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  • Kyle Lovell

(REVIEW) Firewall by Dom Hale

A black and white striped book cover on a black background with the quote in green text 'Tip your phone off the suspension bridge'

Kyle Lovell circles the lakes and traces the circular motions of Dom Hale’s Firewall (Distance No Object, 2020), asking how a poem, as ‘sincere form of expression’, might be made ‘open-source’ for the reader.

It has taken me a long while to write about the experience of reading Dom Hale’s Firewall. I suppose the period was a quiet one. Firewall is a slim pamphlet, composed of thirty ‘unlucky’ sonnets and bound in a cover of horizontal monochrome bars. It was published by Distance No Object in 2020, just as the afternoons had begun to shorten into dusks. As such, each subsequent reading around the lakes meant that the light faded a little earlier with each day.

It was during those blue-grey afternoons that I read and reread Firewall, loitering around the blue-grey-green lakes I’d grown familiar with during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. As I read into the evenings, the sky would take on a drenched grey shading, not dissimilar to that of the lake’s concrete walls, though it would always stay lighter and warmer than I expected. They were bright and miserable days; utterly perfect for reading these bright and miserable poems.

Though, before I begin to talk about Hale’s poems, I must be a little gauche in my thinking. You see, in John Berger’s review of Max Raphael’s The Demands of Art (1968), he stakes a claim as to the nature of the key crisis that has plagued artists since 1848: ‘“the transformation of the spiritual value of [the artist’s] work into property value’”. This is otherwise known as the bourgeois art industrial complex. This is the industry of journals that seeks to transform the artist’s work into the ‘moral property’ of the property-owning classes. As Hale writes, the artist is:

Circling the Slacking earth The professionalisation of poetry I chirrup in endless binary From the White House to the White Review.

These circular movements of writing repeat as unbroken circuits, all ones-and-twos, the sum of which end up in the same institutions (with the same editors (awarding the same prizes (to the same people))). It’s in this snare of a literary industry that we may slip into the utter joy of Hale’s poetics, as the lines sabotage the mechanisms from within. This is what Alex Grafen eloquently calls ‘an earwormish recycling and reworking of the sound and shape of line and phrase’. This is lyric labouring through e-commerce and dull poesy, reconfiguring the alignment of technical language into something that can be communicated as care.

By rerouting the brain worms of contemporary online culture and wage labour into rejections of expected social communication, the reader is offered a way into a sincere form of expression. ‘Just say what you think. / Stop bothering with these magazines’.

If Tom Raworth’s ‘Firewall’ has the potential to go on forever as a mathematical constant (with each stanza’s line length corresponding to the numerical digits of pi), then Hale’s thirteen-line sonnets look to reconfigure set codes into shared irregularity. After all, if ‘[a] SIM looks like a wall’ and establishes boundaries to sincere communication among the social, then we ought to tear it down. We ought to stock-take, look to those around us doing good work, and ‘just tear it the fuck down’.

Form reveals to the extent To which it is arbitrary. Trust me.

So! Make the poem open-source for the reader, leave space to think and live through the lines. Write thirteen-line sonnets so that the reader can linger the potential of what is unwritten, unsaid. In Hale’s Firewall, there is space to be carved out for us in the poem’s quick-flit asides, their communal tiredness, and the sincere dedication to eschew the linear barriers of contemporary social life. Because all of this is miserable. All of this is bright.

It’s the worst. Sewn up. Chips and cheese Beside the community centre. Tip your phone off the suspension bridge.


Text: Kyle Lovell

Published: 25/6/21


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