Keith Armstrong 

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comments 'Spring': pit pony, 1995 news
  Tuesday March 10th 1761, 1996  


Born in 1946 in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community worker, poet and publisher Keith Armstrong is coordinator of the Northern Voices creative writing and community publishing project which specialises in recording the experiences of people in the North East of England. As well as being organiser of several community arts festivals in the region, and of literary events featuring the likes of Yevtushenko, Douglas Dunn, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Liz Lochhead, he was founder of the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series and of Tyneside Street Press, and he has recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners' Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham.
He is studying for a PhD on the work of Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham where he received a Masters Degree in 1998 for his studies on regional culture in the North East of England. He was Year of the Artist 2000 poet-in-residence at Hexham Races. His poetry has been extensively published in magazines such as Poetry Review, Other Poetry, Iron, The Poetry Business, and Poetry Scotland, as well as in the collections The Jingling Geordie, Dreaming North and Pains of Class, on cassette, LP & CD, and on radio & TV. He has also written for music-theatre productions, including 'O'er the Hills' and 'Wor Jackie' (1988) for Northumberland Theatre Company; 'Pig's Meat' (1997 & 2000) for Bruvvers Theatre Company; and 'The Roker Roar' (1998) for Monkwearmouth Youth Theatre Company. Other commissioned work includes 'Fire & Brimstone' (1989) and 'The Hexham
Celebration' (1992), both for the Hexham Abbey Festival; 'Suite for the River Wear' (1989) for BBC Radio; and 'The Little Count' (1993) for Durham County Council. He won the Kate Collingwood Bursary Award in 1986.
He has performed his poetry on several occasions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at Literature Festivals in Cardiff, Cheltenham, Durham, Lancaster, and throughout the land. He has also toured the former Soviet Union, Iceland (incuding readings during the Cod War), Germany, and The Netherlands to present readings.
He worked as a Community Arts Development Worker in East Durham for 6 years in the 1980s and has long pioneered cultural exchanges with Durham's twinning partners, particularly Tübingen and Nordenham in Germany and Ivry-sur-Seine and Amiens in France, as well as with Newcastle's Dutch twin -city of Groningen. In fact, he has visited Tuebingen some 20 times since he first spent a month there in November 1987 as poet-in-residence supported by Durham County Council and the Kulturamt, and he has performed his poetry in the city's Hölderlin Tower. He has won Northern Arts Awards to visit Berlin in 1990 and in 2001 to pursue his studies of Dutch regional culture. His travels to Denmark, Germany, Holland and Sweden have also been supported by the British Council. He was the Judge for the Sid Chaplin Short Story Awards in 2000.
He often works with folk-musicians from North East England, including Jez Lowe, Marie Little, and George Welch, and he has written the lyrics for an album by folk-rock band 'The Whisky Priests', with whom he has toured extensively in The Netherlands. Another album is planned for 2002. He has also visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg to perform his poetry with musicians Pete Challoner and Ian Carr. Though a regionalist inspired by the landscape of his birth, he is very much a European and his work is much influenced by writers such as Hölderlin, Hesse, Brecht,
Baudelaire, Prevert, Esenin, and Mayakovsky.

See to learn more about Keith Armstrong.

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'No one in the North East has written and read and encouraged and organised so consistently and over so long a period as Keith Armstrong. His poetry is different, original, and politically exhilarating.'
(Andy Croft)

'There is an exciting sense of releasing the dreams and perceptions from the 'wee corners' of his mind - and the result is the honesty, humanity, sharpness of vision and richness of humour which he makes available for readers to share.'
(Professor Helen Wilcox, Head of English Department, University of Groningen)

'Keith's poems raised goose pimples but also thoughts about today's culture.'
(Peter Lewis, Hexham Courant)

'The British Council considers itself fortunate indeed to work in collaboration with Keith who has enabled those who have connections with the British Council to learn something of the local identity and heritage as well as the international dimension which Keith brings to his work.'
(Jan Long, Regional Manager, Yorkshire and the North East, The British Council)

'Keith made a lot of things possible for myself and many others like me. I don't mind admitting that without Keith I would have given up poetry as a waste of life years ago.'
(Kevin Cadwallender)

'There are those who tell the terrible truth in all its loveliness. Keith Armstrong is one of them, a fine poet who refuses to turn his back on the wretched of the Earth. He is one of the best and I hope his voice will be heard more and more widely.'
(Adrian Mitchell)


'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,
wash this pain away.

© Keith Armstrong, 1996

(previously published in 'Innocent Blood, the Hexham riot of 1761', Uitgeverij Northern Voices, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE25 9HF UK; ISBN: 1-871536-12-X)


You are an underground Spring;
No flowers grow here,
No sunshine glows.
You are an underground Spring.

