David Jhave Johnston’s interactive piece “Sooth”, which means truth in English, overlays text, video, and sound, all correspondent to the click of the mouse, to create a unique experience for the reader. For this work, Johnston wrote six love poems coupled with sound and background music. Each line is displayed where and when the user clicks on the video playing in the background. The sound working in tandem the video in the background serve as supports to really bring each line of the selected poem to life.
David Jhave Johnston has been known for making poetic works of electronic literature and this piece is no exception. Starting Johnston’s work, the reader is prompted to select any one of the six poems (“Sooth”, “Weeds”, “Roots”, “Body”, “Soul”, and “Snow”) on the left menu to begin. After choosing a path, a video unique to that poem will begin to play. Clicking on the video will cause the next line of the poem to appear at the location of the click and will occasionally trigger different music and sound effects. Four or five lines will remain over the video at one time, dancing with each other over video. Once the reader has clicked through all the lines of the poem, the poem will loop as long as the reader keeps clicking on the video or he or she can move onto another poem from the left menu.
On paper, each of the poems would be read as love poems; however, with the addition of the background music, some of the poems give off a different feeling. The music and sound effects of these few are not very comforting, hardly synonymous with the lines of the poem. Love poems generate the idea of profound tenderness and care, but paired with the high pitched noise or compulsive sounds, the poems no longer are just love poems.
Sooth, in English, means truth or fact, not to be confused with soothe which means to calm or tranquilize. Each one of the poems talks about love in a different aspect with the ultimate goal of telling the truth of love. Love can be a very self serving emotion. At times, satisfaction can take the place of love. Sexual desires and obsessions can even masquerade as love. In fact, looking back a few centuries, love poems were even written looking for some kind of satisfaction. For example, a man named Francesco Petrarch was a poet in the 1300s. Head over heels for a woman named Laura, Petrarch wrote over 350 sonnets and poems for the woman of his dreams. He wrote poems wanting to be with her even lusting after her. He had only caught a glimpse of this woman at a church. Johnston’s poems all talk about sex in some way as if the lust is normal. In “Soul”, Johnston writes, “sex/is/good/for/the soul/and/love/is/nourishment/for/the body” as if sex regardless of feeling or marital status is a necessary act.
Poems use very sensory and sensual language, love poems leaning more toward the sensual side. The diction allows the writer to bring the reader into the feelings and emotions that inspired the writer. He brings the reader into this world fueled by the sensual language, the occasional sexual sound, and the vivid colors in the video. Love is more than just a language, rather it is a necessary experience. In the very last poem, “Snow”, Johnston writes “it comes to one thing/one cannot be alone/amongst the multiple beings” saying that people are not meant to be alone, so open the door and discover the truth that there is to find about love.