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Keith Armstrong The Month of the Asparagus: Selected Poems
The Month of the Asparagus spans some thirty years of writing and heartfelt commitment to the craft of poetry. It is a colourful journey from Armstrong's roots to the far corners of the world. He has a strong feeling for ordinary folk in all their complexity and demonstrates this in his lyrical grasp and desire to sing wherever he may be in his incessant poetic touring. This is the work of a rampant internationalist who never loses that local touch, combined with a sensual flair.
'Well Keith your beautiful poetry melts my heart, you know that don't you?
Good to see you writing about current politics, don't stop, our country may be depressing politically but the things that are happening are still brimming with meaning and young people today especially need to believe that poetry can be powerful.'
'In another part of the field, another field, let's face it, sits Keith Armstrong's rakish gaff. His poems are rooted in the Tyneside music hall tradition, closely behind which is the august balladry of the Borders. His is an unashamed bardic stance, actor rather than commentator. Throughout the collection, the authentic lyrical note of this northern poet is struck.'
'The book is really strong, sensitive and anarchic in equal measure (much like your good self)'
Poet Paul Summers
'I would like to thank you for igniting my interest in poetry. To be honest, from a young age, poetry didn't grab me and I pursued the buzz music gave me, both playing and listening. I have now read the majority of the poems in the two books of yours I have and I am hooked ! It's shameful but I hadn't realised that poetry can grab you like a good book or a piece of music. I can feel the passion and anger and all other emotions you are putting into the poems and I am left in thought afterwards.'
'This volume of poems from Newcastle born Keith Armstrong collects together a selection of his work, culled from the last thirty years, and displays the real depth of his talent. He has an obvious and enduring affection for the region that really comes across in lines which exalt the sights and sounds he sees around him. ‘Marsden Rock’ is a 'Sensational Rock / swimming in light' and 'Birds hurl themselves at the leaping Tyne' in ‘At Anchor’; and he has the kind of voice that you might hear in your own head when you’re caught on the cusp of being drunk; a woozy melancholy that is romantic but also given over to bouts of searing realism. His romanticism also touches on his love for other chroniclers of life including the painter Lowry ('His old boots squeak the floorboards of memory, / his heart is sad and soaked in loneliness') and the great engraver Thomas Bewick. He has travelled extensively (one poem sees him cropping up at Baudelaire’s grave) but his voice – wherever he finds himself – always alternates between the sharp and the sensual.'
'A traveller with an open mind and without any fear of contact; strange lives, countries and people succumb to his poetic and real incorporation. Keith Armstrong is a bard, too, who has the knack of writing real songs: 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. That he is a friend of many friends, able to open the most amazing doors for his guests, can be taken as read. Keith Armstrong’s songs are capable of opening the hearts of listeners and readers.'
'You're going on twinning and twinning, with Groningen again - you're never alone, sitting at your desk, are you? When do you do your amazing writing?'
Uwe Kolbe, Berlin Poet
'Keith Armstrong is one of the north's longstanding finest poets.'
Liz Forster, North East History
'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.'
'Enjoyed reading the books of poems, cover to cover, on the flights to and from Denmark. Don't know if you'll forgive me if I say that you're a romantic (if an angry romantic!). Poems full of passion (joy or anger or both) and particularly enjoyed the sense of place and community (and the attacks on them!) that many of the poems invoke.
Can we ever recover that sense of belonging and shared values amongst the empire of money-fuelled individualism!! I guess (unfortunately, yet ironically) periods of economic crisis are what bring ordinary people together (but also can lead to the far right getting its dirty hands on things). Let's be optimistic!'
About the Author
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Keith Armstrong now resides in the seaside town of Whitley Bay. He is coordinator of the Northern Voices creative writing and community publishing project and has organised several community arts festivals in the region and many literary events. He was also founder of Ostrich poetry magazine, Poetry North East, Tyneside Poets and the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series.
He recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and the heritage of North Tyneside. He has been a self-employed writer since 1986 and 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 regional culture in the North East of England. His academic study of Jack Common was published by the University of Sunderland Press in 2009.
His poetry has been extensively published in magazines such as New Statesman, Poetry Review, Dream Catcher, and Other Poetry, as well as in the collections The Jingling Geordie, Dreaming North, Pains of Class and Imagined Corners, on cassette, LP & CD, and on radio & TV. He has performed his poetry on several occasions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at Festivals in Aberdeen, Bradford, Cardiff, Cheltenham (twice at the Festival of Literature - with Liz Lochhead and with 'Sounds North'), Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Greenwich, Lancaster, and throughout the land.
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 (including readings at the Universities of Hamburg, Kiel, Oldenburg, Trier and Tuebingen), Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica and Kenya.
Including: Revival,True Faith, Toon Talk, Red Pepper, Poetry Review, Iron, Aesthetica, The Poetry Business, The Ranfurly Review, The Penniless Press, Citizen 32, Morning Star, The Recusant, Kenaz, The New Statesman, Other Poetry, Poetry Scotland, True Faith, Dream Catcher, Episteme, Northern Echo, Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Sand, North East History, North East Life, The Informer, Northern Review, X magazine, Poetry Salzburg Review, Ash (Oxford University Poetry Society).
Golden Girl. Poems
on Newcastle upon Tyne. Credo, Newcastle 2001.
Bleeding Sketches. With The Whisky Priests. Whippet Records, Durham
The Pitman Poet of Percy Main:The
Life & Times of Joseph Skipsey
(1832-1903). North Tyneside People’s Centres 1991.
Northern Voices, 93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD, England. Tel 0191 2529531. Email: email@example.com
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