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System of Ghosts

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Winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize

“System of Ghosts explores frontiers vanishing and gone. With a restless intelligence, Lindsay Tigue’s poems seek to know, to measure, to recover histories nearly lost. In these pages the world and the self are fantasized, destroyed, shared like an orange, abandoned like a rough draft, as unforgettable as the dead.”—Traci Brimhall, Our Lady of the Ruins

“Lindsay Tigue’s work presents a vision, dominated by geography and natural history, uniquely paired with emotional imagination—the not-there-ness that coexists with its there-ness. This crush together, her feelings always a bit estranged from her, replaced by her gravitation to facts that she has remembered.”—Diane Wakoski, Bay of Angels

“In her first book, Tigue has mastered a technique of taking facts and using them as a springboard to wherever her imagination leads her. ” —NewPages

Iowa Poetry Prize Judge’s Citation:

“Lindsay Tigue has, first and foremost, a curious mind: her poems are motored by information. Bits of knowledge, gathered magpie-like, which others might consider trivia–the origins of the red and green on traffic lights, the different ways distant towns told time before railroads connected them, the composition of the asteroid Ceres–spur these poems toward startling personal and public insights. As in the poetry of Robyn Schiff and the prose of Eula Biss, these esoteric facts, knit together carefully and with a gentle sense of mischievous humor, come to generalize about human suffering and hope.”—Craig Morgan Teicher, To Keep Love Blurry

In System of Ghosts, Lindsay Tigue details the way landscape speaks to isolation and personhood, how virtual and lived networks alter experience. She questions how built environments structure lives, how we seek out information within these spaces, and, most fundamentally, how we love.

Rooted in the personal, the speaker of this collection moves through society and history, with the aim of firmly placing herself within her own life and loss. Facts become an essential bridge between spatial and historical boundaries. She connects us to the disappearance of species, abandoned structures, and heartbreak—abandoned spaces that tap into the searing grief woven into society’s public places. There is solace in research, one system this collection uses to examine the isolation of contemporary life alongside personal, historical, and ecological loss. While her poems are intimate and personal, Tigue never turns away from the larger contexts within which we all live.

System of Ghosts is, at its core, an act of reaching out—across time, space, history, and across the room. 

84 pages, Paperback

First published April 4, 2016

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About the author

Lindsay Tigue

5 books14 followers
Lindsay Tigue is the author of System of Ghosts, winner of the 2015 Iowa Poetry Prize and published by the University of Iowa Press in 2016. She writes poetry and fiction and her work appears in Prairie Schooner Blackbird, Rattle, diode, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other journals. She was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and has received a James Merrill fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. She is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University and is a current PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. She is a former assistant to the editors at the Georgia Review. She is originally from Michigan and now lives in Athens, Georgia.

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5 stars
24 (55%)
4 stars
11 (25%)
3 stars
6 (13%)
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2 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Es Summer .
72 reviews161 followers
January 20, 2016
*ARC kindly received by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

This book was like a ghost itself,
Its presence so thinly,
Like a faint whisper of the wind,
A fleeting thought passing by,
You feel something, but it's so half-hearted, that it doesn't register.

I am an emotional reader. A sensitive reader.
I don't read informative books much, because they bore me. I want words that touch me on some deeper level. I want a connection with the main narrator, the story or the author.
I want to think: this is an author that understands me. I want to have a cup of tea with this said author and talk about life. (J.D. Salinger, I love you.)
Like I said, I am an emotional junkie and I seek something.

System of Ghosts appealed to me, because I liked the idea of poetry and realism.
The way landscapes speak to isolation and how heartbreak is found in public places.
However, the way this book was written felt too flat for me.
Not personal or emotional. More like an informative school book that you are forced to read.
Sometimes you read something interesting and think: this isn't so bad.
Some sentences were interesting and enlightening.
But mostly I didn't feel a spirit in this book.

An example:
"Everything - houses, churches, bridges, walls - is the same sandy gray so that the city seems like a single construction of inconceivable complexity."

Not my cup of tea.

