This is a book of quotes and epigrams, speculation and anecdote, yearnings and palimpsests, and voices in profusion as David Reiter puts his head down into historical but also fictive intertexts of Tahiti. I am tired of old planets one of these voices says, and we too travel through his richly interwoven monologues to search out the nature of art, of civilisation.... These poems even name the siren call of the Internet as the new exotic, the medium of desire. But I was especially struck by the central idea of letters never sent as poetic speculation, at its most pointed in the wit and banter between Gauguin and Van Gogh, climaxing in the wonderful Van Gogh commentaries on the famous paintings.
Gauguin in the South Seas, Van Gogh in
Arles, surfing the Internet, stumbling into chat rooms or a fish and chip
shop in the Cook Islands, explorations of past travellers and the random
confused explorations of the Information Highway
Such is the exciting
collage of images Reiter places skillfully before us. Phrases, lines, stories
that reflect back and forth touching always on the dream of happiness, the
longing to make sense of ourselves.
The poems in David Reiter's Letters
We Never Sent are also predominantly long. They
form a linked series based on the painter Gauguin and the time he spent
in Tahiti. They are written in three voices Gauguin, Ronald Symes
who wrote a biography of gauguin, and a contemporary, objective voice
with a change in font to indicate each of the three.
Much of Gauguin's voice comes in the
form of letters to his wife, Mette, whom he left behind in France, but it
also gives scope for an interpretation of some of his paintings as well
as his own life and reactions to events, including his association with
Vincent van Gogh. The second voice (Symes) acts as a background in much
the same way as do the stage sets of a play. The third voice allows space
for comment on current issues and lifestyle, with any parallels or other
inferences being left to be drawn by the reader.
The result is a kind of surreal collage,
in which the two voices of Gauguin and Symes juxtapose a simple-living,
or 'natural', world of that time, where the problems were personal or immediate
social ones, against the more complex contemporary world with its internet,
its view of Tahiti as a holiday-only place, the unreality of film, conflicting
international affairs, advertising and many more perceived ills of modern
life. Some of these last, such as the Demidenko affair and 'poor Christopher
Skase', are delivered with befitting satirical humour.
There is much insight in this book. It emerges in all three of the perspectives, on the one side in the reinvocation of the persona of Gauguin and the scene of his exiled life and on the other, in the wide-ranging commentary on present-day life. In the end, each voice has its own philosophy. There are Gauguin's words: 'Once the future's promise is on our tongue/ we must pursue until we make it our own!' In the voice of Symes: `I was the future when I came/ but now I am the present...The lagoon is lonely now.' And from the third voice: `The more things change/the faster they change.'
Helen Horton, Imago
In his fourth collection of poems, Hemingway in Spain and Selected Poems, David P Reiter had the audacity to resurrect Ernest Hemingway, an author some believe only Michael Palin could love. Several Hemingways, actually. But that's another story.
In this new volume, Reiter extends his experiment with fusion poetry to focus on Paul Gauguin, who spent years in Tahiti musing on the fate of artists, especially Vincent Van Gogh, with whom he'd had a stormy relationship at Arles, France.
Reiter counterpoints Gauguin's real and fictive insights with those of Ronald Symes, a British journalist who exiled himself to the Cook Islands, where he wrote nostalgically about the fate of indigenous people, and occasionally about his own.
Not content with these, Reiter invents other voices: a contemporary speaker who travels between these and other islands, including those of the mind, to try to discover patterns real and virtual that transcend the world's determination to be arbitrary.
Or is he just being Post-Modern? Read it and decide for yourself.
David P Reiters poetry has been acclaimed in Australia, North America and Europe for many years. Winner of the Queensland Poetry Award in 1989, he was commended for the same award in 1994. His fourth book, Hemingway in Spain and Selected Poems, was shortlisted for the John Bray Award at the 1998 Adelaide Festival.
Frequently anthologised, he has toured his work several times in North America and toured Spain and France in 2000 with the support of the Australia Council.
Recently he assumed a Leighton Studio Residency at the world-famous Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, where he prepared The Gallery, a multimedia version of this book.