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Type Unread is Dead: A Found Poem about Typography

Recently, I was doing research in a book from 1948 called How to Be a Successful Advertising Woman edited by Mary Margaret McBride. On page 55 of the essay “A Background in Production and Typography” by Winifred Holmes, Associate Merchandising Editor, Plumbing & Heating Journal, Plumbing & Heating Wholesaler, I came across the following list, which accidentally makes a compelling poem:

Type unread is dead.
Type must be unobtrusive.
It must be convincingly smart.
It must be easy to read.
It must blend with the whole.
It must hold the headline-hoppers.
It must be strong and dignified—yet meek.
The face of type must not be too small, too large, too light,
too bold—it must be exactly right.
It must not be set too wide or too narrow.

Many writers would have finished with “exactly right,” but not Winifred. She finishes with “too wide or too narrow,” and that, I would argue, is part of what makes this an inadvertent poem.

But what of the substance of Winifred’s list? She also points out that, “The function of type in an advertisement is as important as the function of an engine in an airplane. Type must not unbalance, mar, or in any way affect the grace and beauty of the whole picture. Indeed it must add to the picture’s grace.” Winifred is speaking of ads, but the same could be said of poems, or any text.

I wonder how involved poets who have published books have gotten in their publishers’ decisions about typography. Poets, how involved have you gotten?

Originally Published: April 10th, 2012

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and creative writing at DePaul University and is...