'System of Ghosts': Award-winning poet blends past, present

In “System of Ghosts,” Lindsay Tigue blends the past and the present and the communal and the personal in poems that are varied in structure and contemporary in tone. The collection is one of two winners of the 2015 Iowa Poetry Prize, selected by poet Craig Morgan Teicher and recently published by University of Iowa Press.

Tigue is skilled at bringing together a variety of related ideas, often drawn from different time periods, to write poems that create their own internal resonances. Take, for example, “How to Measure the Weight of Snow,” which begins with instructions lifted from e.How.com.

She follows those instructions with a striking history lesson. “In the winter of 1866,/the Chinese railroaders/for the Central Pacific/built tunnels under snow/to keep laying track./Entire crews trapped/under tons, left/until spring melt found them./Pick and shovels in their hands.”

Tigue then shifts to the personal: “I used to wait for a school bus/on top of a plow drift/taller than me, slush-grayed/and calcified.” Over the next few lines, the poem’s first-person voice recalls pondering the weight of snow.

She closes with more borrowed instructions. This linking of the story of the railway workers with a first-person account of childhood memories, in a poem undergirded by online text, successfully suggests the weight of time as well as the weight of snow. Both snow and time, the poem argues, acquire great weight as they accumulate.

“System of Ghosts” is filled with similarly engaging poems. Tigue knows just how to bring her disparate sources and notions — and the ghosts of the past — together to craft work that gives wider context to the present moment.

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