How to Format Poetry for Ebooks: Hanging Indents

QUESTION: “I have a poetry book I would like to prepare for the Kinde and epub. The problem is when lines are too long and roll over to a second line I need the line to indent slightly so it is easier to follow.”

Poetry is one of the most precise and precious of literary forms. It is also far the least adaptable to the growing e-book market treating a verse as though each line is a paragraph. A three-line stanza can expand to four if a line is too long or a four-line stanza compressed down into a three-line stanza if the second and fourth lines have sharp indentations. (Example: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Hymn to the Night.”)

Poetry is well suited for electronic media for the most part and I am confident the technical problems with e-readers can be fixed.

Poetry Formatting: the Negative Indent

A critical requirement for poetry is to code an indent for overflow text by setting the left margin to the point where you want the second and following lines to flow.

formatting poetry for ebooks


.poem {
text-indent: -2em;
margin-left: 2em

The HTML code looks like this:

<p class=”poem”>First line of your poem that is very long so it will drop to a second line that is indented 2em.</p>
<p class=”poem”>The second line of the Poem.</p>

It will appear similar to this on an e-reader screen:

First line of your poem that is very long so it will drop
.    to a second line that is indented 2em
The second line of the Poem.

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