Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Serifs and Poems

Serif typefaces have traditionally been divided into three ‘styles’ (not including the more recent slab-serif group) — Old Style, Transitional, and Modern. The thing to note about these is they are styles, not periods of time. A font such as Palatino may be ‘old style’ in its design but is thoroughly Modern in its era.

The Old Style typefaces originated in the Renaissance but continued through the Baroque. The Transitional fonts, however, truly are transitional from the Baroque to the Romantic Eras. Note that the Neoclassicism that informed the development of ‘Modern’ type is very much part of the Romantic movement (one side of the coin, so to speak).

I would tend to see the Garamond and Granjon fonts from the mid-to-latter part of the Sixteenth Century as the beginning of Baroque influence in type design — if they are not completely of the Baroque, they certainly foreshadow it and straddle the transition. By the time we get to Kis and Caslon, we are thoroughly Baroque, sturdy and solid. These are still consider Old Style type.

I was thinking about this as I was choosing a typeface for the next poetry collection. I generally prefer Old Style fonts for this application. Here are a few typefaces currently available that I was looking at —

Fonts of or derived from the Renaissance
— Centaur, based on a Jenson design from 1469 (I used this for my poetry collection, ‘Dreamwinds.’)
— Bembo, a High Renaissance typeface from around 1500 (Probably will use this one for the upcoming poetry book, ‘Voyages.’ If it’s good enough for Maya Angelou, it’s good enough for me!)

Fonts from the transition from Late Renaissance to Baroque
— Garamond, in its many variants
— Galliard, a modern take on a Granjon face from 1570 (I used for my novel, ‘The Eyes of the Wind.’)
— Granjon, also in many versions (one would be BitStream’s ‘Elegant Garamond’)

These Garamond and Garamond-like fonts are great for novels, maybe not quite so good for poetry; they tend to promote quick reading where one might prefer the eye to linger.

Baroque fonts
— Kis (Janson), ‘High’ Baroque from the 17th Century
— Caslon, later Baroque from the early 18th Century (the time of Bach and Handel)

Fonts from the transition from Baroque to Romantic:
— Baskerville, with definite neoclassical influences, from the 1750s

Early Romantic fonts with neoclassical elements (mostly considered ‘Modern’ typefaces):
— Bulmer takes up where Baskerville left off (a ‘Transitional’ face)
— also Bodoni, Didot, Walbaum etc.

My default for poetry would be one version or another of Palatino. It is a dependable choice, as Garamond is for fiction. But I do get tired of using it all the time! :)

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