How to format poetry in WordPress

First things first, I want you to know that this is a very basic ‘How To’ post but it might just be exactly what you need. I’m writing it because every few weeks I meet someone who wants to post poetry on their site but is frustrated because they can’t produce the layout they want in WordPress. Common complaints are a) the line breaks disappear and/or b) they can’t add in extra spacing. As you probably know, I’ve been publishing poetry over on my poetry site And Other Poems for three years so I’ve had to learn a small amount of computer code in order to this.

The two most useful tips I’ve learned are:

  1. Use ‘Text’ Editor rather than ‘Visual’ Editor.
  2. Adding the following HTML code     will allow you to add extra line breaks and spacing.

There is more indepth, technical info at WordPress Support – this post for example – but, generally, the above two tips work for me all the time.

In case you’re not clear what I’m talking about, I’ll give you three examples of poems with different layouts.

First, ‘Llandudno’ by Kate Wise.

The cries of seagulls smell of salmon sandwiches.
Tinned. On white; juice-soggy in their teeth-setting silverfoil.
Plastic bag jellyfish sculled the pier’s shadows.
We sat in the morning’s goosepimples,
park-bench thigh-marked, waiting for you to finish your
in matching turquoise shorts because it was
the Summer.

This is a straightforward layout, text is flush against the left hand margin, there are no stanza breaks or extra spaces between words on the same line.  So no computer code needed here.

Next up, ‘Something Understood’ by Edward Doegar.

Be seated. So much silliness. Go in fear
             of imperatives. Love,
as much as anything else, as little.
             Stop trying to touch
the stained light, it’s not for you. Feel
             the wood instead; use
has polished the grain, this is not good,
             this is not evil. Wood
is also stained. And so on. Deliver us
             from this, from that.

OK, this is a little more complicated as you’ll see that every other line of the poem is indented.  Here’s how I created the layout I wanted for this poem using the basic computer code mentioned above.  In ‘Text’ Editor, I added the code   as many times as I needed to achieve the desired spacing.  Once it was right for one line, I copied and pasted the code into the next line to save time.

Be seated. So much silliness. Go in fear
                        of imperatives. Love,
as much as anything else, as little.
                       Stop trying to touch
the stained light, it’s not for you. Feel
                       the wood instead; use
has polished the grain, this is not good,
                       this is not evil. Wood
is also stained. And so on. Deliver us
                       from this, from that.

There is probably (of course there must be!) an easier, quicker way to achieve this layout (and if you’d like to share your tips and shortcuts, do please leave a comment below) but I’m a great believer in using what I know to get by. (I have the same approach to language learning).

Lastly, here’s ‘nothing’ by Andrew McMillan, who, as you see, is a poet who tends to use spacing instead of conventional punctuation.

which is really the sound of everything     slowly

if you write poetry and are even passably handsome
my heart will pretend it loves you for a while

all I know is      the first empty bed
for weeks      the first tea of morning

the man who was scared of paper was papyrophobic
as though making something unpronounceable diminishes it’s horror

the sunset is national      politics is local
except when it demands a foreignsand incursion

all I know is      the dark street
a doorman with a secret      sometimes rain

And here’s the poem with the code I used to achieve this layout

<strong>nothing </strong>
<em>which is really the sound of everything&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;      slowly

if you write poetry and are even passably handsome
my heart will pretend it loves you for a while
all I know is&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;      the first empty bed
for weeks&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;      the first tea of morning
the man who was scared of paper was papyrophobic
as though making something unpronounceable diminishes it’s horror
the sunset is national&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;     politics is local
except when it demands a foreignsand incursion
all I know is&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;      the dark street
a doorman with a secret&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;       sometimes rain

Hope this is helpful to at least some of you!  One other thing I’ve learned to do if I get stuck with any formatting or blogging issue is to type my question into Google. Invariably, someone, somewhere, has encountered the same problem and has been kind enough to leave their solution somewhere on the internet.

As always, please leave any comments or suggestions below.

What are your writing plans for the summer?

