Using the white space

As predicted, getting WordPress to deal with the niceties of formatting has turned out to be beyond my means at the moment. I have managed to get the layout I wanted by using a fixed width typeface (Courier New) in Google Docs. Here is how the (finished?) poem looks like printed out and scanned:

Below are some embedded Google Docs files. The formatting was fine in the originals but some weird stuff happens when they are rendered here, with some lines slightly shifting out of alignment, and I’ve spent far too long trying to correct the problem. I give up. Hopefully the intent is still reasonably clear.

Anyway, here is the above poem before I dismantled the scaffolding:

And here it is with some punctuation added:

And here it is with some different punctuation and different line breaks:

And here it is, with, like the first (final?) version, William Carlos Williams’s words entirely removed, but rearranged again, to suggest just a hint of underlying pentameter:

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The first post

Recovering from a hernia operation at the beginning of the first week of the MA programme, I missed the introductory poetry session. I did have a stab at the first exercise which was billed as “a very informal first exercise, which was to start, or build a poem around, the idea ‘Everything you need to know about life, you can find in…’ Just something to warm up the poetry machine.” So here it is. Gauge the temperature.

Everything you need to know about life you can find in 
this fleeting strife between milk and fire 
this firing of neurones born out of desire 
because after the pyre what is there to know? 
There’s nowhere to go to find out if there’s nowt 
or there’s summat that we could find 
out of this gap between waking and wake; 
nothing indeed outside of your mind. 
That is all: every thing you need to take 
and to bind from beginning to end, 
to stitch up and to make meaning from. 
It’s all there. Everything. 
You need to know about life. 
You can. 
Find  
out 

Here is the first draft. 


I tend to start writing on unlined paper, and in pencil, though I am by no means consistent in this.  I’m also partial to fountain pens. And, because it’s always there, ideas often start in the ‘Notes’ app on my phone. I think I prefer the white page because of that sense of being able to arrange the words in space with a freedom only constrained by the paper’s edge, even if I’m not making particularly conscious use of that freedom, and keep the lines pretty evenly spaced and the lines left-justified.

When I type work up, it tends to be on iPad. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time wrestling with the frustration of toggling settings to avoid auto-capitalisation of new lines, and autocorrection of names, dialect, or deliberately non-standard spellings. 

I think I need to spend a little time looking for a writing app that will allow, as close as possible, the experience of a traditional typewriter, where you can stick words where you want, and they’ll just stay there, regardless of what else you do. Even then, there are bound to be issues with what happens subsequently. Dumping this poem from Word into WordPress made the first two lines single-spaced, but all the rest double-spaced. I made a couple of edits on the fly and that mucked things up even further. After a little fiddling I managed to get it right by selecting the whole text, then selecting and immediately deselecting the bullet-point formatting option. Weird. I should look at the html to see what’s going on, but I have more pressing things now I’ve sorted it with that workaround.

The issue of how to deal with spatial layout is going to be even more crucial with the second task that I’m about to start working on: to write a poem using white space in ways you wouldn’t normally consider.