Lindsay Tigue begins her debut book, Iowa Poetry Prize-winning System of Ghosts, with the declaration “I can’t force myself to believe in any old / almanac,” and throughout her book, her poems exhibit an implicit refusal to accept knowledge her speakers have not earned. The effect of this outlook on her poetry’s world is marvelous: Tigue’s poems shine with a curiosity that takes daily living at its mundane word, sometimes beautiful and often not, both personally and socially significant. As she says in a later poem, “I’m just / waiting for reasons to measure.” In her book, reasons to measure abound.
The speaker in System of Ghosts travels widely (to Michigan, Iowa, Georgia, Guatemala, France) while maintaining a close, sometimes near-claustrophobic focus on learning how the past informs the present. Repeatedly, watershed moments—whether past relationships or the decimation of buffalo herds—are made into personal experiences, allowing further possibilities for speaker and reader alike to understand the need to care for the past. As a result, this task of care, whether for artifacts, abandoned places, or stories, takes on an ethical charge. Even if one can’t “fix it all before you go,” Tigue’s poetry emphasizes that its readers carry history with them, and that if speaker and reader are “a town / for ghosts,” then attempting to care for personal or social memory becomes a form of self-care. With a consistently understated yet searching tone—similar to her snow-covered landscapes in its ability to crystallize, clarify, and isolate all at once—Tigue keeps her reader’s attention on her clearly delineated set of concerns through her deft use of formal variation via faux-interviews, experimental poems, prose pieces, sequences, and traditional lyrics.
Tigue creates a book that thematically coheres while stretching across a wide expanse of narrative concerns. She ends her final poem with the line, “When I wake, all I remember are wires.” And yet, while these poems leave readers with a new understanding of underlying imaginary structures, her readers are also left with a more full-bodied experience than most debut poets achieve. Readers can only look forward to Tigue’s next book with anticipation for the continued attention she will give to living in a world weighted with what has come before. Tigue’s poetics in System of Ghosts are richly filled with “wanting to see / how the world is made” and her book reacquaints her readers with that desire.
You can purchase System of Ghosts here.
Jeremy Michael Reed is a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee. His poems have appeared in Still: the Journal, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere. In Knoxville, he works for Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts and co-directs The Only Tenn-I-See Reading Series. More of his work can be found on his website.
Swan Spree Park, Former DDR Amusement Park, 2014hand-sewn archival ink jet printDiane Meyer