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First Born

Through an act of either charity or desperation, Born Magazine allowed me to contribute to its Summer 2006 issue, which launched recently. Having been a great admirer of Born for several years, I was honored to participate.

In its own words, “Born Magazine is an experimental venue marrying literary arts and interactive media. Original projects are brought to life every three months through creative collaboration between writers and artists.” I have always found their use of the term “collaboration” to be slightly misleading, since, in many cases, an artist is given an existing piece of literature to interpret visually, as opposed to the artist and writer working together to create something from scratch. Born does foster those sorts of collaborations in something they call “The Birthing Room,” but, when given the choice, I opted (perhaps cowardly) to work with an existing poem, since it would essentially be client work, the sort of arrangement with which I am already well accustomed.

I couldn’t have asked for a more agreeable or courageous client. Writer Kiki Petrosino, whose fascinating prose poem I didn’t know infants in arms until was to be the subject of my interpretation, gave me free reign. “When I think about it,” she told me, “I’m most interested in viewing your interpretation as a record of how someone else has traveled through my work. The focus that you ultimately take for your interpretation will (with any luck) arise from how the poem connects with you.”

I read her poem as an American regret, the romanticization of a would-be expatriot’s brief time in Italy, whose civilization’s earned character trickles all the way down to its post-consumer waste, while the elements of our narrator’s own national culture remain banal, garish, and vulgar.

The awesome responsibility that came with Kiki’s complete lack of restrictions was daunting, but I luckily had some limitations of my own already in mind. My goal was an elegantly restrained efficiency of expression, which would gently serve and enhance the poem—and its careful choice of words, juxtapositions, and rhythm—without getting in its way.

The poem’s literal content deals mostly with memory, which I decided would be best invoked with simple sound collage, abstract color, and a touch of synchronized animation. In keeping with the restrained, unobtrusive approach, the rest would be handled by pure typography, making the choice of typeface the single most important decision. Considering the theme, a modern revival of a classic Italian type made perfect sense, and when I discovered Vendetta’s postmodern take on Venetian Old Style letterforms, I knew my search had ended.

The final piece is intended to be understated and numbly pensive. I think it does a pretty good job of satisfying those intentions, and I really enjoyed working on it. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a look and let Kiki and me know what you think.