David Tait

David Tait

David Tait lives in Guangzhou, China, where he works as a teacher. His poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies including Ambit, Magma, Poetry Review and The Rialto and his pamphlet Love's Loose Ends won the Poetry Business pamphlet competition (as judged by Simon Armitage) in 2010.  

Tait first began writing at Leeds University when taking an undergraduate creative writing module taught by Amanda Dalton. He has since attended workshops and writing days, as well as an MA in Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. He was "House Poet" at Manchester Royal Exchange for the Carol Ann Duffy & Friends poetry series between 2010 - 2013.

In 2014 Self-Portrait with The Happiness was Shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and also received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors.

 

When I fell in love with you
I never knew our dance
would be this conga,
these swaying hips of pendolino

— 'Kenilworth'

 

 

 

 

 


Award-winning poet David Tait's new collection, The AQI, is about living and breathing in China

 

The AQI is about day-to-day life working in China, cultural differences and the tackling of homophobia. 

Although David has been working as a teacher in Guangzhou and Nanjing, China, for the last five years, he describes “home” as currently both Nanjing and Lancaster. David also describes himself as in a state of ‘exile pending’ from the UK. In his words, ‘how can you call the UK your home if you can’t move your family there due to prohibitive immigration policies and a government and media that demonises anyone who isn’t British?’

Written from the perspective of an outsider to both the UK and China, The AQI explores a life lived behind such barriers as language, homophobia, and China’s incessant smog.

‘I think the poems that tackle homophobia and the later poems in the final section feel more conciliatory than the sections in my pamphlet, Three Dragon Day. I’ve lived here a while now, so have a clearer understanding of how things work, which in turn has an impact on the writing.’

The title, The AQI, refers to the Air Quality Index, used to measure particulate matter air pollution, which is used as a metaphor or underlying image -- not least the face mask -- throughout many of these poems. Despite being a serious health threat, this smog is now a normal occurrence in day-to-day life in China.

‘The air pollution is something massive that affects all who live here, particularly the migrant workers, many of whom work outside in it,’ says David. ‘Everyone is weary of the smog but generally most people have known nothing else, so they are used to it. It’s not really reported in the media so a lot of people don’t know about it.’ 

But The AQI does more than enlighten us to the critical threat of air pollution. These poems are a necessary wake-up call and refuse to let the UK’s distance from China shelter us from this interminable pollution.

‘Everyone blames China and runs headlines criticising their country while wearing clothes made in China, sat in offices where most of the things were made in China, typing angrily on a MacBook that was assembled in China. No one is more complicit in China’s air pollution problem than the consumer, which is why there are no poems in this book blaming China for the problem.’     

Furthermore, The AQI revitalises poetry, and provides powerful evidence that there is still an important and perhaps as-yet overlooked place for poetry in contemporary politics.

‘It seems increasingly difficult to have a sensible debate out-loud – with poetry you can express your ideas clearly and with style and your readers are able to read a poem and make their own minds up. It’s quite hard to shout down a poem’s opinions.

‘Lyric poetry isn’t dead but it does need to stay relevant. It can only do that by engaging with new and challenging subject matters. From my perspective, it’s ridiculous that no one really writes about poverty or air pollution or homophobia in the UK. So, when you start to think like that, why wouldn’t you?

‘For a long time we’ve sort of been told “don’t write political poetry, don’t be didactic, no one wants to read it.” But we can write politically without writing “you need to think this”. I wonder if we have been self-censoring for too long.’

Even so, The AQI still finds its own beauty in amongst this air pollution, consumerist politics and homophobia.

‘Just take a look at Monet’s pictures of smoggy London when he visited and painted there. Just because something is bad for you, doesn’t mean it can’t be weirdly beautiful.’

 

The AQI will be published on 1st October 2018.

 

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Reviews 

 

'If the pastoral is not dead, it is at least badly wounded, these upsetting poems remind us.  Instead, the scene is a vast polluted city, where nothing grows but anxieties.  This poet disturbs us with his content and pleasures us with his stark language and thoughtful formal designs.  Put on your face-mask, and dig in.'  – Billy Collins

 

‘Careful and concise poems, like glimpsed scenes and small, intense dramas, full of knowing detail and telling lines. Tender but shrewd.’ — Simon Armitage

 

‘There’s a kind of ‘tough love’ at work in these poems – a lyrical, romantic yearning shot through with the poet’s clear eye and wry humour. I think of them as tiny, poised narratives of lost words, remembered places and the unravelling of love. This is a memorable, assured collection – I’m certain David Tait is one to watch.’ — Amanda Dalton

 

'an impressive debut, a sequence of clever love poems, smoothly poised between the extravagant and the real in perfect observations of love and loss like ‘Elsewhere’ and ‘Cory and the Winter’.— Andy Croft, Morning Star

 

'These ‘loose ends’ weave together in such a way that at the end of the first, second, even third reading (and this pamphlet is certainly worth coming back to), the reader is left with a sense of intimacy with the text and it’s subjects, and yet at times one cannot help but feel as unsettled as the lovers in [the] first poem of the collection, ‘Elsewhere’:

When it is over we say we love each other.
[...]
But look how cold the air is;
How our words uncoil above us.

Many of these poems are so universally intimate that the reader cannot help but fall in love with both the subject and the language of the poem.'

