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When a poem written in stanzas carries over on to more than one page, it is common when submitting it to a publisher to type "[stanza break]" or "[no stanza break]" where necessary, for example when the last line on a page ends with a full stop.

What are some ways of communicating this information to the "end user", so that he knows whether or not he should read the last line on a page as the last line of a stanza? I have some poetry books in which this isn't done at all, so at the bottom of a page the reader is left not knowing whether the stanza has ended or not. Indeed sometimes he can still be unclear about this even after he has turned to the next page. Now that's what I call poor UX. What ways of providing a better UX have been tried?

Note
I don't have sufficient reputation to add a "poetry" tag, but this seems appropriate for this question.

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  • I don't think adding a poetry tag to this site is appropriate TBH. This site is about graphic design, not poetry. I've tagged this typesetting. Honestly can't say I've ever seen any poetry book with a stanza split on a new page. So, I would suggest you don't do it. Don't split stanzas. Add/leave blank spaces to avoid it.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 19, 2021 at 14:39
  • I've added book instead. An extremely large number of poetry books have stanzas that are split between pages. This includes ones where stanzas take up for example 110% of a page. Sometimes of course things are obvious because all stanzas have the same number of lines, so if the top four stanzas on a page end with a full stop at the end of the fourth line then you assume that the one at the bottom has ended when it reaches its fourth line which ends with a full stop and has no other lines after it. But many poems have stanzas containing varying numbers of lines.
    – ruffle
    Jul 19, 2021 at 14:52
  • In that case, I would say if you have one huge stanza then it would be obvious that it might have to split onto the next page. I would still try to avoid splitting smaller stanzas, or poems with regular stanzas (same number of lines in each), or irregular stanzas. Whatever you do, try make it as consistent as humanly possible. Then your readers will know what to expect.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 19, 2021 at 15:04
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    One possibility just occurred to me, what about indenting the first line of all stanzas? Like paragraph indents. If it's too ugly for the whole book, just use it for those poems with the problematic long/irregular stanzas which you can't avoid splitting.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 19, 2021 at 15:16
  • @BillyKerr - Your suggestion of indenting the first line of each stanza would certainly work. As soon as the reader began a page, he would know without ambiguity whether the first line started a new stanza or not. For my own poems, though, I think the alteration of the typographic effect might be a step too far. Indentation together with a blank line would be read as a "big break"; without a blank line, as too small a break. Other poets' mileage may of course differ.
    – ruffle
    Jul 20, 2021 at 7:33

2 Answers 2

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I'm answering my own question here, but one possible route is this:

  • if a stanza is continued on to the next page, try not to end the present page with a line that ends in a periodic end stop (".", "!", or "?);

  • if a stanza is NOT continued on to the next page, put a blank line at the start of the next page and possibly, if workable, also put a blank line at the end of the present page.

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Another possible answer is this:

  • when a page ends at the end of a stanza, use a double forward slash (//), which is the convention used in the Modern Language Association's Handbook to mark a stanza break (source), not in this context but when quoting fewer than four lines;

  • when a page ends mid-stanza, try to typeset so that the last line on the page is not one that ends with a periodic end stop.

This will cover most cases, I think. It may fall down when you have a poem with with a lot of lines that end with periodic end stops.

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