Follies in Project Design

On Poetic Structure and HTML
Sep 14, 2021

The structure of a poem — what lines go into a stanza, how thoughts are broken up into lines, where the line breaks are placed — is almost as important as the words chosen throughout. It dictates the pace of a poem, how fast it's read, and even the meaning; putting emphasis on certain words through enjambing can create a new context in which the words are read.

Take the first poem of my project, Pulse, as an example. The structure was very deliberately crafted in order to maintain and build on a rhythm as the poem went forth, that rhythm being representative of a heartbeat, and integral to the meaning and experience of the poem itself.

Shockingly dim and
a whimpering in the
empty cavern of a
cavity left cold and

Each line break is put where it is, because that collection of words had the appropriate amount of syllables to further that cadenced pattern. Without this very specific structure, the piece wouldn't be the same, that rhythmic layer underneath the words written would be lost, and the poem weaker for it. I find that incredible, reflecting on it now, that something so seemingly innocuous as line breaks can shift the message of a work.

Things can get messy, however, when a poem with a structure so critical to its foundation is encoded with XML (or rendered into web space using HTML). For my project, my objective was to include a level of interactivity with my poetry by embedding information on certain lines (like the intended meaning of a metaphor) that could be clicked/hovered over by the user. I grouped relevant lines together in my XML using an extra element, and hard-coded in some onclick events into the specific lines/line groupings that I had made annotations for. When looking at both the XML and HTML, the visual structure for the poem had been disrupted — that purposeful and deliberate framework was muddled by the extraneous code, and the soul of my work was getting lost within it.

<div id="stanzaNum2" class="stanza">
<div id="lineNum7" class="line heartbeat_line">Heartbeat.</div>
<div id="lineNum8" class="line">Shockingly dim and</div>
<div id="lineNum9" class="line">a whimpering in the</div>
<div id="lineGroupNum1" class="line_group" onclick="toggleLineInfo('line_info_point1')" style="cursor: pointer">
<div id="lineNum10" class="line">
<span class="lineGroupNum1">empty cavern of a</span>
<div id="lineNum11" class="line">
<span class="lineGroupNum1">cavity left cold and</span>
<div id="lineNum12" class="line">
<span class="lineGroupNum1">decaying.</span>

I hadn’t particularly desired to create my XML/HTML this way, but being an amateur in JavaScript, I knew no other way at the time to add that functionality without that aforementioned disruption. It’s kind of fascinating, though, that the constraints of my knowledge with JavaScript had an effect on my poetic structure, on the artistry of my work, in such a subtle way.

Because, while this way of coding had no consequences on the way the poem is read from the front-end by the viewer, it interferes with the spirit of the work. For a project in which poetry, and thus poetic structure, is central, to preserve that spirit should be a priority.