How to format poetry in WordPress (updated)

Post updated November 2020. Since I last updated this post, WordPress has switched to the block editor (known as Gutenberg).  When I edit poems, I create a post and put in the title, then go to save.  When I return to the dashboard menu, I click ‘WP Admin’, (NB if you cannot locate ‘WP Admin’ you can find it by adding “/wp-admin” to the end of your URL) ‘All Posts’ ‘Classic Editor’.  In this way, I can edit poems as I’ve outlined below.  I edit poems at my poetry site And Other Poems.  If you have genuine questions or comments about formatting poems in WordPress, let me know!

This is an update of my previous post about formatting poetry in WordPress because someone asked me how to format a prose poem this week and I realised I hadn’t mentioned how to do that before.

The two most useful poetry formatting tips I’ve learned are:

  1. Use ‘Text’ Editor rather than ‘Visual’ Editor.
  2. Adding the following HTML code     (to be clear, the code you need is ampersand, letters nbsp followed by a semicolon) will allow you to add extra line breaks and spacing.

There is more 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,  here are examples of poems with different layouts.

Indented or tabbed spacing as in ‘Something Understood‘ by Edward Doegar.  Use the code I’ve mentioned above  for the extra spaces you need, so, in ‘Text’ Editor, the poem will look like this:

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.

Irregular spacing as in ‘nothing‘ by Andrew McMillan.  The code I used is given below:

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

if you write poetry and are even passably handsome
my heart will pretend it loves you for a while
all I know is&nbsp;&nbsp;         the first empty bed
for weeks&nbsp;&nbsp;         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&nbsp;&nbsp;        politics is local
except when it demands a foreignsand incursion
all I know is&nbsp;&nbsp;         the dark street
a doorman with a secret&nbsp;&nbsp;          sometimes rain

Finally, prose poems, like these Three poems by Linda Black – the code I used is as follows – you will see I used <p align=”justify”> at the start of each stanza I wanted fully justified – and use ” </p> ” at the end of a block of text to end the justification :

<strong>Dancing </strong>

<p align=”justify”>Can be done at any time, mathematically speaking. A child in the front row, she sees the Prince’s laddered tights. This opens up and widens her. In her grandparent’s house, at the end of a terrace, up a hill you get to through Gledhow Valley Woods, next to a parade where the green-grocer has straw on the floor, she sees an advert on the television for a delicious Bounty bar and the next minute her grandfather’s giving her the money and she’s dancing to the sweet shop across the dual carriageway.
<strong>On a cold night</strong>

<p align=”justify”>Huddled by the hearth, staring at the cold grate: Ignite! she wills, Ignite! And now the flames are catching, racing, burning back; through the years and through the houses and it is more than she can bear to watch.
<strong>A small island</strong>

<p align=”justify”>She who never learnt to swim: clams up, cuts away her tendrils – tender they are, all sloop and weep and dubious caress. Out of mind is out of sight. The lonely answer. Seeing is what isn’t, being flips and flounders. She knows what she hasn’t been up to now. Better, later, never…. wavering… Shall she tell? Wounds keeper, finders deeper… deep-ends. Take in the best spirit, beckon with a slight gesture, an inclined head. Return to the origin, recoup, recap. What treasures to be had . . . if only. She has a liking for salt-biscuits, something tangy on the tongue. Kept in, occasionally protruding. A coin between the teeth, two for the eyes with no sight.

By the way, it’s worth looking at my previous post on formatting as there are some extremely helpful comments left by readers of this blog!

Reading at a Table’ by Pablo Picasso

10 thoughts on “How to format poetry in WordPress (updated)”

  1. That looks really helpful, but the prose poems have come out left aligned, not justified — in the sense of justified as a block that ends exactly on the right hand margin. I had reason to Google this recently and it seems that if you do use Visual Editor, and you click on the Toolbar Toggle Icon (vertical three dots, top right), you can access a second row of visual command icons, which has block justifying in it. I don’t use WordPress but was trying to help someone out. So I don’t actually know if it works, just that it looks easy!


    1. Hi Jinny, Are you commenting on how the poems look in this post or how they look when you click through to And Other Poems? They look left aligned above (as I’m showing the editing phase here) but fully justified (or fully blocked) once published. I hope this makes sense. I know there are other ways to do it – thanks for this, other people might find this helpful – but I find using text editor and a little bit of html code works for me. 🙂


  2. I have mixed results generally with HTML tags (such as the non breaking space). Someone once suggested adding full stops until the text aligned and then highlighting them in the visual editor and turning them white. Sounds odd but it actually works!


    1. Yes, someone mentioned that method in my previous post about formatting! On the whole, I’m pleased with the results I’ve achieved (at And Other Poems) using my method but it’s always good to know different options so thanks for your suggestion 🙂


  3. Probably de trop, and possibly irrelevant BUT my quick fix for quirky/idiosyncratic Word doc texts is the immensely useful Snipping Tool which you can readily get from Windows for free if it’s not there already. It lets you turn any word doc into a jpeg which you can paste into your article/item. Me, I love it. Mainly because it’s simple

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I am so glad you posted this, since making poetry look right on WordPress is such a challenge. Not to be picky, but & is an ampersand; + is a plus sign.

    Liked by 1 person

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