How to Format a Poem

As with prose, there are rules governing the way in which poetry is formatted. Poems have a basic format that must be followed at the time of their creation. If you plan on submitting a poetry manuscript to a publisher or including a few lines of poetry in an essay, there are specific ways to format the poem for those contexts, as well.

Basic Structure and Format
Familiarize yourself with the poem type. You’ll have a little more freedom if you’re writing a blank verse poem, but if you are trying to write a specific type of poem, you need to check on the specific format requirements of the type in question before you take anything else into consideration. A haiku should consist of three lines. The first line has five sounds, the second has seven, and the third has five. Oftentimes, these “sounds” are treated as syllables in English.

A limerick has five lines. The first, second, and fifth rhyme with each other and have eight or nine syllables. The third and fourth rhyme with each other and have five or six syllables.

A sonnet has 14 lines and should usually be written in iambic pentameter. Shakespearean sonnets follow a rhyme scheme of ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG. Petrarchan sonnets follow a rhyme scheme of ABBA/ABBA/CDE/CDE.

Create lines based on speech patterns and appearance. The length of each line and the way the lines are broken up will influence the reader’s experience, so you need to format your lines in a way that makes sense.[1] Readers have a tendency to pause briefly at the end of each line, regardless of whether there is any punctuation there. As such, it makes sense to end a line at a point in which a pause would seem natural or could be used to emphasize an important idea.

Words placed toward the end of a line usually seem more significant than those in the middle.

Short lines seem more jagged and rushed, so they can speed up the reader. Long lines look more like prose and can slow a reader down.

Look at how the lines appear on paper. Poems with a light content matter should have a light appearance, with short lines and plenty of white space. Deep, contemplative poems may look more compact.

Experiment with punctuation. Even though readers naturally pause at the end of a line, placing punctuation at the end of that line will encourage a longer pause.
On the other hand, when there is no punctuation at the end of the line, the end pause is minimized and may even be skipped.

Ending a line in the middle of a sentence can highlight an idea or create suspense.

Group lines into logical stanzas. Stanzas are for poems what paragraphs are for prose. Lines are grouped together in separate stanzas to maintain order and flow.
Stanzas are typically used to organize ideas, so one stanza will likely have a different tone or slightly different point of emphasis than the stanzas before and after it.

Rewrite the poem as needed to improve the overall form. You probably won’t find the best combination of rhythm, lines, and overall arrangement in your first draft, so you might need to rewrite your poem a few times to improve on its format.
As a general rule, it might be easiest to write your ideas out instinctively and naturally the first time around.

Re-read your poem out loud and make any revisions necessary after you get it on paper. Keep in mind both appearance and sound.

Manuscript Format
Use standard margins and fonts. Use 1-inch (2.5-cm) margins and 11-point or 12-point font.[2]
The left, right, and bottom margins should all be 1-inch (2.5-cm). The top margin can also be 1-inch (2.5-cm), but you can also make it as small as 1/2-inch (1.25-cm) if it looks better.

Use a standard font, like Times New Roman, Arial, Cambria, or Calibri.

Place your name and contact information at the top. In the upper right corner of the page, type your full name, followed by your full mailing address, phone number, e-mail address, and website (if applicable).
Each piece of information should be on a separate line.

Keep this information single spaced and right aligned.

While this format is standard, it is also acceptable to put this information in the upper left corner of the page, especially if it makes the overall organization of the poem look cleaner. Include the same information and keep the text single spaced, but left align it.[3]

State the number of lines. On the line immediately following your contact information, list the number of lines.
This only applies if your contact information is in the upper right corner.

If your contact information is in the upper left corner, place the number of lines in the upper right corner, on the same line as your name.

When specifying the number of lines, write “xx lines.” For example: 14 lines

32 lines

5 lines

Center the title and type it in all caps. Space down four to six lines, then type the title of your poem in all capital letters.
The title is usually centered on the page. If your contact information is aligned to the right of the page, however, you can left align the title if desired.

A single blank line should follow after the title.

Left align the stanzas. Align each stanza to the left of the page. The text should have a ragged right edge and should not be justified. Each stanza is single spaced.

The space between two stanzas should be double spaced. In other words, there should be a single blank line separating each stanza from the ones above and below it.

Include the basic information on any additional page. If your poem continues onto a second page, you will need to place a header at the top of that page. The header should include your last name, the title of the poem, and the current page number.

The last name should go in the upper left, the title in the center, and the page number in the upper right. All three pieces should be on the same line.

This header format should be used on each multiple page, regardless of whether it is the second page, third page, eleventh page, or so on.

Quotation Format
Lead into the quote. Introduce the quote and include the text of the quotation within the rest of the sentence.
Do not create a hanging quote. A hanging quote refers to a block of text that is nothing but the quotation, without any of your own words leading in or leading out. Citing a poem this way does not provide enough context for the quote.

Correct example: In “Sonnet 82,” Shakespeare compares the beauty of the poem’s subject to her wisdom, stating, “Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue” (line 5).[4]
Incorrect example: In “Sonnet 82,” Shakespeare compares the beauty of the poem’s subject to her wisdom. “Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue” (line 5).

Quote three or fewer lines with quotation marks. When you are only quoting one, two, or three lines from a poem, include the quotation within the main body of the text, placing it in quotation marks.
Use the backslash symbol (/) to indicate a line break. Place a space before and after each symbol.

Example: The poet praises his subject’s knowledge and beauty, stating, “Thou are as fair in knowledge as in hue, / Finding they worth a limit past my praise” (lines 5-6).

Quote four or more lines with a hanging indent. When you are quoting four lines or more, place the quotation on a separate line after your lead-in. Use a hanging indent of ten full spaces from the left margin. Each line of your quotation should begin at this indent.

Do not use quotation marks or slash symbols.

Example: Shakespeare opens “Sonnet 82” with words spoken to a friend about his Muse:
I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,

And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook

The dedicated words which writers use

Of their fair subject, blessing every book. (lines 1-4)

Cite the line number. For each in-text poetry citation, you need to state the line or line numbers that your quotation came from within the poem. When citing three or fewer lines within quotation marks, place the line numbers in parentheses after the closing quotation marks. This citation should come before the period, however.

When citing four or more lines offset from the main test, place the line number after the final period of the quotation.

Write “line,” “lines,” or “ln” before the first citation of this poem to clarify that you are citing a line and not a page. For each additional citation, however, you only need to include the number.

Example: Shakespeare opens “Sonnet 82” with words spoken to a friend about his Muse:
I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,

And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook

The dedicated words which writers use

Of their fair subject, blessing every book. (lines 1-4)

He continues later, praising both the beauty and intelligence of his Muse, stating, “Thou are as fair in knowledge as in hue, / Finding they worth a limit past my praise” (5-6).

Sources and Citations
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