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Sundance Creativity -- Poetry Workshops

DESIGNING YOUR POETRY SITE

Literally thousands of poets are getting exposure to readers and publishers by having a web site devoted to their writing. With so many sites offering free web space, easy-to-use tools and even free promotion, creating your own poetry site is quick and painless.

But, as a stroll through almost any web ring will show you, many of these sites are poorly designed, difficult to read, and all-in-all detrimental to the poet. You don't have to be a master web designer to make a good site, though -- just use a little common sense, and our guide to creating an attractive website to display your poetry.

THE VERY BASICS

A little knowledge of HTML is necessary. (If you have no idea what HTML is, click here.) There are several WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") site creation tools out there, and you don't have to know a tag from an attribute to use them; but they often result in sites that will not look good in all the major browsers. To be sure your site doesn't crash and burn, you have to know the code.

Every browser interprets HTML a little differently; some are more forgiving of minor errors than others. Some have big trouble with the newest developments such as Java and Cascading Style Sheets. Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, the two most popular browsers, allow for non-standard HTML codes that will only work properly on their own browsers. Unless you are 99.9% positive that the visitors to your web site will all be using the same browser, it is a bad idea to use browser-specific codes. Trust the web design experts -- most WYSIWYG tools do not conform to HTML 4.0 standards; you will end up with a site that looks the way it should only 50% of the time, or even less.

If you want a good web site, it is worth a little time and effort to get to know the language behind it. HTML is not difficult to learn, and there are many helpful books and sites that can teach you the basics. One we highly recommend for beginners is The Complete Idiot's Guide to HTML 4.0. Using fun, simple language, it will show you everything you need to get started.

WHERE SHOULD I PUT IT?

If the sole purpose of your site is to display your poetry, then it is probably not necessary to go through the time and expense of registering a unique domain name and locating a host. Free web space is abundant. Most of these providers will give you large amounts of room -- anywhere from 5 to 50 megabytes to store all your pages and images. All they ask in return is a little bit of advertising space on your site. This usually comes in the form of a banner ad on the top of your page or in a small pop-up window. In this way, the hosting site can make money AND give away their services to you at the same time. There are a few free hosts that do not require ad space, but they typically offer less room for your site. The Free Webpage Provider Review compares over 160 free hosts, so you can make the best choice for your needs.

LAYOUT BASICS

OK, you know enough HTML to squeeze by, and you've found the place to put it. Before you start coding away, develop a basic plan for how you want your site to appear. Look around at some other poets' sites to see what they're doing. (Lower on this page we point you to three different poetry sites and discuss what makes them work.) Take a stroll through Web Pages That Suck to learn good design by looking at bad design. Sketch your design out on paper. Be sure to include the basic elements:
A Title
You'd be surprised how many sites don't tell you, right off the bat at the top of the page, what the site is about! Your title can be simple (Laura's Poems) or something catchy (Laura's Lair of Poetry). Be sure it indicates clearly what your site is about.
Navigation
Don't put everything on just one page. Most surfers will tell you they dislike scrolling down through screen after screen of text. Divide your poems up into categories or themes, if possible. Put a small group of poems (between 2 and 5, depending on the length of the poems) on each page. And every page must include navigation links. At the very least, include a link back to your home page; but it is a good idea to provide full navigation options on every page. You should plan a short list of page titles that can be placed at the bottom of each page.
Feedback
An email link to you, or a guestbook. You want to know what your visitors think of your poetry, right? Include an easy to find place for them to provide feedback. Free guestbooks (including the HTML code you'll need to put them on your page) can be found at Guestworld, among other places.

CONTENT

Choose the poems that will go on your site carefully. Make sure you are displaying your best work. Include your published poems. And again, if possible, organize them into collections by theme, date, etc.

Write out a short biography that introduces you, your publication credits, etc. Aim for a friendly but straight-forward style. Stick to the things that matter most; facts like your high school GPA, your brothers' and sisters' names, what you do in your spare time (besides writing) won't be of much interest to your site's visitors, unless these things directly relate to your poetry. Writing this all out in advance will give you time to polish it up into a clear, professional bio.

Many poets' sites also include links to their favorite poetry resources and zines online. Keep focused on the theme of poetry -- don't link to search engines, movie sites, etc. And remember, once your site is online, to check your links often to make sure the sites are still available. There are few things more frustrating to a surfer than finding a link that seems to be just what you're looking for, only to end up with an error message.

COLOR

One of the biggest mistakes made by web designers of all skill levels is choosing a poor color scheme. Everything needs to be considered -- the background color or image of the page itself, the text colors, and colors used in any graphics you choose. Above all, you want your poetry to be readable. Choose colors that complement each other, but make sure there is plenty of contrast between the background color or image and the text itself. If one is light, the other should be dark. Avoid neon shades, which can be hard on the eyes.

If you want to use an image or texture for the background of your page, be very careful. A bold, detailed image or texture will make your text extremely difficult to read, no matter what color you choose for the text. And placing other graphics over a wildly-patterned background will give a cluttered, claustrophobic appearance to the site.

GRAPHICS

Too many web designers throw on any graphic that they think is cool. Their pages are overflowing with cute animations, banner ads, image links, web ring logos, etc. This only increases the download time, and contributes nothing to the overall style of the page.

Use graphics only if they add something of value to your site. A image that represents thematic collections of poetry can be used as a link as well as a descriptive piece. Small, simple dividing lines can add a nice touch in separating blocks of text. Keep all the images small, if possible. If you want to use a larger image, use an online image optimizer (see our Web Graphics page) that will make very slight alterations to the image in order to increase download speed. Never use more than one or two animations per page, and keep the total number of graphics around six or fewer. And again, be very careful in using any images overtop a bold background image or texture.

PRESENTATION

It can be tough sometimes to make a poem look good on a web page. Some people choose to center everything; but if the poem uses short lines, this leaves a lot of open, empty space around it. Left-aligning also leaves a big gap if short lines are used. An alternative is to use the <BLOCKQUOTE> tag, which will indent the text from the left and the right, putting it in a center column, but without actually centering each line.

If a poem demands unique spacing, it's tricky to get it to work right in code. Use the <PRE> tag to force the page to accept the poem the way it was formatted in your text editor.

POETRY SITE EXAMPLES

NOTE: These links will open a new browser window.

Sam at Home
Sam's site is pure simplicity. It has none of the bells and whistles that clutter up many pages -- banner ads, web rings, guest books, unrelated images. A pale background sets off the text well, and the texture prevents the page from seeming TOO plain. It is a good site to browse, since the poems are organized into "chapters". It is uncluttered and easy to navigate.

Poetry by Rachel Dacus
This is a pretty, welcoming, feminine site. Notice that Rachel's background image is soft and unobtrusive. You have no problem reading the text over top the background. The links to other parts of her site are prominently displayed, making it easy to navigate. She uses few graphics, since the background lends color and interest to the page. The first page has a lot of text, but it is still reasonably quick to download. The information is useful and purposeful -- her credits as a writer, recommended links, etc. -- and is well-organized and uncluttered. The only drawback is that it is not optimized for viewing in a variety of resolutions; my monitor is set to 800x600 resolution, and I have to use the scroll bar to move to the right and view the full title. But since all the text is in a centered table column, this minimizes the effect of not taking other resolutions into account.

SUMMARY -- DO'S AND DON'TS

DO plan out your site in advance -- layout, color scheme, selecting poems, writing your bio.
DON'T overload on the graphics -- they should add something of value to the site.
DON'T use bold, detailed background images if you want your text to be readable.
DO use care in positioning your poems.
DON'T put too much text on any one page.

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This page last updated September 26, 1999

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