Robert Kendall began working with computers as a means of re-creating the dynamicism of a live poetry reading without sacrificing the subtleties of the printed word. In "The Electronic Word: Techniques and Possibilities for Interactive Multimedia Literature," he writes:
SoftPoetry builds on the 2,000 year old tradition of concrete poetry, or visual poetry, in which the meaning of the poem is enhanced by its visual appearance through unusual typography and layout. Elaborately colored graphics, animation, and transition effects are now added to the visual poet's repertory. SoftPoetry is also a video extension of the tradition of the book as art object--calligraphy, illuminated manuscripts, and illustrated books.
It All Comes Down To _________ (1990) and The Clue: a MiniMystery in the Form of a SoftPoem (1991) are the two extant examples of Kendall's work. Both are based on slide show software engines which present screens in sequence. Each contains simple graphics and text, animated by a variety of effects (eg. fades, wipes, moving text). To anyone who has sat through a typical business presentation or software demonstration, these effects are already tired. They may be more effective for viewers unfamiliar with computer technology.
Kendall succumbs too often to overt literalism in his pairing of effects with content. The words "All the implications are backed into a corner" are set in one corner of the screen. Words which are murdered drip with blood. These simplistic devices limit the poems to novelty status.
Though simple either/or questions occur once in each work, these poems are not interactive in any real sense. However, Kendall has displayed the SoftPoems live with musical accompaniment; a performer/reader environment probably makes up for this lack. These multimedia installations have appeared at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute Science Museum, among other venues. He is currently working on a more complete multimedia work, which will include complex animation, a full soundtrack, and hypertext structure. This new poem will "mirror the way thoughts, attitudes, and memories evolve and fluctuate over time" by allowing nodes to change based on the reader's path (personal correspondence, 30 June 1993). This "organic hypertext" promises to deliver a reading experience only hinted at by the currently available works.
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