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:

Liz
Tricia
Kelly
Tanita
Laura
Andi

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Poetry for Children.





17 comments:

  1. So amazing, and I loved reading about the thought that went into it!

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    1. Thank you. Sometimes, I go overboard on explaining my process, but my research always seems to lead somewhere cool. Then I feel the overwhelming NEED to share the goodies.

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    2. Like Tanita's work, I always appreciate the introductions you provide. I learn so much, and it makes the poems somehow richer.

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  2. What a party! My favorite lines are

    Unsteady alphabet, sunken lede

    Invites no lover to linger, nor kiss her;

    Ha! I love looking at typefaces, and it was fun ferreting out all the typeface and journalistic references in this poem. Fantastic!

    And

    Whistle-clean sans serif--

    is how I like my type and my life. LOVE.

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    1. I knew you'd get into that, Laura. Heh. I'm more of a mess. I loved writing to this!

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  3. You know, I never once ever thought about who creates the typefaces! And I am pretty particular about the fonts I use. Thank you for broadening my mind this morning! Your poem is one to Luxuriate in for sure. Thank you!

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    1. The precision of graphic design flummoxes me. But I love knowing that artists devote years to making letters both readable and lovely. What a gift.

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  4. Oh, my god. The language here!! I love how you always go through a process of deep and curious discovery when you write these poems. And I love love love the specificity of these lines:

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

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

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  5. (HE CREATED GEORGIA!? That's, like, my favorite Official Serious font. Go, Mr. Carter.)

    Love letters - all else is mad, indeed, but I can see that you love words, as well. It shows in each splendid couplet. Coveted, even, like no other part—
    Pancreas, elbow, knee, heart—

    This is just -- truly lovely. Your brain is a wonderful place, Sara mine.

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  7. I now will linger with all of the poems from the sisters. You and Laura have managed to educate and enthrall. I've chosen Georgia as "my" font for a long time, now know more than I ever thought to look for. Lovely poem, extricated from long ago and our whirlwind of possibilities on computers today. What would Matthew Carter think of it? I love "Kerned pairs, neatly-tucked descenders," somehow meaning 'good work'.

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  8. I love these lines....

    Hinged, yet on this: we write. We read. and Whistle-clean sans serif,

    As a writer I can't help but be in love with the letters themselves...typeface is more of an art than I imagined. I love the idea of a letter foundry...old world punching and filing for letters delicate enough for Shakespeare.

    A wonderful poem and description of your process. Thank you.

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  9. I'm a Calibri girl, but I so appreciate and long for some of these other fonts. Because I print everything (my cursive is illegible), I don't quite "get" some of these fonts. The z terrifies me.
    As for the poem, it's brilliant. I love the a/n and j/w lines, but it's the ending that had me.
    Mind each flip of curlicue, each gad—
    Zook. Love letters; all else is mad.

    Love letters indeed.

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  10. I'll repeat -- thanks for the process notes (NEVER worry about being too lengthy in leading us where your mind wanders), thanks for the education, love the ending. Also, I love your interesting take on the acrostic form. My wheels are turning...

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  11. There is so much I love about this post. As others have mentioned, I always enjoy hearing about the process of creating a poem. And what a poem! I'm not sure if I can chose a favorite line, but "Luxuriate, at last, in the pomp and tosh" feels like an invitation, so I'll take it!

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  12. What fun with letters! Like the others, I enjoy hearing about your process and am glad you share the goodies you learn in your research.

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  13. Your word choices are a joy to read. I absolutely love this poem on all levels. It had never occurred to me to think about the history of font, and I appreciate the backstory you've provided. Having been mired in APA Times New Roman font for so long, I appreciate the beauty of Snell Roundhand, Walker, Cascade, Georgia, Skia, Galliard"...and of course, "whistle-clean san serif."

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