You're a dark horse in a dark place;
Your back's bruised with coal;
Yet you have dreams
You too have dreams:

Spring into the fields,
Spring across the grass.
Spring with the children,
Hear them sing!

'Spring' the pony,
Spring the trap;
Spring the trap.

© Keith Armstrong, 1995
Previously published on the cd 'Bleeding Sketches' van The Whisky Priests, Whippet Records, 1995.

Keith Armstrong:

Northern Voices
93 Woodburn Square
Whitley Lodge
Tyne &Wear
NE26 3JD
United Kingdom

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This page is part of the daily poetry newspaper: Rottend Staal Online

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News of more travels by 'Northern Voices' coordinator, 'The Jinglin' Geordie', Whitley Bay poet and raconteur Keith Armstrong. From June 6th to 12th, he's in Durham's twin-city Tuebingen for readings at the Tuebingen Book Festival and on radio. He also gives a workshop with fellow poet Katrina Porteous at the city's University. Keith is the special guest of the Tuebingen Cultural Office and he will read with writer Marcus Hammerschmitt who is to visit Durham and Tyneside for readings and workshops as Keith's guest from November 13th to 19th, with the support of the Cultural Office and Durham County Council.
Keith's visit is, amazingly, his 22nd since he first pioneered literary links with Tuebingen back in November 1987. Since then, he has arranged for a remarkable range of poets and musicians from the North East to travel with
him and for a number of Tuebingen writers to make the trip to Durham by way of reciprocation.

And at the end of June, Keith gives a reading at the annual conference on regionalism in Europe, this time to be staged at Bad Urach, near Stuttgart.

A summer break and then Keith goes networking again in New York City at the end of September, travelling with Fenham rocker Tony Whittle, to give readings in a few of the City's poetry clubs and other venues. His New York
adventures have been assisted by a Northern ArtsTravel Award.

Come October, it's back to his favourite haunt The Netherlands where he travels with Northumbrian Piper Chris Ormston, also from Whitley Bay, from 24th to 30th to give recitals in schools and pubs in Newcastle's twin-city
Groningen and in Amsterdam and The Hague.

Back home in Newcastle, there'll be a special European evening on Thursday 14th November, featuring local poets and musicians and special guests: poets Tjeerd Bruinja from Groningen and Harry Zevenbergen from The Hague, with
Marcus Hammerschmitt from Tuebingen. Full details later.


Following the great success of the first gathering of 'Swarley's Club' at the Bridge Hotel in Newcastle, organised by 'The Thomas Spence Trust' and 'Northern Voices' , with the support of the Campaign for a North East Assembly, there is to be another Club meeting, again at The Bridge, on Thursday July 11th. There will be a talk by Joan Beal of Sheffield University on Spence's 'Grand Repositary of the Engish Language' at 6pm, followed by an evening of readings and music in celebration of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne, including extracts from the writings of Newcastle's Jack Common (1903-6198), on whom Keith Armstrong is completing a PhD at the University of
Durham. This event is also organised in association with the Campaign for a North East Assembly.

Incidentally, plans are still afoot for a memorial in honour of Newcastle radical Thomas Spence (1750-1814), with the full backing of Newcastle City Council. A website is also being planned in his honour. Details as things develop.

'Mad Martins' is a show based on the life and times of the Martin family of Tynedale, including painter John Martin and brothers William ('the philosophical conqueror of all mankind') and Jonathan ('the notorious incendiary of York Minster'). Devised and performed by Keith Armstrong, with specially written poetry and narration, it also features new songs by Gary Miller performed by Gary and twin-brother Glenn of 'The Whisky Priests', and new tunes composed and performed by Northumbrian Piper Chris Ormston. It is premiered at Queens Hall Arts Centre, Hexham, on Tuesday 8th October as part of the Northumberland Traditional Music Festival. Contact 'Northern Voices' if you'd like to book the show.

And there will be a celebration of the life and poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), with readings by Keith Armstrong and Paul Summers and music by Chris Ormston, as part of the Music Festival and National Poetry Day in Morpeth on Thursday October 10th. Full details later.


The 'Northern Voices' project has formed a beneficial alliance with publishers 'The People's History'. First products of this are 'OurVillage', Memories of the Durham Mining Communities' , edited by Keith Armstrong, and 'Geordie Muddling by Ripyard Cuddling', poems by ex-shipyard welder Jack Davitt, with a foreword by Keith. Both books are available at £9.99 from 'The People's History', Suite 1, Byron House, Seaham Grange Business Park, Seaham,
County Durham, SR7 0PH. Tel. Andrew Clarke 07971 859401.
Keith has now been commissioned to compile and edit a book on Hexham due to be published by 'The People's History' this Xmas. Details later.


For further information telephone: 'NORTHERN VOICES' 0191 2529531.

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