Profile Image for Jenny.
99 reviews77 followers
October 16, 2016
Rake your palm through tree rot. /Rub its umber matter against your shins. /Seek silence that fills with pine trunk creak. /And after you settle in this shifting, lose / largeness. Lose any sense of it at all. from For the Ghost You Might Become

I was reading the novel Lions by Bonnie Nadzam while reading System of Ghosts. Had I consciously tried to couple up books according to subject matter I couldn't have found a better match. One of the things that resonated with me most in both Nadzam's novel and Lindsay Tigue's collection of poetry was the idea of absence being a presence in itself. The space someone leaves behind when they're gone, the subtle presence of a life once lived in a now abandoned house, the places that no longer exist, but hold a space inside of us.

System of Ghosts has three parts, held together by a series of poems called 'Abandoned Places', forming an anchor to the collection.
Tigue's poems seem to try to capture the world in it's multitudes of facets, tracing it back to the origins, both curious for the source as well as afraid to leave anything behind.
Reading Tigue's poems sometimes feels like standing in a tight rain of snippets of history, geology, personal or hear-say anecdotes, bits of seemingly trivial information and deeply personal experiences and as it all washes over you there's a slow forming of a web, an interconnectedness that is felt more than it is understood.
In its core it feels like an attempt to be intimate with all that is, and all that was.

A wonderful collection of poetry.

with thanks to University of Iowa Press and NetGalley for the ARC
Profile Image for Maddie.
34 reviews152 followers
August 7, 2020
In Chernobyl,
wolves have returned, roaming
the unpeopled streets. My friend
tells me this as if she knows
it's what I need to hear.

This poetry collection is one that builds; it wasn't exactly that I found myself bored in the first section, just wanting more. There was good poetry there, but nothing brilliant, nothing striking. I felt like I was waiting for something.

But as it went on, it gathered momentum. The poems held more weight, more depth. I was surprised, and amused, by the cleverness of "My Dad's Brother Called Every Year For Five Years Then Disappeared," a poem that could be read both down and across. I resonated very strongly with the poem quoted above, the third poem named "Abandoned Places" in the book.

I'm fond of buffalo imagery, and poetry that references history, and this was rife with both. It was quite reminiscent on Ada Limón's Bright Dead Things in its exploration of places visited and customs performed and scores of mentions of animals.

Ultimately, I'd love to get this book in physical form, simply because that's how I prefer to read poetry, and this one is deserving of physical ownership.
948 reviews5 followers
March 22, 2016
I loved this preview copy of this Iowa Poetry Prize winning book I received from Net Galley. I liked it enough, I'll probably pick up a paper copy. It was a lot more subtle than much of the poetry that I've read over the last few years. I did find myself going back and rereading a poem and getting something a little new out of it. At first, I thought it was a little impersonal, but as I read a poem again, I saw a little more of a life and experiences reflected in the places that the poems are themed around.

Thoughts keep creeping into my mind- like the piles of buffalo just slaughtered with abandon while people really believed there were millions more. Or the list of things they were going to fix, but they are unfixed and he/she is gone, the uncle gone....

I guess if you want emotion in your face, this may not be for you. But, the subtlety brought me back and this gets the rare 5 stars from me.
Profile Image for Gale.
2 reviews2 followers
January 19, 2016
I am amazed by the careful precision in Tigue's work, which, when paired with her earnest questioning (of self and other), makes for an incredibly compelling read. So much of this book is attempting to construct meaning and memory in place, or environment, and what happens when that environment is not cared for any more, becomes abandoned. These constructions touch down, and touch down hard in their juxtaposition with the particular, the personal. I catch my breath at: "Rake your palm through tree rot. / Rub its umber matter against your shins. / Seek silence that fills with pine trunk creak. / And after you settle in this shifting, lose / largeness. Lose any sense of it at all."

