Militant Thistles

polemical poetry to prickle the politics of "permanent austerity"

atos Poor Doors Sheriff Stars spikes

thistles stretch their prickly arms afar

Black Triangle bedroom tax Disrupt and Upset

Keith Armstrong

Tell Me Lies About Northumberland

(In honour of Adrian Mitchell)



Say this land is ours,

these pipe tunes do not cry.

The birds all sing in dialect,

old miners breathe like dukes.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.


Tell me it isn’t feudal,

that castles were built for us.

We never touch the forelock,

bend to scrape up dust.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.


Your pretty girls don’t stink of slaughter,

your eyes don’t blur with myth.

You’re as equal as a duchess,

saints never smell of piss.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.


Your roots are in this valley,

you were never from doon south.

You never hide your birthplace,

you’re a real poet of the north.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.


The churches are not crumbling,

the congregations glow with hope.

We are different from the foreigner,

our poetry rhymes with wine.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.


There is no landed gentry,

no homes locals can’t afford.

There’s no army on the moors,

the Romans freed us all.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Keith Armstrong was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community worker, poet, librarian and publisher. 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 the 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.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.


‘The Garden’ is our children’s,

Hotspur spurs us on.

The seagulls are not soaked in oil,

the cows are not diseased.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.


This Kingdom is United,

‘Culture’ is our God.

Everyone’s a Basil Bunting freak,

there’s music everywhere.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.


We will have our independence,

we’ll get the Gospels back.

We live off museums and tourists,

we don’t need boats or trades.


Tell me lies about Northumberland.


We’re in charge of our own futures,

we have north east citizens here.

In this autonomous republic,

we’re free as dicky birds.


So shut your eyes.


And tell me lies


about Northumberland.