How to format poetry in WordPress

First things first, I want you to know that this is a very basic ‘How To’ post but it might just be exactly what you need. I’m writing it because every few weeks I meet someone who wants to post poetry on their site but is frustrated because they can’t produce the layout they want in WordPress. Common complaints are a) the line breaks disappear and/or b) they can’t add in extra spacing. As you probably know, I’ve been publishing poetry over on my poetry site And Other Poems for three years so I’ve had to learn a small amount of computer code in order to this.

The two most useful tips I’ve learned are:

  1. Use ‘Text’ Editor rather than ‘Visual’ Editor.
  2. Adding the following HTML code     will allow you to add extra line breaks and spacing.

There is more indepth, technical info at WordPress Support – this post for example – but, generally, the above two tips work for me all the time.

In case you’re not clear what I’m talking about, I’ll give you three examples of poems with different layouts.

First, ‘Llandudno’ by Kate Wise.

The cries of seagulls smell of salmon sandwiches.
Tinned. On white; juice-soggy in their teeth-setting silverfoil.
Plastic bag jellyfish sculled the pier’s shadows.
We sat in the morning’s goosepimples,
park-bench thigh-marked, waiting for you to finish your
coffee-and-a-chocolate-biscuit,
in matching turquoise shorts because it was
the Summer.

This is a straightforward layout, text is flush against the left hand margin, there are no stanza breaks or extra spaces between words on the same line.  So no computer code needed here.

Next up, ‘Something Understood’ by Edward Doegar.

Be seated. So much silliness. Go in fear
of imperatives. Love,
as much as anything else, as little.
Stop trying to touch
the stained light, it’s not for you. Feel
the wood instead; use
has polished the grain, this is not good,
this is not evil. Wood
is also stained. And so on. Deliver us
from this, from that.

OK, this is a little more complicated as you’ll see that every other line of the poem is indented.  Here’s how I created the layout I wanted for this poem using the basic computer code mentioned above.  In ‘Text’ Editor, I added the code   as many times as I needed to achieve the desired spacing.  Once it was right for one line, I copied and pasted the code into the next line to save time.

Be seated. So much silliness. Go in fear
                        of imperatives. Love,
as much as anything else, as little.
                       Stop trying to touch
the stained light, it’s not for you. Feel
                       the wood instead; use
has polished the grain, this is not good,
                       this is not evil. Wood
is also stained. And so on. Deliver us
                       from this, from that.

There is probably (of course there must be!) an easier, quicker way to achieve this layout (and if you’d like to share your tips and shortcuts, do please leave a comment below) but I’m a great believer in using what I know to get by. (I have the same approach to language learning).

Lastly, here’s ‘nothing’ by Andrew McMillan, who, as you see, is a poet who tends to use spacing instead of conventional punctuation.

nothing
which is really the sound of everything     slowly

if you write poetry and are even passably handsome
my heart will pretend it loves you for a while

all I know is      the first empty bed
for weeks      the first tea of morning

the man who was scared of paper was papyrophobic
as though making something unpronounceable diminishes it’s horror

the sunset is national      politics is local
except when it demands a foreignsand incursion

all I know is      the dark street
a doorman with a secret      sometimes rain

And here’s the poem with the code I used to achieve this layout

 
<strong>nothing </strong>
<em>which is really the sound of everything&nbsp;&nbsp;        slowly
</em>

if you write poetry and are even passably handsome
my heart will pretend it loves you for a while
&nbsp;
all I know is&nbsp;&nbsp;         the first empty bed
for weeks&nbsp;&nbsp;         the first tea of morning
&nbsp;
the man who was scared of paper was papyrophobic
as though making something unpronounceable diminishes it’s horror
&nbsp;
the sunset is national&nbsp;&nbsp;        politics is local
except when it demands a foreignsand incursion
&nbsp;
all I know is&nbsp;&nbsp;         the dark street
a doorman with a secret&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;       sometimes rain

Hope this is helpful to at least some of you!  One other thing I’ve learned to do if I get stuck with any formatting or blogging issue is to type my question into Google. Invariably, someone, somewhere, has encountered the same problem and has been kind enough to leave their solution somewhere on the internet.

As always, please leave any comments or suggestions below.

38 thoughts on “How to format poetry in WordPress

  1. reubenwoolley says:

    I find a much easier way which is, in Visual Mode, to add full stops until the indent or space is the right size and then to highlight the dots and choose the colour white for them. This way they won’t be seen when published.

    Liked by 6 people

    • john foggin says:

      I’ve not had many problems, but occasionally my cobweb posts will include some tetchy comment about the way WordPress and Word have minds of their own. Word, in any case, has a habit of sticking wilfully to a set of margins or spaces that you’ve thoyght you’d changed after copying and pasting into a longer document. At the end of the day, though, it beats handwriting when it comes to redrafting. I just say thank you for small mercies. And thank you to Josephine and other inspirational bloggers like Kim Moore and Anthony Wilson. God bless you, every one.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. C says:

    Thank you, Josephine! This is incredibly helpful! I don’t suppose you have suggestions on how to make a poem’s formatting remain when it shows up in the Reader? Mine are somehow turned into paragraphs…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josephine Corcoran says:

      I know that things seem to have changed since WordPress launched the new Reader. I found that if I set my posts to ‘Summary’ the poems are scrunched up (but only an excerpt of the poem is shown). If I set my posts so that the whole thing is visible in reader, the poem appears as it should. However, I prefer to offer a summary to readers so they might visit my blog. Don’t know if this helps?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark Granier says:

    Thanks Josephine. Been meaning to republish my third collection, Fade Street (which Salt took off its list) as an e-book, though I don’t know when I’ll get around to it. I’m dithering, not sure which option to take (Amazon Kindle, Booktango, etc.). Any recommendations?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josephine Corcoran says:

      Hi Mark, Sorry I know nothing about his! I see that Carcanet do e-books – maybe someone in their office would be willing to offer advice? I’m not sure, but I think Colin Will (Scottish poet and publisher) might know something about this too – he has published some e-books, I think. Best of luck with that! – J

      Like

  4. Elizabeth says:

    The post and these comments are very helpful thank you. I sometimes incorporate poems in my autism blog and have had some frustrating battles with WordPress. Usually pressing shift-return allows me to control spacing (for line and stanza breaks) but sometimes it doesn’t work (why I don’t know). I resort to discreet punctuation, then, to create space where I need it – whiting these out is genius thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. briefpoems says:

    Many thanks, Josephine, for this useful information on line spacing and layout. I am new to WordPress and find your comments useful for what I want to do – create an anthology or repository for the poems I have been posting on my twitter account @poemtoday. I am at briefpoems on WordPress.
    You might be able to help me with a WordPress query. How did you manage that neat right hand side collection of text boxes with the grey background. They look very well on your site. I have a Recent Posts place at the right (but without your grey background.)
    What I would like to do is have, as well as the Recent Posts, a group of posts organised under the heading Poets and another grouped under the heading Poems. Do you know if it is possible to have the one post under two titles, one for each group?
    Keep up the good work.
    Conor Kelly

    Like

  6. George says:

    Hi Josephine! While no-breaking spaces and background-coloured characters are ingenious workarounds, the use of the PRE tag is actually easier and more flexible when you consider the possibilities for poetry with CSS (cascading stylesheets). Premium and Business plans on WordPress.com can add their own CSS. I’ve written a piece about formatting and styling poetry which might be of some use. http://seehowsupport.com/wordpress/content-editor/how-to-format-poems-in-wordpress/

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are welcomed

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s