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Setting basic poetry in WordPress

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?


1 Penn Kemp { 01.28.11 at 23:37 }

THANKS, Richard!! Shar­ing on FB…

2 Bernadette { 01.28.11 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…

3 Bernadette { 01.28.11 at 23:56 }

Answered my own ques­tion:

4 Tony Brown { 01.29.11 at 00:09 }

I blog direct­ly on 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

5 Richard Elen { 01.29.11 at 11:47 }

Use­ful com­ments here! In par­tic­u­lar, do fol­low Bernadet­te’s link,, which is to an arti­cle in Word­Press Sup­port called “Writ­ing and for­mat­ting poetry”.

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