— The Stand

 

'Although these are all love poems, Tait avoids cliché and often coins bright phrases like: “icy stars chirped through the cold –” (‘The Peacock in their Shed’), “the air ratcheted with pheasants” (‘North York Moor’), “a testament of love to rust in the rain” (‘Luzhkov Bridge’), “the sliding belt of train” (‘Cory and the Summer’). The title ‘Self-Portrait with Headtorch’ epitomises his talent for spotting bright details against dark backgrounds.' — Andrew Sclater, Magma

 

David Tait’s Self-Portrait with the Happiness moves with great skill from Lakeland Fells to the ‘hefty rain’ in Guangzhou, from a sonnet written in the snow to phones that ‘rattled our pockets with voicemails’. While he holds nothing back in these poems of love, not-love and longing, the writing is precise and controlled, the tone starkly believable. –  Imtiaz Dharker

 

What can we offer but love – / love and wonder’ is the question which permeates the poems of David Tait’s Self-Portrait with The Happiness. This is a book which merges self-awareness with undisguised frankness (‘As for beauty: I think I’ve experienced/ that moment in life that will flash/ before me at the end’) on the ‘hammerthrow’ of falling in love. Familiar with both midnight and the ‘cool gloom’ of dawn, Self-Portrait transforms those liminal spaces we all pass through – cigarettes at dawn, roadside lay-bys, the Gare du Nord, broken down cars and launderettes – into something strange and sacred. – Anthony Wilson

 

Review of David Tait’s Three Dragon Day in Sabotage:

http://sabotagereviews.com/2015/06/30/three-dragon-day-by-david-tait/

 

Review of David Tait’s Self-Portrait With The Happiness in The Compass:

http://www.thecompassmagazine.co.uk/romantic-barlow/

 

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David reading at Lancaster Spotlight

 

 

The Air

A text from the embassy: the air today will not be good.
If possible I should stay indoors.
If possible I should wear a mask.
Today is my day off. I sit and watch the air roll in.

The skyscrapers lose their sure angles.
The skyscrapers could almost be whales. I think of Ahab
hurling his pipe. The air buffets against my window.
It is colder inside than outside. The air pants
 
against the glass. Handprints begin to appear.
Now it's just me. The air mimics the voices of traffic
and hawkers. The traffic and hawkers are drenched in the air.
The walls are starting to sweat.

 

 

David on his work

I had the good fortune of attending a Creative Writing module as an undergraduate

run by the poet Amanda Dalton and was infected by her energy and enthusiasm. A

few years later I found myself taking the plunge and writing much more regularly. I

joined the Leeds Writers’ Circle, attended a few courses at Ty Newydd and Arvon

Centres and applied for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan

University, where the support of amazing tutors and fellow students gave me a great

deal of self-belief and confidence. I became the House Poet at Manchester Royal

Exchange for the Carol Ann Duffy & Friends Poetry Series, which gave me the

brilliant opportunity of reading poems alongside some of the best poets in the world. I

then also heard the news that my pamphlet “Love’s Loose Ends’ had won the Poetry

Business Pamphlet Competition.



ii) Which are your favourite poets and poems?



I enjoy reading poems much much much more than I enjoy writing them, so it’s

impossible for me to say who my favorite poet is. In no particular order (other than

alphabetical) poets I love include Simon Armitage, Elizabeth Bishop, Alison

Brackenbury, Colette Bryce, Niall Campbell, Billy Collins, Natalie Diaz, Maura

Dooley, Mark Doty, Christy Ducker, Carol Ann Duffy, Suzannah Evans, Jessica

Greenbaum, Frank O’Hara, Geoff Hattersley, Ted Hughes, Kirsten Irving, Phillip

Levine, Yang Lian, Thomas Lux, Maitreyabandu, Bill Manhire, Andrew McMillan,

Kei Miller, Kim Moore, Edwin Morgan, Helen Mort, Frank O’Hara, Vidyan

Ravinthiran, Kay Ryan, Peter Sansom, Sylvia Plath, Clare Shaw, Han Shan, Jo

Shapcott, Jon Stone, Matthew Sweeney, Michael Symmonds Roberts,  Charles Simic,

James Tate, Fred Voss, Ocean Vuong, Ko Un…. the list could go on pretty much

forever...  



iii) Where do you mostly write? What do you do instead of writing?



I mostly write in my head. It’s through rehearsing the poem in my head that

determines how the poem comes out when written and it often happens that when I’m

teaching or running or staring into the foul soul of a PowerPoint presentation that a

poem’s shape, content and structure all come into being. When the poem eventually

gets to the paper stage it’s normally pretty much as I want it to be. I only redraft my

poems maybe two or three times before I feel they are ready to head out into the

world, though some poems I make a point of not sending out at all.



iv) A paragraph about one of your collections

It took me about 8 years to write Self-Portrait with The Happiness, so I was extremely

nervous when I sent the final proof email back to my publishers. I also wrote the

entirety of the book before moving to China, where I now live. I’ve lived in China

since March 2013, so I think that the new pamphlet ‘Particulate Matter’ feels very

different as it was written over a much shorter period of time and within a different

country. The way I write has definitely changed, and it’s strange for me to write

politically and about subjects such as air pollution, which previously I felt small

affinity with.  



v) What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on improving my Chinese by using poetry, pairing new

pictograph and ideographs with small poems to try and help me remember new

characters. I’m hoping to gather these together one day to help others learn Chinese.

Titles by this author

  The AQI
The AQI
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