Friday, January 4, 2019

Poetry Friday: Alphabet Portfolio

The post in which I learn a thing or two about typefaces.

One of the 26 typefaces in "Alphabet Portfolio"

Tricia challenged us to start the new year by writing a poem to one of several images she took at a University of Richmond art show.  I chose the one below,  "Alphabet Portfolio" by James Stroud and Matthew Carter.

According to the Center Street Gallery site, "This portfolio of prints by type designer Matthew Carter contains the 26 letters of the alphabet, all lowercase, etched into copper plates with aquatint. They were printed by master printer James Stroud. The 26 letters are Carter’s own favorites from typefaces designed by him in a wide variety of styles, both historically-derived and contemporary."

Turns out Matthew Carter is a typeface celebrity.  He created Verdana. And Georgia.  And he's won a MacArthur Fellowship. But what hooked me was that he started out in a type foundry,  working with metal "punches" to make letters cast into type.  The idea of letters as objects, to be "made" was fascinating to me.  And it got me started down the path of laying out my poem as precisely as his fonts are displayed on that wall. That is to say, in pairs...or couplets.  (Turns out couplet comes from the old French for "hinge." Metalwork, again.)

One of the 26 typefaces in "Alphabet Portfolio"

Below, I've mimicked the University of Richmond's gallery arrangement of his vertical pairs (A N,  B O,  C P,  etc.) And incorporated the lovely language of typography. And learned a thing or two about letters.

Love Letters

A face, captured, is a portrait
Not loved for itself, but born of it.

Better yet, a face, framed
Open to many, can be famed

Coveted, even, like no other part—
Pancreas, elbow, knee, heart—

Damned right. So if we elevate letters,
Quell not galleries for fancying font and typesetters;

Exclaim this: These are typefaces
Renowned for clarity, and fit to interstices,

Foundry-forged, digitally handmade:
Snell Roundhand, Walker, Cascade,

Georgia, Skia, Galliard: 
Trustworthy, energetic, suited for bards!

Hinged, yet on this: we write. We read.
Unsteady alphabet, sunken lede

Invites no lover to linger, nor kiss her;
Verses need steady lines, un-fissured.

Joy, then, in crisp and sturdy glyph,
Whistle-clean sans serif,

Kerned pairs, neatly-tucked descenders,
X-height finely-measured, graceful ascenders;

Luxuriate, at last, in the pomp and tosh:
Youthful stroke, stem, shoulder, swash;

 Mind each flip of curlicue, each gad—
 Zook. Love letters; all else is mad.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

A fun graphic of typography terms can be found here.  (Gadzooks are a thing)

More about Matthew Carter here. 

And for a different arrangement of his letters (I'd have to change my poem!) see here.

You can find my fellow poets responses to their choice of image here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Poetry for Children.