What are your plans for the summer? Are things staying the same or do you have a project in mind? Maybe it isn’t summer where you are but what are your plans, anyway? Here in the UK, I’ve been away from a regular, paid job since 1st May. This is intentional, I’m trying to use the time to write more and to be with my family. My 16 year old daughter has been on holiday since she finished her GCSE exams in mid-June. My 14 year old son finishes school next week and we’re all off (me, husband, teenagers) to north Portugal for a family holiday. I’m wondering where writing is going to fit into all of this. But I’m determined to squeeze it in, somehow!

I’m still reading through the submissions I received for And Other Poems and scheduling poems to appear in the Autumn. As soon as I’ve responded to everyone who sent poems, which if I put my mind to it and get on with it, should be by early next week, I’d really, really like to clear my desk and focus on my own writing. I keep a list of poems I’ve made some progress with but haven’t yet finished and whenever I’m given a block of time, I try to focus on completing some. A few poems have been there for several years. So I’d like to be able to devote myself to this list and will certainly be taking it with me on holiday. Although there’ll be Wi-Fi, I’m going to try to unplug which I know will free-up an hour or two a day.

Later on today, Sunday, I’m going to a workshop in Bradford-on-Avon with Philip Gross. I heard him read in Bath once and liked his work and liked him so when Dawn Gorman sent details of the workshop, I signed up. It will be a treat to be away from the house, away from my everyday life, and to have the chance to think about writing.

In terms of my writing and submissions generally, I haven’t had a huge amount of success this year but, importantly for me, this hasn’t affected my mood or my writing confidence (much!). Sure, I’ve been disappointed but I haven’t allowed my disappointment to swamp my writing energy. Time away from my poems while they’ve been out for consideration has given me much-needed distance from my work, so I’ve been able to re-assess a poem with a cool eye when it’s been returned to me, rejected. I’ve recognised flaws, re-drafted and sent out again, somewhere else. I’ve also acknowledged what’s good about a poem, what’s working and, in one instance, I hardly changed a poem at all, decided it’s a good poem, not for that particular editor, too bad, sent it out to another. This is a big change and a sign that I’m becoming much more confident about my work (this week, in any case – yes, I fluctuate madly).

me relaxing July 2015I fully intend to allow myself some time off over the summer. To read more. This is crucial to my writing so I’m packing a few books in my suitcase. Although I own an e-Reader, I much prefer to read physical books, I find it more relaxing. I’m going to make a few notes about what I’m reading, start writing a reading journal again. I find it very difficult to talk about books, to say why precisely what it is about a piece of writing that moves me. It might be a confidence thing and a self-consciousness. Writing about such matters on this blog feels quite exposing but I’d like to overcome my nervousness and have a go at writing about what I’m reading. It’s on my list of things I’d like to do.

Well, I’ve shared a few of my plans for the summer, perhaps you’d like to tell me what you’ll be up to? Hope you enjoy yourself, whatever you do.

Speaking French

Yes, I have mixed up my avoirs and my êtres and confused La Gare for La Guerre and, once, having forgotten my glasses, I explained “Je ne suis pas mes lunettes” rather than “Je n’ai pas…..”

Nevertheless, when in France, I always have a go at speaking French. I’ve often come across people who won’t try to speak another language, perhaps because of fear of ridicule (I’ve been laughed at on more than one occasion!).

For Bastille Day, here’s a poem I drafted on this blog two years ago, now updated slightly and recorded on SoundCloud.

Speaking French

At the beach bar a man, half my age, is centimètres
from my sanded breasts, as beautiful as the café crème
between us, and what I still call centimes
lie blurred and glittered on my upturned palm.
“I am not my pair of glasses,” I confide.

What have I learned
since a driver shouted down his bus
that I had asked him for a ticket
to The War
That I would rather mime my girlfriend’s diarrhoea
than be the man standing in la pharmacie
chanting “English, English,”
as if these syllables are all it takes
to halt ridicule and stomach ache.

Dashing in and out of this blog

I’m typing at speed today because I’m leaving for London soon with my 16 year old daughter, Kitty, to drop her off at a friend’s flat where she’ll be staying next week while she’s doing work experience.  I’ll miss her!

