E-Poetry, Hebrew Style


Today, type and book designer Scott-Martin Kosofsky’s first e-book was published on the websites of Tablet Magazine and Nextbook Press (an imprint of Random House/Schocken Books). It’s a small volume of thirty-five poems by the greatest Jewish poet of Middle Ages, Yehuda Halevi. The poems appear both in Hebrew and in splendid new translations by Hillel Halkin, Halevi’s biographer. (See audio slide show here.)

This e-book marks the debut of the new Hebrew types Kosofsky made with Matthew Carter, after originals by Guillaume Le Bé.

“These are the types (there’s a display size, which was rendered by Matthew, and a text size, which was rendered by me),” he says, “that first appeared in Christophe Plantin’s great Polyglot Bible, published between 1569 and 1572, and were, I believe, the very best of the Golden Age. The colophon tells a bit more about them. (Yes, e-books can have colophons, too!) These new fonts were the impetus for this publication.”

He adds . . .

“Types aside, the e-book has an interesting feature: the pages vary in depth to accommodate each of the poems, even the longest ones, on one page. I don’t know if this is an altogether new idea–it seemed like an obvious path to me–but I’ve never seen it done before. I’m curious to know your reactions to it. For one thing, it places the book outside the realm of printing, though that wasn’t my agenda. What I intended was to alleviate the disorientation one often feels in e-books, which, regardless of whether the pages are numbered or not, give no sense as to the page before or after–something that, in a paper book, we can grasp very easily. While this might not be a big issue in prose, it certainly is in poetry, especially in poems like Halevi’s, which vary dramatically in length. It seems to me that, to get into the rhythm of a poem, one needs to know its extent. We’re hoping the whole package, book and videos, will become an iPad app later this year.”

Kosofsky will be speaking at the Type Directors Club, on March 10th, at 6:00 p.m.. The talk, titled “Tales from the Borderlands of Typographic Experience,” will focus on his immersion in complex books with on-the-page commentaries and annotations, multiple languages (combining left-to-right with right-to-left), making special types to suit specific purposes, how all these things relate to the future of print and of electronic forms, and their relationship to the printed Talmud and glossed texts of the past.

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