By Herself001
”A Cadenced Privacy”
Brenda Hillman
in By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry
Edited by Molly McQuade
Graywolf Press

“Here are some brief reflections on instances of thoughtful punctuation…

a. Minimal punctuation as a strong aesthetic move

The opening of a poem called "Skirting" by Dale Going goes like this:

          I don't want my legs to show

          I don't     want

          my legs     to show

          I'm willing

          I ripped my skirt off

          the first story     (in which I am featured)

          my mother having forgotten
          the wooden clothespins which were my
          usual toys     not having them to gum
          & grip instead I ripped my skirt off

In texts with paucity of "normal" punctuation the interaction between space and punctuation can be shy. Poems with little or no punctuation participate in the first world, before the senses were in collusion with particulars.

In "Skirting" an interplay between femaleness and camouflage is explored. The lack of punctuation opens the poem to several indeterminate readings, skirting the subject, as it were. A skirt poem reveals by hiding. After "willing," there are two alternatives because there's no semi-colon: either "instead" can be read with "willing" (after all, it is in the same stanza) or with what follows. In either case, legs in their doubleness are hidden.

The most meaningful markers are the parentheses, the only formal punctuation in the poem. They fall like a little skirt, calling attention to (in a private aside) the introduction of self-consciousness.”
– pp.175-6