On Friday, I wrote and sent off a job application for a writer-in-residence post.  I doubt I’ll get it but my philosophy these days is that I just have to try for these things.  Plus, it was a perfect opportunity to update and polish my Writer’s CV which isn’t looking too shabby at all, though I say so myself.

I hit the ‘Send’ button 40 minutes before the job deadline after working on  the application on and off all day, in between teaching my 14 year old son, John, how to weed and water the garden (he was home from school because of a Teaching Training Day) and in between writing a micropoem for a competition also with its deadline on Friday.  I doubt I’ll get anywhere there, either, but…. you know my philosophy.

Once I’d sent the job application off, I realised that I’d made a glaring grammatical error in the covering letter and said to Johnny “I’ll never get the job now but at least I made the deadline.”  “Don’t be ridiculous!” he said “Tell them you’ve made a mistake and send a corrected letter in, quick.”  Ever been parented by one of your children?  Thank goodness for the common sense of fourteen year olds.

Anyway, Friday was also the day I finished writing a guest blog post for Anthony Wilson who has kindly posted it today! It’s basically a love letter to my diary, journal, notebook, call it what you will.  I’ve been writing in one for almost the whole of my life.  Thank you, Anthony, for your hospitality.  You can read “Dear Diary” here.

notebooks for post 2015

Seven/Seven: Where Were You?

I was in the house I’m in now in Trowbridge, West Wiltshire.  We’d moved here from south London two years before.  Our children were six and four.  We’d left London because Andrew had been made redundant from his job working in IT for a large accountancy firm in the City and found another job which allowed him to work from home.  So we made the decision to move somewhere with cheaper houses and good state schools that our children could walk to.  Plus, two of my brothers had moved here years before with their families, so we’d be near them.

DoorNot having the pressure of a big mortgage meant I didn’t need to look for paid work, so could try to write, and Andrew was able to take an unpaid sabbatical from his job for ten months to work on renovating the dilapidated Victorian semi-detached house we’d bought and help care for our two young children.

But, by July 2005, he was back at work.  Our six year old daughter was in her second year at the local Catholic primary school and our four year old son had a free place for two and a half hours a day at a local play group.

I woke before 7am on the 7th July.  Andrew had already left the house.  The cup of tea he makes me every morning was cold on our bedside table.  I hadn’t even heard him go.  Though we live in West Wiltshire, Andrew’s clients have always, mostly, been in central London; what we’d gained with an affordable house, he’d had to sacrifice with early mornings and long working days.  I’ve always felt sad about this and questioned whether the price has been too high.  But it is what it is.

A to Z 2

I hadn’t long been back from walking our children to their respective schools when Andrew telephoned me from his mobile to ask if I knew about any industrial action on the London Underground that day, or any reason why services wouldn’t be running as usual.  He and his boss had arrived at London Bridge Station and were trying to get to the tube but weren’t being allowed through.  There was no information displayed anywhere, he said, and more and more people were gathering and nobody knew what was happening.  In the background of his call, I could hear Emergency Service sirens.

I telephoned my sister who lives in Peckham, South East London, and asked her if she’d heard of any disturbance to public transport.  She didn’t know what was happening either but one of our brothers, who was visiting her in London, had just walked back to her house saying that there were no trains running from their local station.  I could hear sirens in the back of her call, too.

I switched on the television and the day’s news came streaming across the screen.  Andrew rang back and I read aloud to him the information that was being broadcast into our home in Wiltshire:

Major incident in London………… fire on an underground train…….. suspected incendiary device……..

There were a dreadful twenty minutes when I lost telephone contact with Andrew and it became clear that there was a risk of further incidents in London that day.  Reports of an explosion on a bus came in and the pictures broadcast on television made it clear that this had been a bomb.  Meanwhile, where was Andrew? Why wasn’t he answering his phone?  Without telling me, he and his boss had decided to walk across London to their day of meetings and then proceeded to try to carry on as normal.

For twenty minutes I felt panic and imagined that my husband was at risk.  I hadn’t even seen him that morning or kissed him goodbye.  Our children hadn’t seen him since the day before as they’d been asleep when he’d come home from work.

