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Old 03-19-2008, 05:34 PM   #1
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Poetry formatting

I recently finished posting "Forest Runes" by George W. Sears to my home page www.zianet.com/jgray/. It is the other book by the author. As some of you know, I had previously posted "Woodcraft".

Now, to my question. When I converted the poems in "Forest Runes" to HTML, I matched the formatting of the original text as closely as I could. In most cases, the indentation of various lines in the poems is deliberate, and so I retained them. However, in some cases, a line of a poem was broken to fit the page margins and the rest of the line is indented on the next line. I have duplicated this on the web version, but am thinking about re-doing these lines without the breaks.

The reason I am posting here is to get various opinions and reasons as to whether I should or should not stay faithful to the printed version. I am only thinking about fixing the lines that were broken to fit the margins, not any other lines that were indented for poetic reasons. Attached is one example poem. The PDF is the original page and the GIF is a screenshot of the web version as it is now.
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Old 03-19-2008, 06:57 PM   #2
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My personal view is that either option will work well, provided that you explain what you have done.
By the way, your version of Woodcraft is lovely.
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Old 03-19-2008, 07:30 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by jgray View Post
The reason I am posting here is to get various opinions and reasons as to whether I should or should not stay faithful to the printed version. I am only thinking about fixing the lines that were broken to fit the margins, not any other lines that were indented for poetic reasons. Attached is one example poem. The PDF is the original page and the GIF is a screenshot of the web version as it is now.
My opinion is that you should remove the “format-imposed” line-breaks. I see those sorts of line-breaks as limitations, where paper was insufficient to present the poem as it “really is” and the layout needed to use special formatting to say “there isn’t really a line-break here – just ignore it.” No need carry the details of one particular instance of that limitation into a medium where it doesn’t exist.

And your editions are quite lovely .
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Old 03-19-2008, 07:31 PM   #4
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When using HTML is should be flowable which means the margin should be adjustable. It is typical to indent all but the first line of a poem where most of the poem is made up of single line paragraphs with no spacing between them. A CSS entry can accomplish this automatically.

The look and feel of poetry should be evident in its presentation whenever possible. Having a wrap around due to a long line does not destroy the presentation IMHO but this is what the indent is all about. The indent maintains the form of the line. Line lengths of the medium are arbitrary while line lengths of the poem itself are significant.

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Old 03-19-2008, 11:08 PM   #5
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It seems the majority opinion is to removed the artificial line breaks. I was leaning that way, but wanted to see what other's had to say about the issue. Thanks for the input and also thanks for the kind words about the two books I did.

Related to this, I haven't posted ebook files for "Forest Runes" yet, as I'm not happy with how badly the various ebook formats render the poetry that I formatted so carefully. Reading this book on PDA-sized screens is far from ideal. The lack of CSS support in FBReader makes things even worse. So far, the best formatting is with Digital Editions, but it put the horizontal rules at the left margin, instead of centered. If anyone with a Cybook can do screenshots, I would like to send the Mobipocket draft ebook to them. PM me if you can help.

I did the indentation on the web page by setting a few "margin-left" rules in the stylesheet and then wrapping specific lines with span tags to get the desired indent for that line. I thought about using nbsp tags (which would have worked better in the ebook files), but having dozens of nbsp's was too much to deal with and very ugly to edit. Has anyone come up with a better way to handle this?

Thanks to all.
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Old 03-20-2008, 12:46 AM   #6
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Quote:
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I did the indentation on the web page by setting a few "margin-left" rules in the stylesheet and then wrapping specific lines with span tags to get the desired indent for that line. I thought about using nbsp tags (which would have worked better in the ebook files), but having dozens of nbsp's was too much to deal with and very ugly to edit. Has anyone come up with a better way to handle this?

Thanks to all.
If you have style support then you set the left margin to the overflow lines and set the text-indent to a negative number (outdent) to set the first line to move further left. That way you get exactly what you want.

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Old 03-21-2008, 01:03 PM   #7
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ok, "Forest Runes" has been updated to remove the artificial line breaks.. You can find the book link on my home page, along with "Woodcraft" www.zianet.com/jgray/
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Old 03-21-2008, 01:06 PM   #8
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If you have style support then you set the left margin to the overflow lines and set the text-indent to a negative number (outdent) to set the first line to move further left. That way you get exactly what you want.

