Typeset Numbers

As volume 80.4 is almost off to the printer, we thought this cover embraced the spirit of the typesetting process. Digital tools have changed how we typeset, but they haven’t eliminated the tedium of making sure every page looks good, the anxiety that we’ll introduce some unnoticed error, or the excitement that come from seeing the page in print.

Typesetting this year has been a bit more intriguing as we’ve started to experiment with ways to update our appearance in print, while maintaining the recognizable style of literary journals. We’re trying to marshal the diversity of contributions, essays, reviews, poems, into a stable form that is distinct, but recognizable as part of a tradition, genre, and (literally) type.

The cover art for the Summer 1986 volume of North Dakota Quarterly does not refer to typesetting, but rather the publication of  poet Myron Turner’s “Playing with Numbers.” Turner tells us that it was an effort “to recreate the mythology of my family,” which is not far from what we’re trying to do when we typeset a volume as we move between the form of the historic and physical codex and the digital screen. There is a mythic value to the physical book with its traditions and rules that is not easily overcome by technology.

The opening poem in Turner’s book, “War Memorials” evokes early memories of VE Day in New York City and this is fitting for the week before Veterans Day. The sequence of poems starts with gritty and vivid tours New York City and, then, the larger world. Just as typesetting is a messy process for ordering text, so Turner’s poems present the chaotic vitality of the world with the order (and danger) of the numbers. Go check it out.

Summer 86