Was I now a widow?  Were our children fatherless?  Then I heard from him again and cried with relief.  Then immediately felt guilt and thought of women in Iraq and Afghanistan – I thought of the conflicts in those places that my country, Britain, was heavily implicated in.  How indulgent of me to imagine, even for a fleeting twenty minutes, that I had any idea what life must be like for them.

I felt an urge to try to find out more about these women.  I searched on the internet and found some first person accounts of what it was like living with the daily threat of bombings.  One woman wrote

In the mornings, when my husband leaves for work and my children leave for school, we never say ‘See you later’ we only say ‘Goodbye’.  This could be the final time we see each other.

I felt  humble and ashamed when I read this and thought that what I’d experienced momentarily was something that people living in places like Iraq and Afghanistan were enduring daily and continuously.

I was filled with a surge of gratefulness when I collected my children from school that day and when Andrew finally arrived home.  I try to remember this feeling whenever I can.   But I’m thinking today of people whose lives were changed unalterably after the events of 7th July 2005, of the people who died that day, of the family and friends who became bereaved, of those left injured, of the people who saved or tried to save lives.  And I’m thinking of people who are still living in places of conflict, who still endure the threat of bombs, who don’t even have the luxury of calling to their loved ones “See you later.”

Please leave a comment if you have a memory or thought you’d like to share.

Writing an author bio that won’t date (much).

If you’re sending out your poetry or short fiction for publication in a magazine, online or in print, you’ll want to include a short, third person biography with your submission.  Not only is this a professional approach, it also shows consideration to the editor/s since not chasing you for the information will be one less administrative task for them.  Even if they don’t accept your work, your professionalism and your name will have been noted which is never a bad thing in the competitive world of writing.

What sort of information should you include?

I’ve been thinking about this recently because a few poets who’ve had work published on my poetry site (And Other Poems) have mentioned that their bio there is now out of date.  The site will be three years old this August and it features over 300 poets so, clearly, keeping all the author biographies up to date would require more woman hours than I’m able or willing to offer!

It isn’t possible to make a (living) author bio completely timeless but there are a few common sense things you can do to preserve its lifeline.  For instance, include information that won’t change, ie your year of birth rather than your current age, your place of birth rather than your current place of residence.  If you’re mentioning time and dates at all, better to be specific ie “Her pamphlet was published in 2014″ rather than “Her pamphlet was published last year” or “In 2015 he co-edited the Spring issue of Aardvark Magazine rather than “He’s currently co-editing……..”

Personally, I think shorter biographies work best, especially if you’re submitting to an online publication, and print magazines usually have limited space as well.  Rather than mentioning EVERY competition win or listing, include only the most recent and/or most impressive.  Similarly, it’s not a good idea to list every single magazine that’s published your work but you should mention the most prestigious ie “is published or forthcoming in many magazines including The Rialto“.

Although I suggested aiming to include information that won’t date, it’s always worth taking advantage of the extra publicity for any upcoming events you’re involved in, ie “Will be performing at Trumpton Village Arts Festival in August 2015.”  Include a link to the event.  If you’ve published a book, include a link to your publisher’s website or a link to a place where the book can easily be ordered.

But you won’t be able to include every single publication, award win or event, and a limited word count is  all the more reason to own your own website or blog, a place people can easily find you, where you can write and keep updated as many autobiographical details as you like.  Readers need only to click on the link to your site to find out all about your recent competition wins, new publications, forthcoming readings or workshops, and recent accolades.  If you include pictures, they can also see what you currently look like.

Picture taken 4th July 2015.  Josephine Corcoran and Juliet the rabbit!
Picture taken 4th July 2015. Josephine Corcoran and Juliet the rabbit!

Do you have any tips for what makes a good bio?  Want to share yours?


A busy few weeks

If this blog was a room in your house, I’d be rushing into it, refusing your offer of a cup of tea, calling my news over my shoulder and rushing out again.  Various events have made my life busy recently, not least my teenage daughter finishing her GCSE exams, attending her Year 11 Prom (when did we stop calling it a Dinner and Dance?) and turning sixteen.  Acting mostly as a cook and cleaner and, occasionally, a lady’s maid, I’ve been caught up in the excitement.

