

in your father’s pouch,

two hundred born over a few days,

some less than the length

of a fingernail,

you are such fragile trembling things,

such slender horses.



Tiny fins beating,

thirty times every second,

you are all mating for life

surrounded by danger

and polluted worlds.



Cowering in coral reefs and mangroves,

taken for mere souvenirs

and man’s crazed schemes,

twenty million of you are lost every year.



Tiny heartbeats,

please hold on tight

to the whispering sea-grass.



This grieving world,

this messed up planet,

needs your precious sensitivity,

needs your watery beauty



more than ever.









KEITH ARMSTRONG

20.4.16

FRIENDS OF THE GRAVES (for the Birtley Belgians)



























‘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).

14.4.16

DURHAM

12.4.16

THE LUEBECK POEM


























In Luebeck,
feeling like a shipwreck,
I saw the ghost of Thomas Mann
stuffing his face with Marzipan.



KEITH ARMSTRONG


* Luebeck - North German Hanseatic city, famous for the manufacture of Marzipan and as the birthplace of the novelist Thomas Mann.

11.4.16

IN THE DEPARTMENT OF POETRY



‘Our paths may cross again, they may not. But I wish you success for the future. I don’t think you are a person who is easily defeated through life as you are by nature a peacock which shows at times its beautiful feathers.’               
(Margaretha den Broeden)


In the Department of Poetry something is stirring:
it is a rare bird shitting on a heap of certificates.
He bears the beautiful plumage of a rebel,
flying through the rigid corridors,
the stifling pall of academic twaddle.
He pecks at the Masters’ eggheads, 
scratches pretty patterns along the cold walls of poetic power.
He cares not a jot for their fancy Awards,
their sycophantic perambulations,
degrees of literary incest.
These trophies for nepotism 
pass this peculiar bird by
as he soars
high
above the paper quadrangle,
circling over the dying Heads of Culture,
singing sweet revolutionary songs, 
showing off
his brilliant wings
that fly him
into the ecstasy
of a poem.
KEITH ARMSTRONG

5.4.16

PIGS MIGHT FLY!






















 





AND PIGS MIGHT FLY

(for Helmut Bugl)


On this evening flight,
necks stuck out,
we dart in formation
to a Stuttgart dream.
Complete strangers,
we share a common French wine
to celebrate clouds.
With your rough words,
you ask me what I do.
“Write poetry”, I say,
and sign away a verse or two for you,
hovering in mid-air, between snow and sun.
“And you?” “I breed pigs I do”,
flying home from a swine seminar in Montreal.
To prove it, you sign me a photo of six of your litter,
the Swabian breed of Helmut Bugl.
It’s a flying cultural exchange,
a rhyme for a slice of time.
The stars are sizzling in the thrilling sky
and, tonight, pigs might fly.
Tonight, pigs might fly.





