Posts Tagged ‘typesetting’

Whitman Making Books

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

As a visual artist, I have a fascination with typography and book making. I was interested to learn that Walt Whitman (a journeyman printer since his teenage years) was intimately involved in the actual design and making of Leaves of Grass. The topic came up today in class, during our discussion about his ‘catalog’ of Americans in Song of Myself that begins on line 257 and continues to line 325.  While we were sharing our opinions on the length and breadth of this section, I couldn’t help thinking about the tedious work involved in typesetting just one line of text— let alone an entire collection of poetry— and how Whitman must have felt a strong attachment to each and every line in this long, paratactical list (and to this long poem). Imagine the time it took to bring this book to life, in print.

I found this article at the Walt Whitman Archive website— a commentary entitled, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman, which discusses Whitman’s relationship to books as both a writer and printer. There are several photos—among them one I’ve included here, showing clips from two different printings of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, pointing out that there was a period punctuating the end of Song of Myself. You can barely see it in the top example, because it’s positioned too close to the “you” at the end of the sentence:


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I found another interesting tidbit in my typesetting treasure hunt. It’s not necessarily Whitman-related (I’m not even sure if it would have been used in the 19th century) but he might very well have used this printmaking reference in a poem:

In typesetting, the phrase widows and orphans is defined as “words or short lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph, which are left dangling at the top or bottom of a column, separated from the rest of the paragraph”.