From the Winner’s Comment, Kenneth Slessor Prize 2010, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards:
It is tempting to describe this collection as flawless. The placement of each poem, and each syllable in each poem, is brilliantly orchestrated. There is a deft manipulation of form, rhyme and tone and a dextrous movement between the immediate and personal and the historical. One cannot fail to respond to the zest and verve of this collection or to the strength of mind and sensibility that informs it. This book demonstrates just how exciting, up-to-date, and enjoyable a good collection can be.
From Geoff Page, The Canberra Times, February 13, 2010:
The dominant impression left by The Sonnet According to M is of its technical wizardry. One thinks of the plethora of internal rhymes as well as end-rhymes and of the way Albiston can effortlessly run a sequence on triple rhythm lines which end in the middle of what some other readers may hear as an iambic line. It’s almost like reading two poems at once.
She further challenges herself by using material from the lives and/or writings of two of her female ancestors … these make an important contrast with the linguistic and technical hijinks seen in many of the other poems where the iconoclastic ghost of E. E. Cummings may be felt.
The Sonnet According to M is certainly an ‘experimental’ book but, unlike many experiments in and out of the laboratory, it is, overall impressively successful. With ‘Methinx (i)’ and ‘Minimus’ Albiston even manages a couple of sonnets in contemporary SMS (or ‘textese’) and makes perfect sense — which may, or may not, be a world first.
From Michelle Borzi, Island, 2010:
Edna St. Vincent Millay sounded a mixed note of defiance and reverence when she wrote, in sonnet form, of the sonnet’s capacity to be both compact and expansive: ‘I will put Chaos into fourteen lines / And keep him there’. Jordie Albiston’s the sonnet according to ‘m’ also pays homage to the fourteen-line poem: the entire book is a sonnet sequence, with all the titles beginning with ‘m’ or ‘em’. This repetition is perhaps one of the very few grounding notes for anyone coming to this poetry expecting the sonnet’s stability. When stability does occur, it seems to be arbitrary, except that the sonnets are superbly crafted.
‘Chaos into fourteen lines’ might well describe the restless energy throughout the book: ‘maelstrom #104’, for example, hints at surreal landscapes. The speaker obsessively circles on metaphors of currency. Even the cosmos is governed by figures:
o what a night as long as your arm or a decade of
civil unrest & o what a plate of planets & stars
pressing down softly upon my soft breast I have
nothing left to pay for this my purse & soul are
spent the bank has placed caveats on all that I
am & mortgaged off my head I search my self
for a coin or two to toss into the nacreous sky
but I’m skint I’m broke I’ve blown the whole pelf.
The speaker’s agitation is offset by jauntiness, with the traditional form providing a rhythmic shape for the disquieting tension. I’m reminded here of Louise Bogan’s ‘Single Sonnet’: ‘Now, you great stanza, you heroic mould, / Bend to my will’. Albiston too plays with the idea of ‘will’. A lively experimentation with form and metre, and a precision with catching states of mind, are equally important in this book. It is possible to find clarity and meaning in ‘maelstrom #104’, and even an underlying unity in the book, but explication of experience is not the whole point.
Other poems also fixate on currency; some are compulsively about numbers. Of the latter, ‘maths’, ‘math (after)’ and ‘embryo’, explore the idea that the universe might be ordered mathematically. Yet such poems also boldly engage in a psychic wrestle with the world, pushing at the extremities of both orderliness and confusion. In the heartrending ‘mansfield (k)’, a highly wrought frustration builds to breaking point. The tantalising poems, ‘madness’, ‘murder’ and ‘mutation’, explicitly burst into darkness and uncertainty. Albiston’s language pushes at and beyond the confines of form, showing mind and body in turmoil.
The five mural poems about graffiti are low-key: in their flatness of tone, these poems lose the heightened command of voice that appears elsewhere in the book. The speaker hits an unaccustomed moral note that sits uneasily. For this reader, these are the only poems that disappoint. This is not so for the three poems, ‘methinx (i)’, ‘minimus’ and ‘monastic’, which are written in SMS. The new language is at once odd and curiously suitable to poetry: it reinforces the fluidity of language, and also provides a salient contrast with the social world of the poet’s forebears, who feature as characters in some poems. ‘Methinx (i)’ homes in on the loneliness of the individual caught up in the rapid pace of technological change: ‘we dont talk cos / txt sez wot we got 2 say’ and ‘life goes fast / 2 fast 2 liv’.
A response to chaos may be found in ‘maximus’, with its joy in song and the cello; and in ‘magi’, with its acknowledgement that ‘it’s the writing that matters’. Yet ideas of music and language offer only momentary points of stability. Albiston’s the sonnet according to ‘m’ is preoccupied with tension and its place in the scheme of things. Even the Tibetan monk in the concluding poem, ‘mandala’, who ‘sings the world in harmonics / (to synchronise the spheres)’, ultimately has to begin his task again and again: ‘the tibetan monk makes the world out of sand / (he sweeps it away with his hand’. Albliston omits the final bracket.
From Stephen Lawrence, Overland, 2010
Albiston is a lively and diverse poet. . . her own poetry experiments with attitude, ethics and structure.
Three female voices – past, present and future – guide us through the collection. The poet’s voice begins with death and travels backwards, reviewing her life, and finishing in a time before her birth.
This is a very large advance on her previous collection. . . The musicality in the new book is employed in a more sophisticated manner, employing discreet formalities. The games and cracked reversals can produe a cheeky lyricism: ‘everything’s so fragile but it’s a beautiful!/ night everything’s so beautiful but fragile’ (‘memory’).