Labyrinth, Rosemary Hector
Handsel Press, 2018 £5.00
Writing without punctuation
I am interested in punctuation in poems. There are more options than there used to be. Once upon a time, poets simply didn’t use dashes, for example, and ellipsis was rare. But now almost any combination is possible, including none at all. Sometimes none at all works well. But punctuation is essentially a structuring device, I think, so if it’s not there, line breaks have to work for their money, and sometimes other techniques, such as gaps between words (though not here) come into play.
The final piece in Labyrinth, using no punctuation at all (the only poem in the pamphlet to be formatted without any), explores the idea of hierarchies.
‘dust’ says the poet (who also omits capital letters in this poem) ‘is democratic’. If writing behaved like dust, there would be ‘no hierarchy of lower and upper case’. It’s a playful comment, and the style is playful too, and light in its touch.
As the dust idea progresses, the poem seems to me to gather sibilance, perhaps an aural dust correlative.
But right from the opening line, the idea of dust-mote freedom is curiously attractive – ‘if I wrote like that mote of dust that floats free’ – then, it seems, other possibilities would open.
And perhaps they do, because the poem travels easily on, and takes the reader just as easily with it. It moves from comparing writing to ‘that mote of dust’ to reminding the reader that ‘we were made of it / and to it we shall return therefore dust shows / there is no full stop to our lives’.
Nor a full stop to the poem. The omission of punctuation allows the text to re-enact its subject, and at the same time it draws the reader into a harmonious ‘we’, rather a lovely place for a collection of poems to pause rather than stop, since there isn’t one:
we are motes that circulate accumulating more
motes and settling to write like dust might be possible
in the spaces between our togetherness