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The Collaboration of fractal heart

Blaire Grady
edited by Kayla Sosa
fractal heart

The story of this collaboration began with an online submission, peppered with eloquent verses of profound imagery. For this reason, fractal heart called for visual interpretation.

original submission

fractal heart

Christopher Gagnon

The edge is on fire,
out at the end of the universe.

It burns, it melts,
it sizzles and pops
like a fat-greased skillet.

Words do not work here.

The sky is littered with stars,
a thousand billion million
thousand hundred trillion stars,
but my thoughts like water
always sink back down
into the earth.

I live in that place,
out at the end of things,
where it’s not fit for living.
An old man.

I tend to the new space.
I give it order. Give it weight.
I give it purpose, but I am not god.
I am no maker.

Soon it will end;
the edge will meet the edge
and the fire will turn in
on us all.

My love was like the edge.
It was a god for you,
cleaving order from chaos.
Being from not-being.

[I still know the song heard
in the seam of your skin
I hum your melody listen]

Memories have kept
something human inside.

They are my eyes.
They are my heart.

And sometimes,
when I see a new star ignite
ablaze with the fury of youth,
I glimpse your face in its fire,
and I feel your heat
against my cheek.

And for just that one second
you are with me.
You are here. I was real.

It is enough.

Within a few hours of accepting his submission, Christopher Gagnon and I were discussing the possibility of incorporating visual work, to tell a story that visually paralleled the poem as it was read in verse. I had to book an photographer or illustrator for the work, and I remembered a phone call I had in 2007 with Sterling Hundley (details on that here). Just as I had done then, I took a shot and reached out to him again, like a rando, this time to work with him creatively on fractal heart.

This project has worn so many skins. The more we plugged along various stages, the better yet more challenging the execution became. But I was familiar with Sterling’s determination by following his work and reading his interviews over many years, and I knew the project was in exceptional hands.


As we three (Gagnon and Sterling with myself to liaise) explored and experimented several concepts, such as complex parallax animation, voice-overs, backend css, our key goal was to work through a collaborative challenge to fuse 1) the storytelling talents of a literary artist, 2) the craft of a visual artist, and 3) the skills of backend developers, each of us varying in exposure. From beginner (Gagnon) to intermediate (myself) to beyond-iconic (Hundley).

Through fractal heart, there was a vision to create something beautiful and well-executed. Strangers & Karma commissioned the hand of Sterling Hundley to enrich the poem’s unspoken narrative through illustrations and the presentation’s final cut. We hired Saira Liaqat for the backend development.


Christopher Gagnon lives in North Carolina. He has a dog that he enjoys treating peanut butter pretzel nuggets. He insists he is not a poet, but he submitted fractal heart after receiving strong encouragement from an actual poet, Rye Brayley.

When I first read fractal heart, I thought it was a romantic piece with layers of textures and visual cues depicting love loss. But when asked to provide insight to Sterling about the poem, specifically context, Gagnon responded:

I wish I could provide some amazing context, or great story,
for this poem. Alas, the truth is more pedestrian. This poem
is simply a middle-aged man’s song to his youth, and
specifically to a great love of that youth. Like most, it
burned out at the time. But I find, in this twilight, it rekindles
in my heart and helps me still live.

This piqued Sterling’s and my interest. The poem, after all, wasn’t intimately romantic; it was intimately nostalgic, a deeply reflective piece. Looking back on our youth is something we all do, more as we get older. Even for a life less lived, youth grants us such a unique courage, something many can’t help but look back upon fondly. Nostalgia also happens to be a theme right up Sterling’s alley, as his style is notoriously sentimental.

With this information, the collaboration had commenced, and Sterling took to the drawing board.

illustrator (and animator… as it turns out 🙂 )

Hundley’s work has been published by many elite art publications including Communication Arts, New York Society of Illustrators, and Graphis. His range in recognition has reached celebrity within the progressive mainstream—including but not limited to Broadway, the Smithsonian, Rolling Stone and the New York Times. He is a tenured professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), among several other prestigious positions held nationally throughout arts and academia.

Sterling storyboarded and prototyped many illustrations infused with the stanzas from Gagnon’s poem and worked over fifty hours in postedits. When the collaboration was relatively new, we discussed the most exciting digital experience, a parallax design that would provide a walkthrough effect as the poem is read on scroll. He explained that he had never created this style of animation before, so I tried finding qualified professionals for the work required to produce a high quality and responsive parallax. This process proved an almost harrowing, and I quickly realized I was out of my league but powered through. There were many failed attempts on my end to recruit the right talent to execute the intended vision and stay within budget. There were long periods of time that I wasn’t sure this project would ever make it to press, despite Sterling’s efforts and the expectations I had presented to Gagnon. After a year of wading through portfolios and resumes, scheduling sessions to discuss qualifications, schedules, budgets, and licenses to no avail, I was beside myself and expressed my frustrations to Sterling. He offered to take a stab at it, to learn the software to harness the vision of the project. I let him run with it and am more than excited to present the final product.

A joining of creative forms to deliver an immersive poetic experience to users,
Strangers & Karma presents fractal heart
©2023-2024 Sterling Hundley

Watch: fractal heart (animation) by Sterling Hundley
Read: fractal heart (text only) by Christopher Gagnon

Kayla Sosa is a freelance writer, copywriter, editor, and researcher. She has worked on articles, textbooks, and novels. She has collaborated with and edited the works of New York Times bestselling authors, as well as contributors to The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The London Review of Books, GQ, Vice, and more. For inquiries, please email.

Blaire Grady is just happy to be here. For inquiries, please email.