Vertigo & Ghost explodes into furious life with a series of poems and fragments about the Greek god Zeus and what some sources have referred to as his 'erotic escapades' ... overall this extraordinary cacophony of voices (Ted Hughes’s Crow rewritten by Anne Carson) is an addictive, thrilling, sickening experience ... The reader is always being subtly moved on, and the book ends where the personal meets the political, in a series of poems that are looser and more flowing in their language ... Vertigo & Ghost is a book of two halves: one merely very good, the other quite out of this world.
Benson, a great describer of the natural world, habitually connects the vulnerability of wild things to that of human beings. She often takes you at once to the porous divide between the human and the animal and to the equally permeable boundary between life and death ... It’s this kind of life that Benson excels at describing – one surrounded by hazard and in danger of vanishing altogether ... It evokes the fear and pain of having and losing children, of giving birth and seeing one’s body change, and it does so with all the descriptive attentiveness of the earlier volume. But there are strong new elements too ... These poems are powerful feminist alternatives to Ted Hughes’s transformations of Ovid ... That moment pulls together a lot of the delicate threads which run through Benson’s writing and make it so good: the delicacy of a spider’s web, at once a form of protection and a snare, the desire to break free, the hope that ‘the sublime’ (or poetry) can offer a release. It also has an unsettling edge of violence (‘rip ... tear me out’). The whole collection longs for poems to be stronger than poems can be: a poem can’t change the violent truths beneath classical myths, or rewrite the past.
Her poetry is in turn thrilling, dizzying, devastating, lyrical, distinctive, and this is a bombshell of a collection ... The first section uses classical mythology as a structural allegory, challenging common perspectives of the ur-god Zeus, including how he and his characteristics are represented in modern times ... Yet through adult eyes, our modern lens, the acts that Zeus engaged in—rape, murder, treachery, lying and theft—question who we mistakenly admire, surrender our agency to, and allow to have unadulterated, unquestionable power ... As affecting as the allegories were in the first half of the collection, the second peels into Benson’s experiences and anxieties as a woman, and as a mother of daughters. The two parts are connected, deeply, because in our mythology, in our history, in our present, our daughters aren’t safe: they are always subject to capricious gods, or selfish men, or despots, or nature itself ... Vertigo & Ghost is in every way—sound, syntax, and linguistic impact—indelible poetry that is used in service of expression, revelation and instigation. Benson effortlessly wields striking language and oft-times shocking imagery in a way that leaves readers thrilled by the experience of the poem while devastated by its content. We tremble on that sharp high wire, miles up from the ground, buffeted by her themes and language, stabilized by her assured hand.