“In the Garden of Recounting” by Robert Kendall

Despite the fact that I have enjoyed almost all of the forms of electronic literature that we have studied in this class, I find myself most drawn to hypertext and interactive poetry. As such, the other day I decided to search the internet for sites that host hypertext poetry, when I came across an archive of work by the writer Robert Kendall. After reading through several of his pieces, I found one poem in particular that really moved me, titled “In the Garden of Recounting.”

“In the Garden of Recounting” is an interactive poem made using Text Storm (a type of ActionScript program that, unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information on). The poem is designed to look like a sparse garden that sits beneath a constant layer of storm clouds, which blanket the title and contain several floating letters.

Beside the garden are the words “Memories Fall Like Rain,” over which the reader can scroll in order to make letters rain down from the clouds and form a poem about the origins of memories.

Detached and seemingly nonsensical phrases, such as “just a name” and “language of scars,” float amidst the garden, until the reader scrolls over the plants and changes them from silhouettes to solid figures.

In clipped but striking phrases, a story unfolds amongst the foliage, telling of a man who is currently straining to remember his father. The manner in which the plants slowly darken and the words come into view is reflective, I feel, of the way in which memories can be slow to resurface, especially when they are traumatic. Similarly, the scrolling over of the plants seems to represent the way in which, sometimes, these upsetting memories must be coaxed forth by their owner due to the fact that they are repressed.

As the words are pieced together by the reader, it becomes clear that the¬†memories are indeed disturbing ones, for it is revealed that the narrator’s father was an incredibly abusive man, so much so that he is now merely “a name people curse” whose “beatings [are] retold in the faint language of scars.” And yet, perhaps as an attempt to redeem his father in some way, the narrator fights to recall a particular experience that he had in which his father took him to the zoo. The words float in and out of existence on the screen and, though silent, seem to resonate with a vacant and reserved voice, fighting to remain emotionless and distant from the tale being told.

Though the flashback is brief, the narrator describes how he and his father used the animals and the outing as a way to escape from the true nature of their troubled relationship, pretending for a day that they were indeed just a normal father and son. This instance of kindness, of his father’s “hard won smile,” seems to only further the narrator’s confusion, as he says “we loved the escape route so much it was almost like loving each other,” before changing his mind and concluding that the love was, in fact, for one another. The final stanza of the poem is so unsure and so muddled that the words are practically see-through and appear for only a second or two.

Even in the innocence of his memory of the zoo, the previous statements about his father’s anger and abuse cannot be forgotten, especially because the grim and foggy atmosphere never changes, and the reader is forced to question the narrator’s overall judgement and ability to accept the truth,

Overall, this poem is a realistic representation of memory and how, over time, it can be repressed, retrieved, and distorted in order to fit its owner’s visions of the past or current feelings. Though the gardenscape never changes throughout the entire poem — the same plants simply fade and reappear — it does not lend itself to boredom, as the animation of the piece is not meant to add to the words, but to represent how memories can be cultivated like a garden. In its cloudy and slow nature, “In the Garden of Recounting” is quite easy to relate to when one considers one’s own difficulty with retrieving troublesome memories and one’s tendency to distort the past in order to make it easier to bear.

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