Monday, April 25, 2016

Q&A: “We Are a System of Ghosts,” by Lindsay Tigue

 In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Writer's Center is spotlighting the work of Poet Lore contributors. This installment includes a brief Q&A with poet Lindsay Tigue about her poem, “We Are a System of Ghosts” (Poet Lore Volume 111, No. 1/2).
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zabel.


is what a man says in a documentary about his city.
At least, that’s what I remember he says. When I rewind

to find his words, I’m not surprised that I can’t. Once,
before I lived there, my mother brought me to Chicago

and we laughed through downtown like girls.
We drank wine and ate pasta. A few years later,

we tried to find it again, this best-ever place,
but we’d forgotten the sidewalk to turn down, or the way

the restaurant’s awning threw its door frame in shadow.
My mother protested: but these streets are a grid.

She studied the map pressed flat to her knees. I think of all the maps
of countries and borders that no longer exist.  In France,

I lived near the site of the Ligne Maginot, that line of tankers
and casements in World War II designed to keep Germany out—

the countryside dotted with armored cloches of alloyed steel.
The machine-gun turrets retracting into the ground. This vanishing

reminds me of informal cities, the claimed settlements
that appear along abandoned rail tracks, the spaces people fill

and empty. The woman in the apartment below me has birds,
and they squawk in greeting when they see her, as if to say:

oh there you are. I listen as her front door slams each day. Maybe
she watches as I wait for the bus, my eyes shut tight to the wind.

Sarah Katz: This poem explores the limits of our memories and perhaps more generally, the impossibility of pinning down time. There are so many elements of this poem that I love and am drawn to, but one is the way that you never name the man and the city referenced in the first lines that open the poem. It reads:


is what a man says in a documentary about his city.
At least that's what I remember he says. When I rewind

to find his words, I'm not surprised that I can't. Once,
before I lived there, my mother brought me to Chicago


Specific as well as vaguer details are interspersed throughout the poem. How do these formal choices affect the reading of the poem, in your opinion?

Lindsay Tigue: What a wonderful reading of this poem! Thank you. In the first line, I chose not to give specifics about the man or city because I wanted to highlight the ways his observation applies beyond the history and context of one particular place. The man is anonymous in the same way cities and infrastructure can make their inhabitants feel anonymous, or in the ways they might truly become anonymous. Later details are more specific to show my own windows (whether by experience or information I've learned) into this feeling that my life and memories—as well as others' lives and memories—are impossible to fix in place or untangle from such constructions. 

Lindsay Tigue won the Iowa Poetry Prize for her first book, System of Ghosts (University of Iowa Press, 2016) and her work appears in Prairie SchoonerIndiana ReviewHayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere. She is currently a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Georgia.

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