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By Nina J P Evans

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ode to Typography

Love,
I love
the letters
of your hair,
the
U
of your glance, 
the
S
of your figure.
In the leaves
of youthful springtime
sparkles the diamantine
alphabet;
emeralds
write your name 
with the fresh initials of dew.
My love, 
your hair profound
as the jungle or dictionary 
covers me 
with its totality
of red language.


Pablos Neruda’s poem: Ode to Typography pays homage to his love of life and language, deconstructing letter forms and words rich in metaphor, he creates pictures in the mind, playfully using expressive romanticised words and letter forms. It’s important to note that it was written in 1964. As he has deftly captured the history of typography, up until his present time, from Gutenberg’s moveable type around 1439 to Linotype that was used up until the 1960s and 70s.

I don’t think this poem is about a lover or a muse. I think it’s more that the poet was referring to the letterforms as being feminine in form, in the same way that ships and trains are known and named. Maybe typography was more feminine then than it is now with the aid of computers and mathematical algorithms, creating infinite form and variations. A good font example to illustrate this point is Helvetica, designed by Mas Miedinger in 1957, but today it has 96 lettering styles and weights.

This poem beautifully acknowledges the founders the typesetters and the paper mills, now read perhaps a little nostalgically.

To complement this piece I have chosen Sofie Højgaard Thybo’s beautiful visual interpretation. As a part of her project she assembled a handmade book and produced type with a Trodat rubber stamp as a method of creating simple hand printed lettering. Illustrating only the capital letter forms, seeking inspiration from the Book of Kells (late 8th or early 9th century), a bit earlier than Gutenberg’s first press. However, she’s taken the poem backwards and forwards by using these contrasting methods of lettering styles, a perfect picturesque contrast to the other simpler letter forms.

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