[An update: WordPress now includes a “Verse” block that makes it possible to format poetry visually. It took many years, but it finally happened.]
Our suggestion that WordPress needed a poetry plugin provoked a number of helpful comments. “Sigivald,” for example, wrote:
I suggest the reform of simply banning poetry.
It’s much simpler, and therefore the preferable course.
“Captain DaFt” suggested a clever way of turning up genuinely useful information in the WordPress forums; and “fred” put quite a bit of work into a demonstration of CSS techniques, all of which the WordPress comment system promptly nullified, because WordPress does that.
All these suggestions are useful.
Banning poetry, for example, might cause us to lose two or three masterpieces, but it would spare us tens of millions of soul-withering lines from shallow people with deep feelings.
The WordPress forums are full of people asking how to format poetry. They get helpful responses: you can use CSS, in effect writing a poem-constructing program somewhat longer than the average poem it will be used to construct. You can use nonbreaking spaces, being aware that they will periodically disappear. You can use the “pre” tag.
The “pre” tag activates your default ugly monospaced font. (This is true, by the way, in ebook readers as well.) One would not want to use that for publishing poetry:
I see beneath the crystal bow, And Gaul and German, Russ and Turk, Each with his native handiwork And busy tongue.
It is possible to redefine that behavior in the WordPress theme by specifying a proportional font, making the “pre” tag probably the best choice for a poet who expects to write a lot of poetry and is willing to deal with the small alterations in CSS for his chosen theme. [Another update: This is what Dr. Boli has done here on the site, so that the demonstration above looks much better than it looked when the article was published.] Even then, though, indenting lines with a bunch of spaces is a sloppy and tedious task, made sloppier and tediouser, and in some more complex forms impossible, if the “pre” tag is redefined to specify a proportional font. [An update: A commenter below mentions custom stylings for the “pre” tag, but, having tried the experiment, Dr. Boli is delighted to report that WordPress, at least with the theme he tried, simply ignores those custom stylings. It is therefore necessary to revise the theme itself.]
What the poet wants is to be able to say, “I shall set the beginnings of all lines of this sort here.” One can do that with an early-twentieth-century mechanical typewriter by pushing the “tab set” button. It is very strange that one cannot do it at all with a sophisticated twenty-first-century content-management system.
At any rate, it is absurd to say that prose writers should just be able to go ahead and write, but poets need to teach themselves the intricacies of CSS. The average poet will not be as stubborn as Dr. Boli about making his own WordPress theme when he cannot find one that meets his needs. Nor should he be limited to one WordPress theme. There should be some way to make the mechanics of formatting simple and transparent, so that the poet can just write poetry. After all, it is always possible (however unlikely it may seem) that, having all the traditional forms of poetry easily available to them without any tedious labor or programming skills, a few poets may start to write good poetry.