I love punctuation marks. Not just the inventiveness behind them (squiggles, slants, dashes, dots), but the way they work. Punctuation marks help the reader know what the writer of a sentence is trying to say.
So I’m very sad to see the fading-away of the hyphen as a mark that helps the reader understand the writer’s intent. Ad writers are particularly guilty of ignoring this punctuation mark: perhaps they think the hyphen is too tiny to convey anything of importance. They are oh so wrong.
One day several years ago I was hit by two unrelated ads (the “sex party” was in a newsletter, the “never” was on a shopping bag) which I read the wrong way.
The Tie That Binds
The hyphen once connected
what hadn’t yet coalesced,
protected words from prematurely
bumping or stubbornly jumping back
to apartness. Base ball bounced
into base-ball before it reached home;
to day grooved into to-day before becoming
current. But few seek connections these days,
except for the kind that rack up
unearned favors or lead to higher-
paying jobs — not the kind that help patch
cracks in thinking. Sex party for twenty
three year olds. She holds you
in her arms and you feel never
before love. Tidal waves
drown ember glows
This poem appears in Barbara Gregorich’s Crossing the Skyway: Poems.