Dale
Thanks for the suggestion. That would be an easy way to do things for a poem that has only one line indented. The poems in "Forest Runes use more complicated indentation, I'm sorry to say.
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Old 03-21-2008, 04:56 PM   #9
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Thanks for the suggestion. That would be an easy way to do things for a poem that has only one line indented. The poems in "Forest Runes use more complicated indentation, I'm sorry to say.
It is easy for poems that have all lines indented which is most of them that I have ever read. (There are a few exceptions.) Each line is a paragraph. Long lines get overflowed depending on the width capabilities of the target media whether it be paper or electronic and the method handles this fine.

There is also required handling that is just a little different for stanzas but it can be handled in a similar way with only line spacing differences.

From the examples of Forest Runes you gave this will work fine for what I saw. What other formatting do you require?

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Old 03-21-2008, 05:38 PM   #10
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Many poems deliberately break their lines in such a way as to "tug against" the meaning. It's an intentional poetic device known as "enjambment". Any formatting would have to respect the enjambment and/or closure of the lines. Closure and enjambment are used to build and release tension in a poem.

The we have other structures, verses, strophes, and so on, that must also be respected.

The line breaks and formatting for example in Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of the World" are very finely nuanced, and not arbitrary at all. The "white space", blank lines, and various indentations are finely calculated and are as much a part of the poem as the words themselves.

jgray has quite an undertaking...
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Old 03-21-2008, 07:56 PM   #11
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Many poems deliberately break their lines in such a way as to "tug against" the meaning. It's an intentional poetic device known as "enjambment". Any formatting would have to respect the enjambment and/or closure of the lines. Closure and enjambment are used to build and release tension in a poem.

The we have other structures, verses, strophes, and so on, that must also be respected.

The line breaks and formatting for example in Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of the World" are very finely nuanced, and not arbitrary at all. The "white space", blank lines, and various indentations are finely calculated and are as much a part of the poem as the words themselves.

jgray has quite an undertaking...
The only line breaks that I eliminated were the ones that seemed to be a result of the publisher trying to fit the page margins. All other formatting I kept. I did re-join stanzas that spanned pages, however.

As for the undertaking, yes, it was a job, but it is finished. You are obviously a lover of poetry, so please have a look at "Forest Runes". I didn't care for some of the poems, but several are quite good IMHO.
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Old 03-21-2008, 08:03 PM   #12
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It is easy for poems that have all lines indented which is most of them that I have ever read. (There are a few exceptions.) Each line is a paragraph. Long lines get overflowed depending on the width capabilities of the target media whether it be paper or electronic and the method handles this fine.

There is also required handling that is just a little different for stanzas but it can be handled in a similar way with only line spacing differences.

From the examples of Forest Runes you gave this will work fine for what I saw. What other formatting do you require?

Dale
The one example I posted had no indenting, except for the line breaks that I wanted to eliminate. Several other poems have more complicated formatting. In any case, the method I used seems to work and considering all the time I've already spent, I'll just go with what I have. Thanks for the suggestions, however.
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Old 03-21-2008, 09:20 PM   #13
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I'll take a look, thanks. Yes, you're perfectly correct to remove breaks that you are certain are merely artifacts of the print margins.

Someone else asked about what formatting a poem might need. In addition to "lines", poems have larger structures: stanzas, strophes, and verse paragraphs. Perhaps this example will illustrate (from Robert Frost's "Home Burial"):

Code:
 1. "Amy! Don't go to someone else this time.
 2. Listen to me. I won't come down the stairs."
 3. He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
 4. "There's something I should like to ask you, dear."
 5.
 6. "You don't know how to ask it."
 7.                                               "Help me, then."
 8.
 9. Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
10.
11. "My words are nearly always an offense."
Note that "lines" are a metrical unit, in this poem. Each line is composed of so many "feet", a unit of patterned stresses. So lines 6 & 7 are in fact a single "line" of poetry.

My numbered lines are there to help explain. Lines 1-4 are a "verse paragraph", a unit of the poem where the husband speaks and the poem describes his action and speech.

The break to line 6 is there to indicate the wife speaks. The husband replies on the same "line", thus the break and indentation on 6/7.