Keith Armstrong





‘PIGS MIGHT FLY’ – KEITH ARMSTRONG COCKS A SNOOK AT POETRY READINGS

Not long ago, I was on a flight to Stuttgart on my way to give a poetry reading in Tuebingen, Durham’s twin-town.  Normally, I’m not given to chatting to strangers on aeroplanes, it’s calculated to be strained and, above all, boring.  This time was an exception – I got talking to a pig farmer.
Helmut Bugl was his name and he was on his way home from a ‘swine-seminar’ in Montreal.  Over a glass of wine or two, he asked me my role in life.  Being in the mood, I responded ‘Poet’.  And it turned out that he lived just up the road from one of the English lecturers I knew at Tuebingen University.
Helmut invited me for an ‘English’ breakfast so it was the least I could do to autograph one of my poetry book (‘Dreaming North’) for him, hovering in mid-air as we were.  Feeling the need to reciprocate, brother Bugl reached into a pocket and drew out a photo of six of his litter, which he promptly signed on the reverse.  I still treasure it.
The plane duly landed and we waved goodbye as a pretty lady friend drove me off to pretty Tuebingen.
Naturally, I got a poem out of all this.  The title (you’ve guessed it!): ‘Pigs Might Fly’.  I hadn’t the time to take up Helmut’s offer of breakfast as it turned out but, once home, I popped a copy of the poem in the post to him.  I never heard back from him.
Until, that is, a trip to Tuebingen one July.  I was performing with the North East folk-singer Jez Lowe at the University’s English Club, a gig arranged by the English lecturer referred to above.  Whilst I was nervously getting my act together in the seminar room, a character bounded towards me in a suit, firm hand extended in greeting.  After an awkward pause, the pfennig dropped.  Yes, it was Helmut Bugl, pig farmer, come to hear me read.
Naturally, I delivered ‘Pigs Might Fly’ to our special ‘guest of honour’.
It had all come nicely full circle!
I’ve recounted this little anecdote in some detail because it raises some interesting points about ‘poetry’ in this country and attitudes towards it.  A Guardian reviewer once said that ‘Poetry is in a frightful fix these days.  No one reads it.  No one knows how to read it.’  Figures show that out of 80% of the British population that attend cultural events only 2% go to poetry readings.  This might be because, as poet Adrian Mitchell put it, ‘most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.’  ‘Only connect,’ you might say.  So it pleased me, indeed inspired me, to make contact with Helmut Bugl.  After all, you don’t get many pig farmers at Newcastle’s Morden Tower these days!  And, so far as I know, the Arts Council isn’t issuing bacon and egg breakfasts to deserving writers!  Perhaps because they’re mostly vegetarians, I don’t know. 
For the truth is most poetry is most boring to most people.  It doesn’t very often strike a chord with their lives.  And a poetry reading isn’t their idea of a night out. I’ve got the horrible feeling that any so-called ‘poetry resurgence’ is a fantasy in the ever-inventive imaginations of poets themselves and the arts administrators some of them brown their noses with.
I have fond memories of being physically ejected from a ‘New Generation’ reading at Newcastle’s Bridge Hotel by a smooth-talking steward from Bloodaxe for muttering dark thoughts at the bar during a mumbled reading by a ‘New Generation Poet’.  Maybe this happening livened up the show.  It certainly needed a kick from somewhere.  In fact, I once heard from a reliable source within the sanctum of  the Arts Council that such incidents have become known on ‘the scene’ as ‘that Keith Armstrong moment’!
The idea that ordinary/real people are going to sit on their butts for up to two hours to hear an indistinct reader render incomprehensible verse from inside a book is scarcely credible.  Especially when ‘SILENCE’ is the order of the day, when there is no space for dispute or 
discussion and, above all, no music and very little booze.  One must, apparently, revere the mumbling poet and the imprecise wisdoms and insights they are supposedly imparting.  Strictly no heckling and certainly no instinctive behaviour!
Of course, it’s not always like this.  I remember, for example, helping to organise a reading by the Russian poet Yevtushenko at a packed Mining Institute in Newcastle during the seventies.  His passionate rendition was memorable.  I’ve also heard the reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, Scots writers Liz Lochhead and Edwin Morgan and, of course, the great Adrian Mitchell, put it across with real verve.  And I’ve enjoyed the humour of our own shipyard poet ‘Ripyard Cuddling’ and Wallsend’s ‘Herbert Mangle’.  I’ve even seen an Edinburgh poet read whilst standing on his head! Yes, poetry readings can be memorable.  But, these days, in the North East at least, such occasions are few and far between.
I recall being in Iceland with fellow poet Peter Mortimer during the Cod War and hitting the headlines there with my treasonous poem ‘Cod Save The Queen’!  I love poetry when it connects with everyday life, when it is song-like and echoes the lyricism you sometimes hear in pub conversations.  Gone, I hope, are the days of the egg-head poet reading only to fellow poets.  Let’s celebrate the music of words, the flow of wine and good conversation.
Let our poetry dance!
Back to the seventies.  I’m with the Tyneside Poets in Elsinor, Denmark.  The poetry evening’s wearing on as only poetry evenings can.  ‘Cullercoats’ Mike Wilkin is on stage.  The organiser’s worried that we’ll miss the last ferry back to Sweden.  ‘Please finish now!’ he shouts to Mike.  ‘Poets do not have watches,’ comes the response.  ‘But if you don’t finish now we’ll miss the last ferry home.’ ‘In that case, I’ll finish,’ says ‘the poet’, sobering up somewhat! Yes, even poetry has its limits!
Once in Georgia at the ‘Palace of Culture’ in a provincial steel town, after much wine, I swapped shirts with a well-built worker-writer.  His shirt was like a tent on me, and he couldn’t fasten the buttons on mine.  But what a great night out it was! :
‘Last night we swapped our shirts.
They didn’t fit our bodies too well,
But they fitted our mood exactly.’
Now that’s the spirit!  As an ‘Old Generation’ poet, I remember launching a booklet called ‘Giving Blood’, with blood dripping from my upper lip, having been attacked by another poet before my reading!
Those were the days! Poets for the Revolution! Maybe they’ll come back? Yes – and ‘Pigs Might Fly’!

