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Night Watch

Town of a thousand holes, at the bottom
Of each a dark boggart lurks, cunningly
Creating mischief for careless souls who’re
Simply passing. Urban plastic tendrils
Squirm, coil and wrap around the bed-ridden
Riding alive through comatose dreaming.
All the while tower blocks round and about
(Facades irritated by rashes of light,
Scratched by bitter wind, hardly soothed with rain )
Pluck up their concrete roots and, like golems,
Lurch along through pedestrian precincts,
Passed shops and stores blinded by steel shutters
Billed with vainglorious posters proclaiming
Imminent revolution, this week’s sales,
Or the immanence of God and the end
Of Days. Even as ungainly tower blocks
Retreat beyond traffic lights, boggarts
Emerge from excavations flimsily
Fenced round with barbers’ poles, in such a way
Shadows might ease free from corporeal
Bodies responsible for casting them.
Night is the product of curtains being drawn
Against streets that have to be abandoned
To darkness, light so selfishly horded
In living rooms, in the eyes of voyeurs
Who do not realise televisions
Are vampires existing by sucking life-time
From fascinated victims. Far too late
They switch off, for it’s bed time, deathbed time.
The night watch is running slow, leaden hands
Weighing every heavy second, holding
Each one just too long, making the minutes
Fall behind the clock. A hospital cot
Easily contains these remains of a man,
So little of him left, his shadow gone.
Even breath can be no longer his own,
Generous town sharing its air with him
Via one of those serpentine urban tendrils
Worming its way through the wall to his nostrils.
Hardly a burden with so little left
Him to draw from his account. Family
Come and sit and sit and go in relays
Of concern, keeping his lips barely moist
With final kisses and cool water soaked
Into pink sponge swabs on thin lollysticks
Looking like unspun candyfloss. Night watch
Knits or reads or plugs into World Service
While drowsing on the one comfy armchair.
For all that time is tardy dawn still comes,
Shift changes, while night and day will remain
All the same to him even as tower blocks
Step back into place, boggarts burrow back
Into earth and the curtains are drawn back,
Back and back, releasing light from their rooms
To illuminate awakening streets
And the living realising they still are.

 

English: Clock of Church of St Lawrence, Alton

Dave Alton is a Newcastle-based poet who was a member of the Tyneside Poets in the 1970s.  He is joint editor (with Keith Armstrong – see last week’s post) of the  Poetry Tyneside blog,which publishes contemporary poetry and examples from the archives of “Poetry North East”.

As well as performing his poetry and being published in magazines and newspapers, Dave has co-edited two collections of young people’s writing under the title Don’t Tell My Friends, and has written scripts for pantomimes.  Dave is also a regular contributor of spoken ballads to the monthly podcast Folkcast  , developing traditional folk tales, many from the North East of England, into verse.

Dave made links with the New Zealand Poetry Society on a recent visit to New Zealand and is including NZPS poets  on the Poetry Tyneside blog.  If you would like to contribute a poem, please email two or three poems to tynesidesubs at hotmail dot co dot uk

Dave was kind enough to arrange for Peter and I to meet up with him and fellow poet Keith Armstrong (who featured in last week’s post) on our recent trip to the UK.

Dave Alton at the Bridge, Newcastle

Splinters
(For My Father), by Keith Armstrong

You picked splinters
with a pin each day
from under blackened fingernails;
shreds of metal
from the shipyard grime,
minute memories of days swept by:
the dusty remnants of a life
spent in the shadow of the sea;
the tears in your shattered eyes
at the end of work.
And your hands were strong,
so sensitive and capable
of building boats
and nursing roses;
a kind and gentle man
who never hurt a soul,
the sort of quiet knackered man
who built a nation.
Dad, I watched your ashes float away
down to the ocean bed
and in each splinter
I saw your caring eyes
and gracious smile.

I think of your strong silence every day
and I am full of you,
the waves you scaled,
and all the sleeping Tyneside streets
you taught me to dance my fleeting feet along.

When I fly, you are with me.
I see your fine face
in sun-kissed clouds
and in the gold ring on my finger,
and in the heaving crowd on Saturday,
and in the lung of Grainger Market,
and in the ancient breath
of our own Newcastle.

Keith Armstrong was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher.  He now lives in the seaside town of Whitley Bay and 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. He has organised several community arts festivals in the region and many literary events.  He was founder of Ostrich poetry magazine, Poetry North East, Tyneside Writers’ Workshop, Tyneside Poets, East Durham Writers’ Workshop, Tyneside Trade Unionists for Socialist Arts, Tyneside Street Press and the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series.  He has 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 completed a doctorate on Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham in 2007. His poetry has been extensively published in magazines such as New Statesman, Poetry Review, Dream Catcher, Other Poetry, Aesthetica, Iron, Salzburg Poetry Review and Poetry Scotland, 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 also has an extensive record of poetry performance throughout Europe and beyond.

We met Dr Armstrong on our recent visit to the UK, through another Tyneside-based poet, Dave Alton.  Dave and Keith were kind enough to introduce us to local bars The Bridge and The Red House – recommended if you’re over that way.

Dave Alton, Keith Armstrong, Janis Freegard, Peter Clayworth at The Bridge, Newcastle    Photo: Peter Dixon
You can read the other Tuesday poems here.

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