Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich’s Men of Letters and People of Substance (David R. Godine Publisher, 96 pp., $14.95) takes a playful position towards visual poetry.
Instead of metaphorically constructing portraits of writers and famous personalities though literary description, de Vicq projects those writers’ chosen media back upon them.
Born in Brazil—but now a resident of New York City working in graphic design—de Vicq works in a richly illustrative style, using typefaces to create portraits of famous authors made entirely out of the letters of their names. Each portrait is made out of a suitable, characteristic typeface—from the blocky Ziggurat typeface used for Ayn Rand to the flourished Nuptial Script of Gustave Flaubert
With Bembo’s Zoo (2000), de Vicq crafted a menagerie of animals, each in the typeface Bembo, using only the letters in each’s animal’s name. De Vicq has more anthropological prey in Men of Letters and People of Substance. With this volume, de Vicq continues under a similar constraint, using only the letters in each author’s name—and includes a listing of the frequency of each letter’s usage.
As an example, de Vicq’s portrait of Kurt Vonnegut is crafted in the flourished script “Aja” capturing Vonnegut’s playful, fanciful style in a typeface of his time. Just as much of Vonnegut’s prose engaged with self-examination and personal history, de Vicq’s portrait of Vonnegut uses only the letter’s in Vonnegut’s own name (2 K’s, 3 u’s, 8 r’s, 3 t’s, 4 V’s, 4 o’s, 7 n’s, 1 e and 4 g’s) created a self-reflexive textual portrait.
Men of Letters and People of Substance is a light-hearted book, but one that is a useful introduction to shaped poetry and portraiture will appeal to enthusiasts of unusual writing, graphic design, and the visual arts.