SOLVED… Auto-Breaking lines in ePub poetry collections! Well, sorta…

No code or CSS in epub and mobi can give you full control of auto-breaking lines and a poem’s continuity. Use this simple formatting to reclaim continuity on small screens.

No code or CSS in epub and mobi can give you full control of auto-breaking lines and a poem’s continuity and pauses.

Use this simple formatting to reclaim both – on small screens.

– –

Going through the contract for my new collection of poetry-as-ebook, ROSSO.NIENTE., I realised I was still in need of a way to ensure control of line breaks on various ebook platforms.

Thinking about it miraculously a Columbus egg manifested – a viable solution to the problem, which had bugged me since 2010 & prevented me from publishing my poetry in epub and mobi!


For 30+ years line-breaks for me has meant Breath, Breathing. Same for punctuation. And tabulations. And empty lines. All of these pauses make the music of the text. They are the Music of Pauses.

When lines of poetry in modern ebooks come up against the right margin (or the left, when reading right to left), industry standard format code encapsulating and controlling the text will auto-break these lines and deposit surplus words as a new line.

Imagine a sheet of music without fractional notes or time signature – all sounds would have optional or the same length and there would be no beat to the melody. Songs like that might be termed “musical info-pieces” or “DIY songs”.

The same with poetry. Without a way to regulate and control intended pauses (‘continuity’) there is no possibility of a music intentionally being embedded in the text. At best the text would just become a stuttering of poetic images. DIY poetry.


Before the latest epub industry standard EPUB3 was given over to the world, there was a long period in which everyone connected to the industry could contribute by stating their wishes – which, if implemented, would ultimately determine the look and functionality of ebook-text.

a-madrigal-2In this period I was trying to make coders realize there was a problem with presenting poetry. ePub had spawned out of html on relatively large computer screens, but once such a text format hits a mobile phone or even a 9″ tablet screen, poetry looking alright on a bigger screen will be auto-destroyed by automatically breaking lines – simultaneously stealing the copyright of authors by auto-converting text into an EPUB-code made simile.

2010 EPUB3 coders mocked me by presenting me with their visual perception of poetry – what they had been taught in high school: short-lined verses by Shakespeare. Well, but ALL poetry is like that!

Yeah, right! And this was going to be the industry standard by which all of the world would be publishing digital literature for mass marked sale!? I began struggling to be heard, but no one cared. The marked for prose was too important.



Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 22.00.38As I was thinking about how to let my new publisher understand that publishing an ebook of possibly randomized line-breakings was out of the question, and that a solution to the problem had to be found and agreed upon by both parties, I suddenly remembered the ebook-enthusiastic programmer of Calibre, David Goyal.

Back in 2011 he wrote a hack to accommodate poetry, which would indent an auto-broken line enough to give an expression of line coherence (maybe the equivalent of 3 spaces) – but even if that takes the edge off of poems with auto-broken lines, it still doesn’t work for people considering tabulations viable in a vocabulary of pauses. One would need to indicate that such an auto-indentation was different from intended tabulations. With a color, maybe…

(Known EPUB authors Liz Castro [EPUB3] and Joshua Tallent [mobi/KF8] both try to code their way out of the problem, but neither really see or care about the use of indentations as relevant parts of a poem – as do neither of two other EPUB coders, I recently spoke with. Though, compared to the coders of 2010 they at least understand that writers can have specific needs, even if xml+css cannot help.)



Use of color was a fresh idea. Colors would work within the framework of the EPUB3 limitations without requiring hacks or special CSS; it actually could be done manually and poetry collections are rarely very large…

Dark colours, greys and black would work on all ebook-readers. But maybe there was an easy way to CSS a color preceding Goyal’s auto-indentation after auto line-break…

Color! There was the answer to my pet-peeve! The answer to the question that has been bugging me, ever since coders decided that poetry was not text fit for mass consumption in industry standard code. “Too few people read poetry anyway, so why bother catering to them?”

Well, maybe because poets are the pioneers of language?! Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 13.28.36

Read it aloud by colour coherence, and you will hear it works. But the main thing is, with this there IS a way to survive auto-broken lines in poetry!


The solution is to maintain a reader’s awareness on which lines belong together (coherence), even if a narrow viewing screen causes the ebook code to auto-break lines in the poem:

  • Text by design belonging on the same line in the original is given the same color.
  • Text on the next line has a different colour.
  • Every second line the two colors interchange.

Simple. No coding. Just formatting! Maybe even simple CSS?! And you work WITH the fact of poetry behaving differently on different size reader screens, rather than become frustrated despite your super coding skills.

I hope this will make you publish more poetry as ebooks.

Kind regards, kenneth krabat

Author: krabat

digter, forlægger, oversætter, admin på kunstnerhotellet

2 thoughts on “SOLVED… Auto-Breaking lines in ePub poetry collections! Well, sorta…”

  1. @Doug Smith Thank you for taking time out.

    Coders have found it hard to accept that information in a line is dependent on it being ONE LINE.

    When you talk about how poetry is meant to look and possible desirable layouts, the short answer is: Don’t allow lines to be broken!

    But since this is not possible on shifting size screen, then err on the side of caution:

    – assume it is poetry, if the writer calls it poetry
    – assume it is poetry and not prose, when a non-justified text (aligned left, right or center) consists of lines of unequal length
    – assume that the length of lines are fully intentional (and possible on paper)

    = Do not break the lines OR be absolutely certain that an auto-breaking line cannot be mistaken for a planned indentation.

    As such, auto-indentation of auto-breaking lines breaks the poem.

    I don’t know how to illustrate with pictures how a layout COULD BE, when ALL changes to a poems visual cues changes the poem/destroys the poets intentions.

    This is why colour works for me as a “sort of” solution: With colour you can FOLLOW a line to the end and thus retain the BREATH of the poem (and still be able to use indentations in the poem). You lose the graphical layout and to save that are only one solution: zoom of text as whole without breaking lines/moving text field (beyond the screen edge)

    If you reply to this email,, I will send you the mentioned “italian epub” with coloured lines.

    If we talk, maybe then I will be able so produce imagery, which can explain it better.

    best, and thanks, Kenneth Krabat

    Poetry and reflowing text (In Danish, but can do it):

    on ebooks – many entries in English.

    That Pesky Linebreak! (Poets to the rescue!)

    An app for the poet, please

  2. Using color is an innovative solution I haven’t seen elsewhere!

    I come at these things from the code perspective and I admit that I don’t fully understand how some kinds of poetry should be treated. One of the things I’ve found most difficult is finding good examples. I’d love to see pictures of poetry as it was meant to be presented and possible desirable layouts on narrow screens. That would give those of us who wrangle markup targets to strive for. Plenty of examples, labeled as markup challenges, would show up in web searches and would do much to move the state of art forward.

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