Another blank line, because we shift from the husband's "Help me, then", to the wife's action. So line 9 is both a line and a verse paragraph. Another blank, because line 11 is where the husband begins to speak again (a long speech, so quite a long verse paragraph in the full poem).

To properly format a poem, you need more than simply a static left margin and static indent!

Note: I picked this particular poem because, searching for it online, one runs across versions of it which completely butcher the formatting and so destroy much of the sense and tension of this utterly sad poem.

Last edited by Taylor514ce; 03-21-2008 at 09:29 PM. Reason: Added final "note".
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Old 03-21-2008, 09:32 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Taylor514ce View Post
I'll take a look, thanks. Yes, you're perfectly correct to remove breaks that you are certain are merely artifacts of the print margins.

Someone else asked about what formatting a poem might need. In addition to "lines", poems have larger structures: stanzas, strophes, and verse paragraphs. Perhaps this example will illustrate (from Robert Frost's "Home Burial"):

Code:
 1. "Amy! Don't go to someone else this time.
 2. Listen to me. I won't come down the stairs."
 3. He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
 4. "There's something I should like to ask you, dear."
 5.
 6. "You don't know how to ask it."
 7.                                               "Help me, then."
 8.
 9. Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
10.
11. "My words are nearly always an offense."
Note that "lines" are a metrical unit, in this poem. Each line is composed of so many "feet", a unit of patterned stresses. So lines 6 & 7 are in fact a single "line" of poetry.

My numbered lines are there to help explain. Lines 1-4 are a "verse paragraph", a unit of the poem where the husband speaks and the poem describes his action and speech.

The break to line 6 is there to indicate the wife speaks. The husband replies on the same "line", thus the break and indentation on 6/7.

Another blank line, because we shift from the husband's "Help me, then", to the wife's action. So line 9 is both a line and a verse paragraph. Another blank, because line 11 is where the husband begins to speak again (a long speech, so quite a long verse paragraph in the full poem).

To properly format a poem, you need more than simply a static left margin and static indent!
who said anything about a static indent. A CSS isn't static. the names of each paragraph type needs to be defined and then you just assign a name to a paragraph structure. The first four lines which are each separate paragraphs) are type1 which is defined to be a paragraph with outdent on the line and an left margin that is considerably inside just in case it is used on a device that isn't wide enough.

Line 6 and 7 are tricky since you want to pretend that 7 is connected to the end of 6. This can be done as a special case since it probably won't happen too often in a poem but it is possible to build a CSS for this too.

line 4, 9 and perhaps 11 are the same as type1 but they have defined height between the lines. Alternately you can just insert a blank line if you wish but having a new type is a bit more elegant.

I never said poems were just as easy as prose but they can be formatted on eBooks.

Dale
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Old 03-21-2008, 10:15 PM   #15
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Line 6 and 7 are tricky since you want to pretend that 7 is connected to the end of 6. This can be done as a special case since it probably won't happen too often in a poem but it is possible to build a CSS for this too.
Dale,

I've been a web developer since the web's creation; I know CSS. Yes, CSS can supply the necessary formatting.

However, it's not I who want to "pretend" that line 6 and 7 are in fact a single metrical line. The poet quite definitely and intentionally wrote the poem that way, and it is far, far from uncommon. As I've labored to stress, what we could call "white space" is integral to many poems.

Many poems, if styled/formatted with CSS, wouldn't be able to use CSS classes at all, but would rather require line-by-line formatting.

As an extreme example, there is an entire class of poetry called "concrete poetry" that relies almost entirely on typography and white space management.

I didn't mean to start a flame war, only to caution would-be "e-poetry formatters" against casually altering the layout of a poem. Those line breaks mean something.

A few examples for those interested, in which jagged, irregular seeming spacing is intentional and in fact critical to understanding the poem:

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World, Richard Wilbur
Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, Wordsworth
Ode to the Confederate Dead, Allan Tate
Paterson, William Carlos Williams (in fact, most of WCW's work)


Code:
Her
     hips were narrow, her
                                     legs
thin and straight She stopped
me in my tracks - until I saw
her
      disappear in the crowd

Last edited by Taylor514ce; 03-21-2008 at 10:30 PM.
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