From Jen Webb, Review essay: Poetry in Australia and the John Leonard Press, http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct08/webb.htm, 2008:
‘A poet friend registers huge disdain for ‘all those poems about my broken heart’, and usually I agree. But although broken hearts are the topic of this collection (actually, not a collection; it’s a single piece in parts), Albiston’s work avoids cliché, sentimentality, and all the other sloppy elements of heartsick verse. We are not, here, drowned annoyingly in someone else’s sorrow, but moved rhythmically through moods and moments in a fashion that allows connection without in-your-face misery.
I suspect it is the cantata form, along with Albiston’s writing and humour, that prevent it from becoming a drag. In ‘Anacrusis’, for instance, the poetic persona is running checks of herself in a way that could, without the wry sensibility, be just too damn sad:
heartbeat head screwed on right way round check
breathing being bellringing check cooking crying calling friend(s) check
a bit of an appetite hmm ok check
I don’t know about you, but it made me laugh. Read it out loud, and listen to the patterns of consonants and verbs, stressed and unstressed syllables: despite the quotidian voice in this part, it is a highly musical book. Cantata is, of course, from the Italian to sing, and a cantata is a vocal composition. In its early days it was typically for only one or two voices, so Albiston’s work returns it to its roots.
[Vertigo] is a structured lament, and in the transparency of its structure, I think, implies that our feelings are as much composed or pre-scripted as they are felt. We grieve actually, materially; but we also grieve performatively, and Albiston’s work reminds readers that loss and recovery follow a social process that has its roots as much in discourse as in emotion. Recognizing this can instantiate a sort of inevitability that binds together the ‘natural’ body and all its emotions and passions, and the ‘cultured’ body with all the overlay of discourse and obligation.’
From Heather Taylor Johnson, Cordite, May 2008:
‘One might think a collection devoted entirely to a break-up could become tedious or lamentably repetitive, but Jordie Albiston ensures that each poem in Vertigo: a cantata has a unique vibrancy and separate tone. This is a book one can read again and again, since so much of it resonates with a universal experience of love and loss. But a personal identification with the book’s themes would not be the only thing compelling this reviewer’s return to this something-like-a-verse-novel collection; I also find its lyricism stirring.
Yet with her consistent variation of tempo and style, the voice remains authentic and the poet faithful to the rhythmical musicality of her words. And as each poem is a progression from shock and depression to acquiescence and compliance, here is a narrative I am willing to follow . . .
She also repeats the same motif or phrase throughout the collection; ‘the good trees’, for example, pops up many times. This repetition works not only to suggest a common stability in our world but to also represent a private, structured madness. Anyone who has ever dealt with a tragedy, be it large or small, can probably understand how this dichotomy can work. Albiston is clearly attuned. . .
I could find very little wrong with Vertigo: a cantata, as may be expected of Jordie Albiston, a prize winning poet, and this being her fifth collection in twelve years. The book is highly communicative on a level with which most will have the ability to connect (who hasn’t been hurt by the dissolution of a love?) and so it should be gobbled up by the masses. But it is due to Albiston’s finely tuned ear and dexterous hand, her insight into the workings of the spoken and written language, and their compatibilities with music, that the book should be praised by the critics.’
From David McCooey, Australian Book Review, October 2007, p.48:
‘Vertigo occupies the paradoxical space that powerful writing often does. It authoritatively images the loss of power; it evokes romance while seeking realist effects; it seeks the universal through the individual. In particular, it finds a way of expressing the most powerful emotions through the most restrictive of forms. The collection also works because of its lack of solemnity. There is much humour here. . . . The arc of the work is, appropriately for a musical work, partly circular, but it is also – as seen in the choruses, with their emphasis on praise and biblical analogues – a kind of redemption. But as the extraordinary final lines of “Finale” show, this process is not facile, but hard-won, “sung down the dark / years”. . . . If she hasn’t already, Jordie Albiston has shown herself to be a poet of the first order.’
Angela Gardner, foam:e, issue 6, http://www.foame.org/index.html:
Albiston handles her subject deftly, using both heightened language alongside the everyday to great effect. […] At all times this heightened language is kept under tight control allowing the work to use an incredible emotional breadth of language. [T]he breath, and therefore voice and meaning, is superbly crafted.
Albiston’s elegantly and intelligently wrought Vertigo is another important addition to a series that is proving a heavyweight in current Australian poetry publication.