Firewall, Dom Hale

Distance No Object, 2020    £5.00

Getting through the wall

Lots of poetry’s hard to understand, though we tend to pretend that’s not true. Anyway, usually there’s some blurb on the jacket that tells us what it’s ‘about’. This pamphlet, however, is unapologetically left-field. No blurb. No help.

But it starts with two uncredited quotations, both relating to walls (one’s easy, being from A Midsummer Night’s Dream). In the Shakespeare play-within-a-play, two lovers do communicate through a chink in a wall.

A ‘firewall’, though, prevents anything dangerous getting through. The wall that could prevent the reader from ‘getting’ this poet’s work is the barrier of confidence. How should you approach the secret codes of the poem (all poems have them)? Are you responding appropriately?

It’s a serial piece, in page-length sections. It follows a terraced format, starting at the left-hand side, indenting line by line in brief groups, then returning to the left. The first word of each line is capitalised in the old way. All is double-spaced. There’s no regular rhyme scheme — but internal rhyme bounces about, an unpredictable music. Much of the syntax is staccato, with rapid line breaks (sentence fragments) firing the rhythms forward.

Reading Firewall, for me, is like tuning an analogue radio, periodically picking up a station, then drifting back into crackle. I pick up a spectrum of urgently sincere emotions: anger, love, sarcasm, reassurance.  I’m in a world where commercialism and false promises soil everything, not least poetry. A key line (it occurs twice) is the last one: ‘None of our lives will be wasted’. 

Sometimes the clarity is simple, affective and personal:

The stuff you said

         One evening in Leith Depot

                  Broke my tipsy heart.

That’s what we’re about.

But it’s also true that during the ‘crackle’, I was often wrong-footed, uncertain, anxious not to mishear the voice coming through the wall, fearful that that I might let the poet, and myself, down.

You can find Dom Hale on YouTube reading this, though it’s helpful (and fascinating) to have the text on hand.

Helena Nelson