National Poetry Month, Day 30 // At the end of National Poetry Month, I return to where I began, to Walt Whitman, and to a fresh beginning. My first career began with a love of books, and it was natural, I suppose, that I would find my way into, first commercial printing, then book design and production management. Truly it is a love affair that has never ended, and though it is now little more than a dalliance, it’s the “little more” that keeps it passionate. So here are these few verses from Whitman celebrating the extraordinary power resident in a font of type.
On my desk I keep in view a single piece of handset type from my printing house days, an uppercase 72-point Garamond italic swash “A,” as a reminder of the importance and power of good beginnings in a book or in a life. It also reminds me of the “passionate powers” that sleep in a font. Assembled just so, those letters are arousable to everything from prayer to fury and death. In grief, they can console; in darkness, guide; in suffering, heal. In oppression, they can launch a revolution. Rightly chosen, the font can speak in a few words the beauty and meaning that would otherwise require a thousand words – or a picture – to express.
If that’s true of a font of type – there’s no doubt it is – how much more true is it of you and me, of any critical mass of people assembled into a community or for a cause. With a small series of “American Crisis” pamphlets, Thomas Paine helped spark the American Revolution. With a single book, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson launched an environmental movement that irrevocably changed our modern relationship with nature. Assemble a few passionate and dedicated folks at the right time, or turn loose even a single such individual, and the world will change.
Maybe I am that person. Maybe you are, one of you who have been reading this blog. We may never know the result of change that requires far longer than a single lifetime to reach fruition. But the power is in us, individually and collectively, as it is in a simple font of type. So I have offered this series of poems, trusting in what motivated me to do it and in what may result.
“A Font of Type,” by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
This latent mine – these unlaunch’d voices – passionate powers,
Wrath, argument, or praise, or comic leer, or prayer devout,
(Not nonpareil, brevier, bourgeois, long primer merely,)
These ocean waves arousable to fury and to death,
Or sooth’d to ease and sheeny sun and sleep,
Within the pallid slivers slumbering.