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Setting poetry is as much an art as a science and yet there are some rules and techniques that can help you set poems quickly. One common method for typesetting a poem is to ensure that it's centered in the column not centering every line, but rather positioning the whole poem still flush left so that the longest line of the poem is centered in the column. For example, in this poem by Tennyson, we can see that the longest line of the poem is the last one just by a hair. I want to make sure that the whole poem is centered in the column so that this last line is centered.
To do that I'm going to double-click on this paragraph, and that switches from the Selection tool to the Type tool, and that places the flashing cursor in the line. Then, I'm going to come up to my Control panel and make sure that I'm set to the paragraph formatting controls. That's this little character over here on the left. Next, I'll click on the Align Center button, and that centers that one paragraph. Now remember, what I'm trying to do is set the left indent of every line of this poem so that the last line will become centered. But what should that left indent be? Well, I'm going to click to the left of that w, right at the beginning of the paragraph, and I would like to find out what the cursor position is.
That is, how far is it from that left edge of the column to that position? And it turns out that InDesign actually tells me. This is a really weird and little-known feature, but if I look up here at the control panel, we'll see a number that's grayed out, and that number is the cursor position. That is, how far over from the left column the cursor currently is. I actually have no idea why Adobe put that information there, but it turns out to be really useful in this situation. Because I can look at that, and figure out that's what I want my left indent to be for all of those paragraphs.
Now right now, my measurement system is set to picas, so this tells me that it's 5 picas, 9.595 points over. If it were set to millimeters or inches then the measurement would be in those measurement systems. Now in this case I'm just going to round to the nearest say 10th of a point so I know that this left indent should be 5 ficas 9.6. Great I'll undo that centering with a Cmd+Z or a Ctrl+Z on Windows. I'll select all the lines in the poem and then I'm going to come up here to the left indent and I'm going to replace that. Five pica, 9.6 points, I'll hit Return or Enter and now the entire poem is centered in the column.
Let's try it for one more poem, something with longer lines. I'll press Shift page down to jump to this next page. In this poem by Walt Whitman, you'll see that some of the lines are very long. So long that they actually carry over and they break from one line to the next. I've set up the left indent on these paragraphs so that you'll see that the subsuquent lines are indented. And I'll click in one of these paragraphs and show you how I did that. You'll see that the left indent is set to two picas, and the first line indent is set to minus two picas. That is, in each of these paragraphs, the whole paragraph is pushed over two picas and the first line is pulled back to minus two picas.
In other words, back to zero. That's how I set up the hanging indent. So now, how are we going to center this poem? Once again, we click inside the longest line of the poem. In this case I think it's this last one. It might be the first one, it's hard to tell. And then I center it. I'll center that paragraph, click to the left of this B at the beginning of the paragraph. Look at my number, 0 picas, 10.359. Okay. So I'm going to round that to 10.4 points. So I'll undo this, set it back to left indent, and now, I need to change my left indent, so that it's 10.4 points over from what it is currently.
I'd better select all the lines of the poem, come back up here to the left indent, and then I'm simply going to type plus 10.4 pt. That plus symbol means that it's going to add 10.4 points to whatever was there, originally. I love that ability to do math inside this field. So I could say two picas plus the amount that I want to add. Hit enter, and you'll see that it does the math for me. And it centers all of those lines in the column. Of course, this won't work for all poetry. There are plenty of EE Cummings, or Shel Silverstein poems. Which can only be set one line at a time with careful positioning, but if you need to lay out a book of poetry quickly this basic technique can really help get the job done pretty quickly.
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