Britain's most rejected poet lays down his pen

A hunger strike and threat to eat poison could not get Andrew Tait published. Even 'Viz' had to be bribed to print poems
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The Independent Online

Britain's most rejected poet, who has amassed close to 1,000 refusal letters from publishers in the past 15 years, is finally giving up his struggle for publication.

Britain's most rejected poet, who has amassed close to 1,000 refusal letters from publishers in the past 15 years, is finally giving up his struggle for publication.

Andrew Tait, who numbers among his "fans" such diverse figures as the Dalai Lama, the singer and songwriter Sting, and poet laureates Ted Hughes and Andrew Motion, has become something of a cult literary figure in the North-east, largely due to the series of publicity stunts he has conducted in his quest to find a publisher.

The music teacher from Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, has been on hunger strike, demonstrated outside 10 Downing Street, carried out a sit-down protest on (and was rescued from) the Tyne bridge, and threatened to swallow a packet of woodlice killer.

Now he has finally decided to forget about conventional publication and concentrate instead on putting his work on tape, and on meditation. "I'm pleased I did it, but I don't know that success means you have to get published. What does it matter in the end? Success is really to do with working out what's going to happen in the next life," he said.

"I had to try for so long - it would have felt like chickening out to have given up. It's not easy to say goodbye to that, but I'm feeling that I can quite happily leave it all behind."

Mr Tait's quest for a publisher began in the mid-1980s, when he began entering poetry competitions - winning some of them - and sending off letters to publishing companies. When the first rejection letters came back, he pinned them near his door. He has now papered the entire hallway and stairs with them, and estimates they number between 500 and 1,000.

It was after several years, dismayed by his lack of success via conventional routes, that Mr Tait decided to send his poetry to luminaries, in the hope of getting some feedback. One of his first letters was to Ted Hughes, then poet laureate.

"It's very strange poetry - on its way somewhere, often surprising and touching," Hughes wrote back. "It may be on its way to somewhere outside or beyond what we commonly regard as 'poems'... I think I understand what you're doing - may I wish you all strength on the way."

Touched by the reply, and in between the publicity stunts - the hunger strike became a bit blurred at the edges after he began drinking Horlicks - Mr Tait fired off letters to other people he admired. He has now amassed a considerable correspondence from a diverse range of luminaries, reminiscent of Henry Root, who famously wrote spoof letters throughout the early 1980s.

Sting wrote to him: "Songs are pleas for help, or understanding, or the desire to share something beautiful," in a manner almost as poetic as Mr Tait's own. "But they can only be completed by someone listening and responding. Writing and performing can be like speaking into a dead telephone - 'is anybody there?' When someone says 'yes, I'm here' then the work is complete."

Sir Tim Rice was more blunt: "You are clearly highly original, if not barking mad, and I would not be surprised if you were to achieve some sort of celebrity status before too long."

Most recently he has received letters from the poet laureate, Andrew Motion, who wrote: "I like what you are doing - it's strange and yours." Lord Bragg was even more succinct: "Thank you for making me laugh a lot."

Poetry accounts for about 2 per cent of the book market, making it even harder for a first-time poet to get published than a first-time novelist. Mr Tait feels he has now exhausted his options. For a while he published his poetry in Viz, using a competition where whoever sent the biggest bribe was published, but the joke eventually came to an end.

But he will not be leaving the world of literature entirely. He is working on his autobiography, and he still finds it hard to pass up the chance of the unconventional gesture. Most recently he sent an electric toaster to Bob Dylan, as a precursor to a tape of poetry.

"I thought thousands of people must write to him every week - how do I get his attention? It was meant to be like a conceptual poem. It wasn't that extravagant because I got it for under £10."

So did he get the great man's attention? "Yes. His manager wrote to me asking me not to send the tape."