David Tait was born in 1985 and grew up in Lancaster.
His poems have appeared in The Guardian, Magma, The North, The Rialto and Stand.
His poem ‘North York Moor’ was short-listed for the 2009 Bridport Prize.
His pamphlet Love’s Loose Ends was a winner of the Poetry Business competition, 2010/2011.
He is currently ‘House Poet’ at Manchester Royal Exchange for the Carol Ann Duffy & Friends Poetry Series.
He is a founder of the Leeds Independent Presses Poetry Festival (LIPPfest)
I have known David since the beginning of his journey through poetry and thought LIPPfest would give me the opportunity to ask him some questions I have not asked him before.
Enjoy, he has some interesting things to say
1. Why Poetry? In other words, what is it about poetry that makes you want to read and write it?
I think it comes down to Poetry being the best artistic form for me to express whatever feelings have caused tension and have made me want to express them. I can’t paint, my drawings are heinous and I don’t really have much time for ceramics (I hate the feeling of clay) or Sculpture (My housemate assembles all flatpack furniture I ever buy). Any one who knows me will probably know that my personality is very much formed by the way I hear things gelling together. I love wordplay, I love stories, I love the way in which people tell stories and I’m terrible at food shopping, always coming back with ingredients that rhyme or are alliterative (‘kit kats and bourbon biscuits for tea!’). In all seriousness though, I think it comes down to a way of hearing words, ordering them, playing with rhythm, tapping into a voice which is almost a conduit of your own voice, and then writing it down, and then clipping it back. Poetry needs to be shared and talked about – reading is very different to writing and I think I actually prefer reading for the most part. I spend too much money on new books and not enough money on notepads. To write well you must read well. If you don’t read well your poetry will be extraordinarily dull, and lots of contemporary poetry (even published by good publishing houses) is exceptionally dull.
2. It seems to me that all your best poems, as well as being good poems, also tell me a story. How important is story to you when you are writing a poem?
I think narrative is the best way for exploring an idea. So, if something has caused a tension in you, you want to try to explain that feeling and the most concrete way to do this is through a story. Philosophers have been doing this for centuries (i.e. allegory of the cave) and it’s the very foundation of all literature. What is Moby Dick other than an exploration of the lengths people will go to for revenge? I think the problem is that some ideas are more popular others and some modes of telling these stories are more popular than others and that can upset a lot of people who feel disenfranchised by an “establishment” that perpetuates its own, often middle of the road ideas.
On the other hand, I’m aware that stories will only get you so far. Some of the poems I’ve written are actually an exercise in style and wordplay rather than the subject matter itself. One such poem was purely written to try and rhyme the words “vermillion” and “reptilian” together and the story came out of that. I guess I think narrative is something that people relate to and thus I think they are more likely to read. However, it also highlights the failure of poetry in that it is making vast concessions towards narrative, autobiography and the novel. Many collections now are collections of poems exploring a theme with a theme pulling everything together like the egg in a cake. In some ways it is a shame that we are so reliant on narrative.
3. When asked about the content of her poems Sharon Olds responded “I never said that they were auto-biographical”. You often make use of yourself in your poems. Is this something which matters to you?
Haha, I like that quote by Sharon Olds, but I do think that all poems have to have some emotional truth within them to work, even if that truth is not “what happened”. So when Sharon Olds is writing a poem I think a lot of it is in some way emotionally autobiographical (in that, she has had those thoughts and feelings) and that is what makes them work. She’s an extremely introspective writer and really mines out with acid what is causing her tension. So, running through an airport to reach her dying father may not be true, but who hasn’t had moments of wondering how that might feel?
I guess I use myself as a subject matter sometimes in order to play around with those versions of the truth. The worst poems in my opinion are poems that have no emotional truth or heart to them. Poems that have been written for an audience or to indicate that the writer “really cares” about an issue that they would like to be seen to care about. There was one recently that made the Saturday poem of the day by the poet Leonita Flynn. Here is a link to it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/05/leontia-flynn-saturday-poem
Now, what I particularly hate about this poem is its tone, its casual way of saying “i was poor once for a while and want to show that i care about these poor people who have a wank for a release from their sad little lives.” It has a catchy title, it has a winning image (the hula hoop over the rooftops) and it has a clear beginning middle and end. But one thing is for sure, I don’t believe a word of it – it’s a heartless poem that needs no-one.
4. Why LIPPfest? In other words, what drove you to take on this enormous commitment?
I think the best way to do this is to highlight some books by independent publishers that I think are incredible. These publishers need to exist because of the sheer quality of what they contribute culturally to poetry and in order for them to exist new ways need to be found to sell new books and find new readerships. LIPPFest is an exercise in this – we’re bringing 25 of the best independently published poets to Leeds for a day of poetry and we hope by doing so to encourage people to buy books, broaden their literary horizons and to support the amazing work that organisations like Lancaster Litfest and Inpress do to promote independent presses. Here are just a few of the publishers I like and some books i’d recommend reading!
Arc Publishing: Thomas Lux – The Street of Clocks, Patrick Lane – Syllable of Stone, Valerie Rouzeau – Cold Spring in Winter, Marceljius Martinaitis – The Ballads of Kukutis
Carcanet: Kei Miller – There is an Anger that moves, Carola Luther – Walking the Animals, Toon Tellegen – Raptors, John Whale – Waterloo Teeth, Marilyn Hacker – Essays on Departure, Fiona Sampson – Common Prayer
Egg Box Publishing – Vahni Capildeo – Undraining Sea, Agnes Lehoczky – Budapest to Babel.
Red Squirrel Press: Andrew Mcmillan – The Moon is a Supporting Player, Claire Askew – The Mermaid and the Sailors
Smith/Doorstop: Ed Reiss – Your Sort, Allison McVety – The Night Trotsky Came to Stay, Nina Boyd – Dear Mr Asquith, Catherine Smith – Lip, Paul Bentley – Largo
Waterloo Press: Sarah Hymas – Host, Ian Parks – An Exiles House (forthcoming)
To see some of these poets perform, and to keep in touch with developments at LIPPFest – take a look at www.lippfest.co.uk