Well now, here’s a curio. Billed as a ‘perverse novel in verse’, Did you put the Weasels Out? is several things at once – the tragi-comic story of an Irish emigrant’s blossoming mid-life crisis, a re-imagining of the legend of Cú Chulainn and a formal experiment which begins as a series of Onegin sonnets and coagulates into a wild jumble of indices, footnotes and poems-within-poems. Ribald, raw and touchingly melancholic, it’s a work which veers between bathos and mythic grandeur at the turn of a page. At the very least, the ambition of the thing is impressive.
Bourke is an unquestionably talented poet. He flits deftly between forms and fills his verse with new-minted images. A broken fridge beeps ‘like a foul-mouthed, / reversing truck being interviewed before the watershed,’ while a Thames-side walk is strafed by ‘gulls that swoop and dive like stuka’. Reading in sequence brings its own rewards but the few tatters of plot strewn across the book are deliberately disrupted by callbacks and interruptions. Better, perhaps, to dip in and out and enjoy the highlights, like ‘River Retirement Blues’, a tender elegy to the decline of a working river, written in a series of slowly diminishing images.
Although Bourke’s milieu is chiefly the familiar and the everyday, a sense of distortion pervades, making many of his poems feel as half-drunk and bulbous as the pub-addled supporting cast of boozers, tramps and disgraced geologists. The effect can be a little overwhelming, as when the versifying spills right across the thanks page and into the back cover author biog. This is a restless debut brimming with ideas, yet often most effective in the scattered moments of quiet and calm. A dive inside is heartily recommended.
Did You Put The Weasels Out? is published by Eyewear Publishing and is available here.
Niall Bourke is from Kilkenny and studied at NUI Galway. He now lives in London and graduated from the Goldsmith’s University of London Writer/Teacher MA in 2015 (with distinction) and since then has been published widely in a number of journals and magazines in the UK and Ireland. He writes both poetry and prose and has been longlisted for The Short Story Award and shortlisted for The Over The Edge New Writer Of The Year Award (2015, 2016 and 2017), The Bare Fiction Poetry Prize, The Costa Short Story Award, The Cambridge International Short Story Prize and The Melita Hume Poetry Prize for best first collection for a poet under 35. In 2017 he was one of twelve poets selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series. Did You Put The Weasels Out? is his debut collection.
Reviewed by Nick Garrard
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