Typesetting Poetry

stephen_k's picture

Hi

I put together a book on prose and poetry a couple of times a year – the poetry is causing a real headache to typeset. There's around 40 poems in each issue and the poets are supplying poems with their own 'creative' typography – open leading, bizzare tabbing, alternating weight etc. Is there a way of approaching this type of copy sympathetically? It's very frustrating.

Thanks

Arthus's picture

The tricky part with poets is that half they do, they do for a reason, while the other half just follows from the software. Quite often, what they supply isn't really what they want but the closest they can get (think of people using spaces to make fake-tabs). The issue here is that you can't see what was done intentional or not. Often a change in typeface (which they don't own themselves, but you do) can solve for instance the need for different weights.

But you can't find out without knowing what their intentions were, and well I can't expect you to go and contact 40 poets and sit down to finetune each of their project. The problem is that as a designer you set the text to readability or rhythm, while the poet (hopefully!) makes their choice based on the mood they want to get across. Of course that's typography as well, but without delving into the mind of the poet, you can't come up with a pretty solution.

You can try to filter the software induced 'creative' typography from that which was done for a specific reason, and leave the first out. Otherwise you can always (if you are the editor) ask for certain restraints, or come up with a basic shape every poem has to fit, with each a few variables (such as tabs, etc) This of course limits the poet in what he can do, and is not favorable for the medium.

Of course this all varies on the thoughts behind the book, do poets send in their work? Are they approached to make something? It can be a pain to set, but the amount of customization of course also depends on the design of the book as a whole.

charles ellertson's picture

From your other posts, I'm assuming you're a designer who sets type, rather than a typesetter who occasionally designs (which would be me). I think Arthur gave a good answer, to the extent that your question was about lessening frustrations.

If you are at typesetter, you are selling your skill and your time. The same for a designer, of course, but it is harder to quantify both time and skill in design. Limiting yourself to just the typesetting aspect, charge more money. I find that getting paid for my time usually lessens the frustration.

stephen_k's picture

Thanks – much appreciated.

The poets send in their work and if it's selected for inclusion then it's my job to set it – it usually comes in in word documents, a frustrating job of translating into our type style follows.

This is spot on: "The problem is that as a designer you set the text to readability or rhythm, while the poet (hopefully!) makes their choice based on the mood they want to get across."

"Typography exists to honor content" as Bringhurst would say, but what if the content is unpleasant typography?

Ho hum. I'm glad I don't have to set poetry often.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Why not just accept .txt files only? That way, if they want something special, they have to write it out in plain text. You can give them an [i] and a [b] for the basic hierarchy.

JamesM's picture

It can be hard to tell if unorthodox formatting is deliberate or just a mistake. I often receive articles from clients that have weird formatting quirks that turn out to be just goofs. As Arthus said, you can't know their real intentions without talking to them, which is probably impractical.

So perhaps the best approach is to just tell them up front that any poetry that's accepted will be formatted in your publication's standard poetry style, and maybe show an example of that style.

charles ellertson's picture

So perhaps the best approach is to just tell them up front that any poetry that's accepted will be formatted in your publication's standard poetry style, and maybe show an example of that style.

That should stop the submissions...

JamesM's picture

> That should stop the submissions...

If your formatting guidelines are too restrictively, it might indeed cause some authors to drop out. You'd need to use very good judgement to create guidelines that you think most authors would find reasonable.

My point was just that if you're trying to get away from wildly inconsistent formatting (including weird formatting that may just be a mistake), then it's better to let the authors know that up front, rather than making formatting changes that will come as a complete surprise to them.

Luma Vine's picture

Couldn't you specify that standard formatting will be applied (and define what that is) and that any other formatting requests need to be specified explicitly in the application, perhaps with case-by-case approval?

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