Indenting Poetry

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Please note that poetry should not be indented in the Proofreading Rounds; this is a task left for the Formatters (and the Post-Processor).

To indent or not to indent?

Some poems have some lines that are indented relative to the others. This can be for three reasons:

  1. The poet wrote them that way, with some lines more indented than others.
  2. The printer ran out of page-width to hold an unusually long line and inserted a line-break, with the trailing fragment moved to the next line and indented.
  3. At the end of an odd-numbered page, one or two words are shown at the far right on a separate line. The printer added this to provide a verbal cue for a reader who is turning the page whilst reading the poem aloud. The text is reprinted as part of the first line of the next page.
  • Type 1, reflecting the author's intent (and often also the internal structure of the poem's rhythmic or rhyming schemes), we will keep, by adding enough spaces in front of the lines with extra indenting to make it resemble the original
  • Type 2, reflecting the printer's miserly attempts to save the expense of wider paper, we undo, rejoining the broken fragment of the line back with the beginning of it, all on one, gloriously long line. (It may have to be rebroken during PPing, but that's for the PP to determine, not the proofer).
  • Type 3, reflecting the printer's miserly attempts to save the expense of longer paper and provide a convenience for an orator using the physical copy, we delete, as the same text is immediately repeated in the next line.

How do you tell type 1: (author's indenting, keep) from type 2: (printer's indenting, undo) and type 3: (pagination cue, remove)? There are some common patterns you can use. Not all will apply in all cases, but most will in most.

  • Lines with type 1 indents (author's, keep) usually start with an upper case letter. Often lines that rhyme with each other are indented a similar amount (you may for instance get every second line rhyming, so that lines 2 and 4 rhyme, and they are indented, while lines 1 and 3, which may or may not rhyme, are not indented. This is a very common pattern but there are many others).
  • Lines with type 2 indents (printer's, rejoin) usually start with a lower case letter, and rather than occurring at regular places in the metre of the poem, like type 1) indents often do, will appear randomly, depending on the lengths of the words in the line.
  • Lines with type 3 indents (pagination, remove) usually start with an upper case letter. They are only placed at the bottom and right edge of an odd-numbered page, and are extremely short, typically just one word. This line is a fragment of the first line in the following page.