If there's any book to grab at this year's AWP, it's this one.
Profile Image for Andrew Payton.
5 reviews
March 18, 2016
Every time Tigue jumps from the personal to the historical, fusing the supposedly unrelated, the reader is asked to notice the fine webs that connect these details--to pay heed to the things we say, the glances, the photographs, the coats of paint all existing and not existing at once. It is as if she has thrown a party of buffalo hunters, mothers, heart-breakers, French neighbors, and inventors in an abandoned shack on rising river bank and asked all these heroes and villains to reconcile their differences.

This is a beautiful, readable book of poetry--the poems are tragic and laugh out loud. I will be returning to this book for a long time to come.
Profile Image for Joseph Spuckler.
1,509 reviews21 followers
October 8, 2020
System of Ghosts by Lindsay Tigue is the 2015 Iowa Poetry Prize winning collection. Tigue was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and has received a James Merrill fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. She is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University and is a current Ph.D. student in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. For the 2015 to 2016 academic year, she will serve as assistant to the editors at the Georgia Review.

The Iowa Poetry Prize is an annual event that I always look forward to. It always brings forth young poets and presents them to the world. I am a bit like a child who can't wait until Christmas. I usually review these books too early. I did hold off for three months before reading this a month early.

Tigue seems to write from almost snapshots of memories or images. The detail and experience of her writing conveys the reader to a place and moment in time and presents what seems to be a first-hand account or shared memory. The descriptions are vivid, whether a common experience of traveling on an airplane or more complex interactions with others. She also brings to life images of history and geology with the action of plate tectonics. There is also something of Percy Shelley's “Ozymandias” in "Progress Without End", the motto of Pullman company, whose greatest works are now diners or scrap.

System of Ghosts is vivid, personal, and cordial. It is a near perfect collection of poetry that remains in a traditional form and does not deviate from convention just to be different. The relationships between people (and pets) are warm and the places are familiar. Tigue is able to capture and develop memories ways I could only dream of. Although different from my memories I read and say out loud "Yes, this is what I want to say!". Even her poem “Leap” of her twelve-year-old experience at the aquarium snapping picture after picture of the dolphins being fed and leaping from the water, Tigue captures a bit shared memory. The pictures are blurry and her mother asks why waste so much film on grainy dolphin pictures, yet she cherishes the pictures. I think we all had that imperfect reminder or picture we held on to as a child -- something so common place to adults but very special to us as a child.

Tigue presents an outstanding collection poetry that is worthy of attention and shows the average reader that poetry can be for everyone and that there is a common connection between us all.
Profile Image for K.K. Fox.
342 reviews16 followers
March 18, 2018
"When I told you about subduction, / I slipped, said seduction. That's what / this is. But you know that."

"It's not like I can decide / to feel differently but here / goes."

"I don't / want to remember the missing. Most of all, / let me lose those stone-frozen eyes-- / how the man I loved looked saying: I / never really wanted you."
Profile Image for nico_c_b.
61 reviews1 follower
March 19, 2018
Simple, flowing, empathetic... altogether delightful. Rogue expresses human emotions clearly, allowing the reader to partake in her journey. Observational though insightful, each poem transports one to a time and place not new but seen differently. She’s easy to breeze through, and can be read repeatedly and still enjoyed.
Profile Image for Hannah Warren.
Author 2 books17 followers
April 7, 2020
Tigue's poems seek to recover fading histories, to address lost natural history. She speaks of haunting and haunted landscapes, her language readily accessible and devastating.

“I move to Georgia
and a new friend can’t find
a place to get married, to celebrate.
All this land scares her with its
present and haunt hate
its tragedy everywhere and
30 reviews9 followers
January 10, 2017
Have you ever taken a test in a dream? You show up in dream-class and discover there’s a major exam that day, worth most of your grade, and you’d forgotten about it—didn’t study.

Panic sets in. You look at the questions, and nothing about them seems familiar. You begin to wonder how you could have missed so much. You’re not even sure if the test is in your language.

Lindsay Tigue’s Iowa Poetry Prize-winning collection, System of Ghosts (University of Iowa Press, 2016), feels like the answer key to a dream test. Or maybe it’s the answer bank—on the left are inscrutable questions, and on the right is the info found in Tigue’s poems, waiting to be circled and connected to close the loop.