Keith Armstrong

OUT TO SEA

TEXT AND SCULPTURE PROJECT































Tyneside based poet Keith Armstrong and conceptual artist Rolf Wojciechowski recently completed the tour up the Northumberland coast of their text sculpture and poetry performance project, ‘Out to Sea’. 
Keith performed his poetry on the local beaches with a loudhailer.
The project was launched at the Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats and a display based on the journey was staged at various venues, including the Maltings Arts Centre in Berwick, Amble Library, The Ship at Low Newton by the Sea, South Shields Central Library and St. Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay. 
Performances by Keith and folk musicians were also staged at the above venues.
This amounted to a literary and musical trail along the coast.
A selection of Keith’s poems from ‘Out to Sea’ are featured on this new CD. Further poems are also included from his recent Northumbrian projects, with sequences on Northumbrian Piper Jamie Allan (1733-1810), the fishing village of Spittal, Whitley Bay’s Spanish City and North Shields’ pubs. 
Grants from Commissions North, Arts Council England North East, Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and North Tyneside Council facilitated the ‘Out to Sea’ project and enabled this souvenir CD to be recorded.
Artists: Keith Armstrong - poetry, Ann Sessoms - Northumbrian Pipes, The Ancient Mariners - sea shanties, Jim Mageean - sea shanties.
Recorded at Time Studio, the Buddle Arts Centre, Wallsend, North Tyneside.
Mastered at Shoebox Studios, Newcastle upon Tyne.
ORDER YOUR COPY NOW BY SENDING A CHEQUE FOR £5 (INCLUDES POSTAGE) TO:
Northern Voices Community Projects, 93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD, England.
Tel. 0044 (0)191 2529531.










Tyneside based poet Keith Armstrong and conceptual artist Rolf Wojciechowski recently completed the tour up the Northumberland coast of their text sculpture and poetry performance project, ‘Out to Sea’. 
Keith performed his poetry on the local beaches with a loudhailer.
The project was launched at the Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats and a display based on the journey was staged at various venues, including the Maltings Arts Centre in Berwick, Amble Library, The Ship at Low Newton by the Sea, South Shields Central Library and St. Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay. 
Performances by Keith and folk musicians were also staged at the above venues.
This amounted to a literary and musical trail along the coast.
A selection of Keith’s poems from ‘Out to Sea’ are featured on this new CD. Further poems are also included from his recent Northumbrian projects, with sequences on Northumbrian Piper Jamie Allan (1733-1810), the fishing village of Spittal, Whitley Bay’s Spanish City and North Shields’ pubs. 
Grants from Commissions North, Arts Council England North East, Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and North Tyneside Council facilitated the ‘Out to Sea’ project and enabled this souvenir CD to be recorded.
Artists: Keith Armstrong - poetry, Ann Sessoms - Northumbrian Pipes, The Ancient Mariners - sea shanties, Jim Mageean - sea shanties.
Recorded at Time Studio, the Buddle Arts Centre, Wallsend, North Tyneside.
Mastered at Shoebox Studios, Newcastle upon Tyne.
ORDER YOUR COPY NOW BY SENDING A CHEQUE FOR £5 (INCLUDES POSTAGE) TO:
Northern Voices Community Projects, 93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD, England.
Tel. 0044 (0)191 2529531.

the jingling geordie

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