The main danger with a collection that only contains 16 relatively short poems is that they all need to be excellent or at the very least good. Even four mediocre or bad poems might ruin the entire pamphlet since they constitute one fourth thereof. This is not to say that one cannot make any mistakes at all. The Outsider is no different than any other poetry collection in that respect.
It is important to note that some of the mistakes are orthographical, such as “tred” instead of “tread”. Whilst not detrimental to the collection per se, it is a small detail that should have been remedied during editing. However, this is only a minor point of criticism unless, of course, the orthographic mistake is deliberate, although to what effect is unclear. The same cannot be said for the overall structure of the poems. Most consist of two or three lines and give the impression of something that has been chopped up for no reason other than regularity. One could argue that the reason for this structure is that it is supposed to convey a sense of impartiality, that every event is analysed rather than experienced, but the poems flow somewhat like a ballad – or would – if not for the impeding structure. A final point of criticism is that some stylistic devices are used rather heavy-handedly,
like frost as we drive: past patches
of bright green grass, coke cans floating.
Arguably, the staccato-like implementation of alliteration is meant to represent the swiftness with which images pass by when driving; however, the triple alliteration seems contrived. This is mainly because of the tautological nature of “green grass”, and its appearance in a sequence of three different alliterations in one entire line or indeed the entire paragraph. A good example of Weir’s use of a more flowing alliterative style is “unpick stars like stitches from sheets of disused glass”. Moreover, this is complemented and reinforced by consonance and sibilance. The overall audible effect is stronger since one stylistic device feeds into the next. The above is perhaps the best example of how Weir’s poetry flows, and it is for this reason that exceptions like “green grass” are stand out negatively by comparison.
Another important aspect of the collection is its lack of pretentiousness. Perhaps this is the case because of the immediacy of the poems: they describe scenes both in urban and rural settings, as well as events that are common enough to be accessible but rare enough to be considered special, such as finding the remains of a cow in “Vultures”. This poem, along with “The Outsiders” and “The Water-carrier”, might be considered a trilogy of poems within the pamphlet, as they describe similar events in similar ways. For instance,
Turning on the air; wisps of its torn coat
Still covered in mud and shit, stringing from the steel fence
is reminiscent of
traces of the sun’s DNA remain in my eyes
and scatter amid the tall thistles and long grass and discs
of cow shit as I search you out again.
Apart from being an example of unaffectedness, Weir contrasts a beautiful (or indeed in the case of “the sun’s DNA” almost trippy) statement with the decidedly unglamorous image of shit. “The Outsiders” differs in that the animal is rescued, not dying or dead as in the other two, but the language and imagery are used in a similar fashion. Weir’s first collection benefits greatly from contrast, ambivalence, and the symbiosis of certain poems. It has its irregularities, but the collection’s positive aspects far outweigh the negative. In short, it is certainly “small [but] beautiful”.