I get this sense partly because of the beautifully random information in Tigue’s writing. Craig Morgan Teicher, the judge who selected this manuscript for the prize, describes her perfectly as “magpielike.” He writes, “Lindsay Tigue has, first and foremost, a curious mind: Her poems are motored by information. Bits of knowledge, gathered magpielike, which others might consider trivia, […] spur these poems toward startling personal and public insights.”

I love snippets of information that is brand new to me. Trivia functions as image sometimes, and enriches poems in this way. I like the start of “Bliss,” a poem about cars and roadways and how we get around.

You know, they had traffic
in ancient Rome and in 1769,
Nicolas Cugnot built a steam-powered

gun carriage. He ran it into a wall.
In 1899, in New York City, Arthur Smith
hit H.H. Bliss, the first American pedestrian

killed by car. …

That is how the poem begins—with a layering of fact that sets the reader up for the ending (just after Tigue’s factoid about why traffic lights are in the colors red and green):

I see us entering the earliest crosswalk,
the semaphore arm raised. And later—

illuminated at night—those fog-edged
boxes glowing instruction. We can’t even
trust ourselves to look both ways.

And that’s Tigue: offering information that may be unimportant or may, in fact, be vital, be on the dream test, and then it turns out all those facts were going somewhere worth being. She has nailed me there, at the busy intersection, not trusting my bearings, looking for instruction. And I got there via ancient Rome.

One project of the book feels like it is to locate the self. In the title poem, “We Are a System of Ghosts,” Tigue writes,

… Most days, half the mail I get is for others.
Or, it isn’t even addressed to a name:

Current Resident. I pile it all in a shoebox and keep it
up, away on a shelf. …

That feels like a clue, but it’s to a mystery you didn’t even know you were Nancy-Drewing.

Another clue shows up in “Elevator,” my favorite poem in the collection. Tigue sets up a scenario where a person gets on her elevator and confesses to her that he sometimes hits the alarm button repeatedly. “Nothing will happen, he’s told her. // “No one will come.” He explains that the elevator opened to “a room of desks. // Suited people have raised their heads.”

Writes Tigue,

Yesterday, at group therapy,
she was made to repeat:

I am worthy. She’s had to do
this every week. She thought it

stupid until it wasn’t.
Maybe next time after saying it—

I am worthy—she’ll remember the faces
beyond the elevator. Their asking: who

is sounding this alarm?

As in the poem “Abandoned Places,” featuring a child’s grave about to be overtaken by water (“Forget me not // is all I ask,” the tombstone reads), Tigue’s voice cries out to be observed, remembered, noted, and valued.

But it’s not entirely glum. I love the optimism at the ending of “Solitary, Imaginary”:

These days, I live alone
and sit near a computer. All day
I stare. And when the electricity goes out
with its slapped silence,

I act like I’m not thrilled, that I don’t love
to meet neighbors in the street. Do you
have power? I ask. Do you have light?

Tigue, it may definitively be said, has both.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
Author 4 books35 followers
May 2, 2016
A beautiful book. Tigue writes with reserve and complexity about the subjects most important and most unspeakable. Beneath each finely-crafted line is a rage, anxiety, sadness, and longing that creeps into the reader's heart, charging the most minor of details with wonder.
Profile Image for Chaitali Sen.
Author 4 books31 followers
June 25, 2016
I loved how this poetry collection was so engaged with the world. Bits of history as well as newsy information were so well integrated with all kinds of personal reflections on loss, mourning, joy, and curiosity. I felt like this collection was written for me and how my mind works.
Profile Image for Phi Beta Kappa Authors.
928 reviews259 followers
October 13, 2018
Lindsay Tigue
ΦBK, Michigan State University, 2007

From the publisher: In System of Ghosts, a poetry collection and winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, Lindsay Tigue details the way landscape speaks to isolation and personhood, how virtual and lived networks alter experience. She questions how built environments structure lives, how we seek out information within these spaces, and, most fundamentally, how we love.
Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews

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