Kitty at Prom cropped 1I made the most of quiet study times by focusing on my own reading and writing but once the exams were over, thoughts turned towards the ‘Prom’.  While I try to live a simple life these days, and avoid the kind of excessive consumerism that sometimes accompanies an event like a ‘Prom’, I must confess to having a lot of fun standing on the side-lines (with my credit card) helping Kitty acquire all she needed in order to celebrate no longer being a Secondary School student.  I think she had a terrific time.

The Prom out of the way (and the After Prom Party, about which I have received only the vaguest information which is probably for the best) Kitty came with me to London so that I could read at The Camberwell Arts Festival with Robin Houghton, Richard Skinner and Roy Marshall.  Although the event was poorly attended which was a disappointment, we had a delicious Chinese meal at The Silk Road restaurant beforehand and it was a delight to meet Roy (who I had only met before via social media) and to hear him, Robin, and Richard read.  Also, I met Jill Abram and Clarissa Aykroyd again and it was fabulous to catch up with them.  Thanks to Jill for taking the photo!

L-R Roy Marshall, Josephine Corcoran, Richard Skinner, Robin Houghton
L-R Roy Marshall, Josephine Corcoran, Richard Skinner, Robin Houghton

I’m always glad of an opportunity to read although I really suffer from nerves.  I keep telling myself the more I read, the easier it will get (maybe?).

Family lunch
Family lunch

The day after the poetry reading was Kitty’s 16th birthday.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before that I belong to a large extended family (I’m one of seven children) and that many of my relations live in London.  Anyway, a birthday in the family was a wonderful excuse for a few of us to get together.

The other thing that’s been occupying my time has been reading submissions to And Other Poems.   I opened submissions from May 30th to June 30th, mainly because of receiving many requests to do so.  Poems started arriving steadily from late May onwards and then, suddenly, started pouring into my inbox at a rate that I struggled to keep up with.  Part of the problem, I discovered, was that And Other Poems had been added to a listings site, Duotrope, which provides writers with addresses of zines and publications accepting submissions.  Duotrope is a wonderful resource for anyone actively seeking more submissions (or, indeed, for anyone looking for where to submit to) but for someone like me, running And Other Poems on my own, it was rather a disaster!  After a couple of days, I asked to be ‘unlisted’ and the flood of poems abated.  I was extremely impressed with the professional and efficient attitude of Duotrope admin staff so their site is worth a look.

And, finally….

The happy news for me is that I applied, and was accepted, for this year’s Aldeburgh Eight Advanced Seminar  run by The Poetry Trust.  This means that I’ll be attending the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November, followed by five days on a rural retreat, with seven other poets at a similar stage in their poetry writing lives, tutored by Peter Sansom and Jackie Wills.

I’ll say more about this in future posts but I’m very, very happy to be one of the Eight.  This opportunity has come at a perfect time for me: my children are of an age to not mind me leaving them (and their wonderful Dad has already booked time off work to be able to keep them company) and my writing career – having stalled for ten years (more or less) while the children were growing up – is now five years in to being reinvigorated.  I have one pamphlet published, many almost finished poems that will benefit from close, constructive criticism and attention, and I feel that I’m in the right, mental state to be open and to benefit from eight days immersed in poetry.  I really can’t wait.

Okay, I’m dashing out again now.  I didn’t mention Father’s Day or my 18th Wedding Anniversary but here’s a pic of my son, John, who received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church last night.  Kitty was his Sponsor.  June was a big month.

Kitty and John.  John's Confirmation June 30 2015.
Kitty and John. John’s Confirmation June 30 2015.


Two poems at The Manchester Review

I have two new poems at The Manchester Review, a beautifully made online magazine of poetry, fiction, reviews and art. My poems ‘Holiday’ and ‘A Dream about Martin Scorsese’ can be read here.

martin scorsese again

image from CinemaBlend

Dear Editors – Here are my Poems!

I had a bit of a chuckle at this Facebook post from poet and Editor of Prole magazine, Brett Evans:

Are there any fellow editors out there who find submissions without so much as a hello rude? No cover letter or bio I can forgive but no hello! I know the work should speak for itself but if you’re a writer then ‘Hello’, ‘Dear miserable editor’ is not going to stretch your talents

Submissions to And Other Poems are open at the moment so I’ve been jotting down some of the different ways that poets parcel their work when they send it out for consideration. Like Brett, I think it’s polite to include a short note saying ‘hello’ in your parcel even if you haven’t addressed it correctly.

