System of Ghosts by Lindsay Tigue. University of Iowa Press. 2016.

System of Ghosts is not an archive of spirits or dead things, but an analysis of the living. The reader is not a complacent audience waiting to be entertained, but an active traveler.  Tigue’s voice is welcoming enough that the reader could recognize themselves in her concise and direct stanzas, but also nuanced enough that her poetry carries an atmosphere of otherworldliness.

This is true in the four poems, each titled “Abandoned Places.” These poems appear like regular hauntings with a desire for resurrection. The places coming alive as characters, such as in “Abandoned Places,” which reads:

So maybe I am a town of ghosts.
And I know that
places can fall in love

with those who stay awhile,
those who sweep the cracking
stairs, repair the panes

on all the windows.

If places can yearn, so does the speaker in this text. The yearning is not a desperate voice begging for love, but a reflective, direct, and honest narrator. Tigue illustrates that love is what repairs not only an individual, but the very settings in which we as individuals inhabit. Tigue asks for love unapologetically in her poem “Elevator.” The speaker in this poem directly confessing:

She’s forgotten to call
her mother. Stayed in bed

hours too long. She’s left
the garden’s tomatoes

to rot. She’s woken up,
still loving the wrong


I find myself returning to this book again and again, a sincere phantom. The stories and places in this work place me in the back seat of my grandparents’ Ford truck, driving down Midwestern highways. Every summer my grandparents and I would pilgrimage back to Missouri. I grew up the only native Floridian in my family and was mesmerized by the rotting barns, broken sheds, and sparse livestock that dotted the scenery.

However, this is not just a story about an abandoned south or Midwest. Geographically speaking the work references New Hampshire, California, and Ecuador. (Just to name a few.) In a sense Tigue is addressing a global community of the forgotten. It is a testament to a unified sense of loss that exists in all peoples. This work is a call for remembrance, and healing.  It’s a movement toward love. And in this work, love is layered. Perhaps this work is suggesting that if hurt can take root in the past, and create a ghost, maybe too love exists in being remembered, as represented on the headstone in Tigue’s poem “Abandoned Places” (The House on sinking…), “A girl’s grave that reads: forget me not/is all I ask.”

Jenn Carter
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