drKEITH ARMSTRONG. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Doctor Keith Armstrong now resides in Whitley Bay. He is coordinator of the Northern Voices Community Projects creative writing and community publishing enterprise. He was awarded a doctorate in 2007 for his work on Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham where he received a BA Honours Degree in Sociology in 1995 and Masters Degree in 1998 for his studies on culture in the North East of England. His poetry has been extensively published in magazines such as New Statesman and Poetry Review as well as in the collections Splinters (2011) and The Month of the Asparagus (2011) and broadcast on radio & TV. He has performed his poetry throughout Britain and abroad. In his youth, he travelled to Paris and he has been making international cultural pilgrimages ever since.


(Heuston Rail Station, Dublin)

I’m back in the Galway Hooker*,
heading out to the west
and, as usual, it’s teeming
with the scheming
pond life of Dublin:
the newts
and wits
who twinkle
in this bowl
of moving humanity,
at swim
in sunlight,
in a beaten economics
and those boom days
that are past.

And Jimmy Joyce and his literary travellers
leer at us from a corner
of streaming consciousness
and bad girls’ skirts
drift upwards
in an afternoon
with miles ahead
and the promise
of a kiss
of Irish Coffee.

I’m crawling
today along
this beaten track to Limerick,
the chance occurrence
of a poetry event,
the opportunity for fickle friends
to catch my dreams
in inquisitive ears
and despatch
my skimming words
to the gutters of shot memories.

‘By God she’s a looker,
that one on the stool,
making an awful fool
of a lad in the Hooker.’

‘Her legs go the whole way,
her terrible sin,
she sings
from here to Galway.’

And then The Boys from Tipperary
they’re here
in a clump of blazers and ties
and every one has a lass
on his hurling arm
and a pint of Guinness in his face.
We envy them
their youth and not their sense,
we wise old men of Heuston
who’ve seen the heroes come and go,
heard the guns ring out
across the Station
and learnt
to savour
the slaughter
in our glasses.

But now friends
we must be
heading off
to the dawn
and hope
that these trains
we leave behind
can find their way
to that which our history

So remember
Sean Heuston,
the railway clerk,
a crucifix he kissed
and the freedom he died for,
every drink
that you down
in the Hooker.

*The Galway Hooker is a traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland. The hooker was developed for the strong seas there. Its sail plan consists of a single mast with a main sail and two foresails. Traditionally, the boat is black (being coated in pitch) and the sails are a dark red-brown.


‘When I first came to Dublin in 1939, I thought the Palace the most wonderful temple of art.’ (Patrick Kavanagh)

Dead conversations
and dud cheques
litter the gaps
between the gawping portraits
in this literary back room.
Here in the afternoon of Irish culture,
I hear the creak of Kavanagh’s knees
going down the steep bog stairs
pissing words away,
holding another conversation
in his clumsy hands.

So what’s a poetry boy to do?
Sozzle through another day,
dance betwen the lines of pints of plain,
wallow in the crevices of Beckett’s genius,
creep around the Palace floor,
scraping for scraps of dead oral histories?

For today,
I’ll put away my pen
worn out with trying
to trap the City of Limerick
in groping poems.
I’ll sit back
and crack with Duffy,
Lonsdale and the lads,
let Bertie Smyllie’s barking patter
wash over my weariness.
Leave it to the shawlies
in the huddled snug
to set things right,
I’m flying without a passport today,
buzzing along with Jimmy Joyce on board
this Ryanair Ulysses jet,
At Swim Two Birds.

And what’s the point
of lies in ink
when real poetry
should make a woman come
with the touch
of bird song on the lips of this hour?
Give your tongues a break,
Behan and Houlihan
and the rest,
we’re dust
on a skin of Guinness.

And yet
and yet,
the twinkle of light
through the old smoke of patter
does make the breath
in the lungs
of a Dublin dancing day
as worthwhile
as the sweeping kiss
of that gull’s wings
stroking the mouth of the Liffey.


Dedicated to Richard St. John Harris and the roaring boys of Charlie St. George’s bar.

My heart is bursting its banks
with the songs of the Shannon.
My girl friend wells up with the beauty of daybreak,
her breasts swell with the glory of sunshine,
her eyes are glowing with wisdom.

Swim with me to the Atlantic surge,
we can watch the mighty birds take flight,
we can feel the urge of history in our bones
and ride on the aching backs of workers.

Shannon, you are our breath aglow
with the salmon of knowledge.
You are the spray in our faces,
full of bubbles of inspiration
welling up in our surging veins.

Wise one,
lift me up in your flow,
leave me in awe of your wonder.
Let me sparkle with the birth of new ideas,
reach out for the touch of a sensational moon,
dance in a festival of stars
and drown in the arms of a glorious goddess.

“There will be another song for me
for I will sing it.
There will be another dream for me,
someone will bring it.
I will drink the wine while it is warm
and never let you catch me looking at the sun
and after all the loves of my life,
after all the loves of my life,
you will still be the one.

I will take my life into my hands and I will use it,
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it.
I will have the things that I desire
and my passion flow like rivers through the sky
and after all the loves of my life,
after all the loves of my life,
I will be thinking of you
and wondering why.”



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  1. And what’s the point
    of lies in ink
    when real poetry
    should make a woman come
    with the touch
    of bird song on the lips of this hour?

    this is one of those rare moments in poetry when something utterly unexpected & abstruse happens, where the poet gives us something inspired. this is why poetry will never be dead, because so long as there are poets of this quality, real poets, there is the potential for these sorts of lines. it is almost crude, yet shifted by ‘bird song on the lips of this hour’ the image becomes naturalized, surpasses the bounds of normality & the crudeness dissipates into having never actually been & we are just left clutching our breath in our hand. i’ll be rummaging for more of Mr Armstrong’s poems.

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