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Monday, 15 February 2016

P. S. Cottier reviews Timelord Dreaming in the Sydney Morning Herald

In this volume, Reiter presents the reader with a poetic response to his experiences in hospital, as the cause of extreme pain is diagnosed, treated, and operated on.

The short poems inhabit a region between reality and the speculative. The treating doctors merge with images of Doctor Who, and various inhabitants of that Doctor's universe, or multiverse, appear in the pages. Daleks, Cybermen and equipment such as the sonic screwdriver run shoulders with nurses, spirometers and the dubious properties of hospital food. The result is a vivid and, at times, moving chronicle of the journey through serious illness, and the mysterious world of medicine from the patient's perspective.

Here is an example, from early in the process of diagnosis, where the poet is in the Emergency Ward:


'Excluded your heart. Now for the shadows.
My 10#sonic screwdriver will scan for 11#aliens.'
Yes, my pain is there, and there – a solid 8.

Immediately apparent is the inclusion of links, which take the reader from the text of each poem into the worlds of the internet. These links are repeated in footnotes. The "aliens" link in the poem above, for example, takes one to a web page outlining identifiable mistakes in Aliens, the 1986 film. We immediately see the hideous attraction of mistakes to someone caught in the terrifying parallel universe of medical diagnosis. The ebook, of course works more efficiently in this regard than the printed book, although one could use the links given in footnotes to explore the added dimensions.

Personally, while I chased some of the links, and found some of them fun or illuminating, I also found the appearance of the poems a little cluttered. At least in the printed book, I would have preferred simple footnotes (or end notes) containing some of the linked information, and the poems presented without the underlining and tags.  Others may delight in the intertextual voyages being ticketed from within each poem.

David Reiter dubs the form of these poems, which he writes that he invented while in hospital, the tweetem, which he states is a cross between the "character limited tweet" and "Japanese forms like the tanka".  I have to say that I do not like the word "tweetem"; to my ears it sounds too cute. But there is no denying the powerful kick of some of these works, whatever one thinks of that name.

Many people are writing poems combining the exigencies of Twitter and either haiku or tanka, and finding this to be a convenient and portable way of composition without the need for pen, paper, or even sonic screwdriver. A phone is all one requires. At, tweeted poems from around the world are brought together, allowing the curious to find poets of interest. Most of the poems here are, in some way, derived from Japanese forms. Tinywords, founded in 2000, is a daily magazine publishing and distributing haiku, tanka and brief haibun by web, email and SMS. Timelord Dreaming can be seen as part of this developing tradition.

This book is disconcerting, amusing, timely and adventurous. It should be of particular interest to those undergoing medical treatment. In reusing motifs from popular culture, particularly that of science fiction, the poet ties deeply personal experiences to those we share through the web and other created worlds.

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