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Setting basic poetry in WordPress

by Richard Elen on 12 Aug, 2010

in Art

It would appear that one thing that Word­Press isn’t nat­u­ral­ly good at is set­ting poet­ry. The default Word­Press action is that hit­ting Return inserts a line break, which is fine for prose arti­cles but not for poet­ry, where you want a bunch of lines with hard returns but no space between them.

Leona has this prob­lem all the time in the Poe­sie sec­tion of her own site, The Great Return­ing. One of her prob­lems, of course, is that she writes in Microsoft Word, and the great temp­ta­tion is to sim­ply copy and paste the result into Word­Press. This is prob­a­bly the worst of all pos­si­ble worlds, as Word is noto­ri­ous for bring­ing all man­ner of HTML crap along with it that screws up vir­tu­al­ly any web site for­mat­ting.

If you’re writ­ing direct into Word­Press, the solu­tion is gen­er­al­ly straight­for­ward (sub­ject to weird­ness­es caused by your choice of theme): for blank lines between stan­zas, hit Return; for sim­ple line-breaks, use Shift-Return – they’re essen­tial­ly the equiv­a­lents of “</p>” and “<br />” in HTML respec­tive­ly. But who would write poet­ry direct into Word­Press? I’m not sure, but most poets I know tweak their copy a good deal more than many jour­nal­ists and prob­a­bly need some­thing a bit more like a word-proces­sor to be con­fi­dent of doing what they require. Cer­tain­ly the default Word­Press edit win­dow does­n’t show enough lines for prop­er con­text — you prob­a­bly want to see the entire opus while you’re writ­ing. Do remem­ber though, that in Settings->Writing you can adjust the num­ber of lines vis­i­ble in the win­dow.

My per­son­al pref­er­ence when writ­ing for the Web – what­ev­er the con­tent, by and large – out­side the web appli­ca­tion itself is to use the sim­plest of text edi­tors (my favourite is Tex­tWran­gler from Bare Bones — but you can equal­ly use TextE­d­it on a Mac­in­tosh or Notepad in Win­dows: basi­cal­ly the sim­plest text edi­tor you have) and then copy and paste that.

If you are start­ing from Word, then copy the text out of Word and paste it into the text edi­tor (thus strip­ping any Word non­sense for­mat­ting, but note you will also lose all the text styling too).

Then fix the copy as required so it looks decent (bear in mind you can’t style it, with ital­ics etc yet), copy it out of the text edi­tor and paste it into a new post in Word­Press.

But. Before you paste…

Don’t paste it into the “Visu­al” Edit win­dow – that will add some more for­mat­ting that will screw things up again (you’ll lose all the line-breaks). Instead, click the HTML tab at the top of the edit win­dow, make sure the win­dow is utter­ly blank, and paste it there. Then go back to the Visu­al tab and it should look fine. That done, you need to go through the poem and style any text that needs it, adding ital­ics, bold and so on as required.

Even with all the for­mat­ting infor­ma­tion stripped off the text before you bring it in, there may still be some vari­a­tion in the result­ing look due to the Theme you’re using. We’re using The­sis and this does­n’t seem to give much trou­ble. Your mileage may vary.

The above is fine for basic poet­ry. When it comes to spe­cial for­mat­ting, start­ing lines in odd places and cre­at­ing shapes out of the text, I think I would prob­a­bly con­sid­er set­ting it in Word (or what­ev­er) and then tak­ing a screen shot of it and insert­ing it as a graph­ic — which is a dread­ful workaround, frankly. There must be a bet­ter way. Any­one got some bet­ter ideas?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Penn Kemp January 28, 2011 at 23:37

THANKS, Richard!! Sharing on FB...

Bernadette January 28, 2011 at 23:50

You've given me the idea of putting this to the WordPress community. After all, WordPress prides itself on being open source software, does it not? So, perhaps some smarty-pants developer can come up with a real fix for us...

Bernadette January 28, 2011 at 23:56

Answered my own question: http://bit.ly/eHrtTU

Tony Brown January 29, 2011 at 00:09

I blog directly on Wordpress.com with a site that is almost exclusively poetry, and use a very different method that works well for me.

I use an older version of the Flock Browser, which has a built in blog editor. It provides a very nice set of standard word processing tools in the editor.

When I'm done with a poem, I simply hit "Publish" and the poem is posted on whatever blog I've configured. The formatting is preserved seamlessly on the blog.

What's especially nice about it is that published posts are saved in the editor. If I need to make edits, I simply go back to that post and edit there, then when I hit "Publish" I can choose to replace the earlier post. It gives me a pull down menu that allows me to simply replace the earlier version with the new one.

The blog client has become my principal way of writing, as it does a fine job of keeping track of changes and postings.

Sadly, the latest version of the Flock Browser has been changed to a new platform and it no longer supports this feature. The older version (2.6.1) is the one to use if you can find it. However, there are blog editing clients that can be used as plug ins for Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc., that all work more or less the same way. Basically, they give you a word processing application that allows you to post direct to whatever blog you choose to post to, and you can bypass the difficult Wordpress editor (about which the less said, the better) completely.

Hope this helps!

Tony B

Richard Elen January 29, 2011 at 11:47

Useful comments here! In particular, do follow Bernadette's link, http://bit.ly/eHrtTU, which is to an article in Wordpress Support called "Writing and formatting poetry".

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