A photo image of a desktop filofax; title in red, author in black typewriter typeface, bottom rightMy Boss, Niall M. Oliver

Hedgehog Press, 2020    £5.99

Polyester snake

We’ve all experienced bosses, one way or another, and so can probably relate to Niall M. Oliver’s wry poems. The first, ‘My Boss…’, sets the tone. Its author completely overturns any sense of deference — starting with the description of his boss’s suit as ‘army or cow pat green’, before going on to develop the cow metaphor and envisaging his boss                 

                               being plopped
from the back end of a bovine.

Every single poem in this collection has that same title — ‘My Boss…’. This sets up a mantra of expectation — what will the poet turn to next? In the third, very succinct one, we learn the boss hisses ‘As if he’s sprung a leak’. Oliver uses the consonant ‘s’ throughout the poem to reinforce the sliminess of this ‘polyester snake’.

The sixth poem also refers to the colour green and suggests snake-like behaviour:

green trousers by his ankles
as if halfway through shedding his skin

The poet revisits this image in the ninth. Here, the boss’s inheritance of some land causes Oliver to wonder whether a snake analogy still fits — only to then come up with a new image, equally slippery:

the sea cucumber
possesses neither heart nor balls.

He draws me, the reader, into the conspiracy of secrecy about what the author truly thinks of his boss. Ironically, in a poem about nicknames, he writes:

But I never write it down. Not on sticky post-it notes
or emails.
Definitely not in poems.

In the final poem we return to snakes with the comment ‘Life’s too short and snakes are long’. In deciding to leave his job and of course his boss, Oliver sums up what has been a toxic relationship in the line ‘We are like polyester and hot iron’. The two can damage each other. I loved the final touch in the sign off:

Niall. (Personal Mobile Number: 0775201553)

Adding that personal touch somehow puts a poignant stamp of authenticity on the whole sequence!

Sue Wallace-Shaddad