It’s most likely that none of this applies to YOU because I’m sure that YOU are of the majority who are always concise, friendly, and polite when you send work out. Nevertheless, it is an eye-opener to be on the receiving end of submissions and comments following Brett’s Facebook post confirm that he’s not alone in his experience. Not including any kind of greeting, assuming editors are male, getting the editor’s name wrong, and not following submission guidelines are all common occurrences.

So, in a spirit of light-heartedness and good humour, I’ve cobbled together a poem made up of some of the things that people say and do when sending their work out. (I might have to add to it as the submission window at And Other Poems continues!)

Dear Editors – Here are my Poems!
for Brett Evans

Dear Editors, Dear Sirs,
Dear Jacqueline, Dear Jennifer,
Dear Susan (Is it OK if I call you Susan?
Sure — my name’s Brett
but at least you’ve called me something).

Here you go, Josephine,
some poems for your blog –
they were just lying around doing nothing
so you might as well have them
because I saw your plea for poems!
I’ve been writing for a year now
and I just can’t stop!

I haven’t heard back from you
since last week
so I’m sending you some more
because these are even better.

Did you get my email?
I’d appreciate an acknowledgment.
I’m not sure what you mean
by “one attachment”.
For ease of reading
I’ve sent my bio, covering letter
and six poems in separate files.

I write quirky, powerful poems.
This one is always a big hit
at the open mic.

No hello, no covering letter,
my poems speak for themselves.

But you’ll want to know
about every award
I’ve been shortlisted for.
You’ll want to know I own a cat
(could you include her picture?)
You’ll want to know
that in 1990 I met Carol Ann
and she loved this poem.
(maybe you could include her quote?)

Here I am reading this poem on YouTube.
Here’s a link to my blog –
get in touch if you’d like
any or all of my poems for your site.
I couldn’t decide which ones to send
so I’ve sent them all.
Maybe you could post them
at intervals during the year?

It would be great if you took all of these
because my book’s coming out next month.

Here are my poems.
I’ve left the name of your journal out
so I can use this email again.

I’m withdrawing the poems
I sent three days ago
because they’ve been taken
by another journal.

I love your site.
Did your husband make it for you?
Bye for now! Poems to write!

Writing against the clock

In a bid to be productive, to keep you updated about what I’m up to and to fulfil my goal of writing a post a week on this blog, I’m writing this article with the clock ticking.  More specifically, I’m using the timer app on my iPhone and when the 15 minutes are up, that’s it! (3 minutes used up already – yikes).


I’m persevering with my aim to submit poems somewhere at least once a month and I’m still writing every day, even if it’s a few minutes here and there.  I’m waiting to hear about most poems but I have some work coming out at Ink, Sweat & Tears (a poem from ‘The Misplaced House’, one of the very few that I didn’t place anywhere before the pamphlet was published) and in The Manchester Review (two new poems).

Good grief, only five minutes left!  It’s adding the links that cost so much time.

I’ve been trying to write some personal poems, that is poems about my own personal history, and they’ve been making me profoundly sad.  So I’ve stopped for the time being and I’ve gone back to writing about other subjects.  I’ve been reading a lot of Michael Longley and I admire the way he writes about personal, family issues but also keeps a restrained distance.

Two things I want to say before the bleeper goes.  I loved last week’s Transatlantic Poetry Reading – Fran Lock and Solmaz Sharif.  Both use personal and political material in their work, to different effect.  Solmaz’ work just blew me away, it’s incredibly restrained but keeps its powerful anger.  The bleeper’s gone but you can still listen/watch the reading at the link above.  All the readings are on the archive there.  I know I’ve mentioned it before but it’s a terrific series and such a generous enterprise by Robert Peake.

Just time to squeeze in one more recommendation which is this article by Niall Campbell which celebrates some of the poetry collections from Niall’s current reading pile.  Beautiful, succinct writing and several books that I will definitely be purchasing.

Wishing you all a wonderful, productive week!