A Conversation with Lindsay Tigue
BY MICHELLE DONAHUE
Although it might be early April—a time of undeniable trickery and tomfoolery—it is no joke when I say Lindsay Tigue’s first book, System of Ghosts (University of Iowa Press, 2016), is a must read. And you’re in luck, because this April Fool’s Day is the first day you can purchase this lovely poetry collection. Part ghost story, How To Guide, travelogue, account of lost love, loneliness, and nostalgia, System of Ghosts is made of poems as diverse as they are compelling. These poems educate as they recount deeply moving memories of isolation and heartbreak. They describe the Maekong Railway Market in Thailand with “produce stalls set right on the tracks” and Ecuador’s midpoint that is “hundreds of feet from actual zero,” while asking questions like “What is it like to want loss picked clean?” These poems, fueled by insatiable curiosity and vibrant intelligence, seek out ghosts, foreign landscapes, natural history, men once loved. These are the sort of poems that continue to haunt long after their finish.
Lindsay Tigue is both a poet and fiction writer who grew up in Michigan but currently lives in Athens, Georgia. She has lived in France and has widely traveled to locales like Guatemala and Hungary. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Rattle and our very own, The Adroit Journal, where you can find her poem “Adapted” in Issue 13. 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
I had the pleasure of asking Lindsay Tigue some questions about System of Ghosts and beyond.
Let’s start with the new book, System of Ghosts. I find this title so compelling and so appropriate for this collection. How were you thinking of ghosts when writing these poems? How might you define this system of ghosts?
Thanks so much for these thoughtful questions! I didn’t set out to write a poetry collection about ghosts, but I found that many of the poems I was writing were exploring loss. In particular, I was returning again and again to the various ways people and places can vanish, as well as how those relationships and environments are inextricably linked. I have vivid memories of being a kid and driving with my dad to look at his childhood landmarks—the house he grew up in, his high school, etc. His “haunts,” as I remember him calling them. I suppose I inherited this nostalgia as well as this strategy of trying to capture memories within their containers of place.
I chose the title System of Ghosts in part because I am interested in how we “place” loss and memory, but also because I am fascinated by the way systems, environments, infrastructure shape those experiences to begin with. My poems usually contain at least a little of the personal because that’s how I came to poetry and why I need it. It’s a way to speak back to my own grief and fears. At the same time, when I am thinking about my relationship to place, I am always thinking about how the larger history of a place contains such horrific violence and cruelty and how the terrible past is still present in so many ways. So, System of Ghosts also has to do with that influence—the ways structures and histories are affecting lives and experiences all around us.
The presence of place and the importance of movement are so vivid throughout this collection and so varied. How did travel, both domestic and international, shape the poems or inspire you?
I wasn’t really conscious of the fact that there was so much travel in these poems until someone else pointed it out to me. I do really love to travel as I’m constantly curious about other places and traveling can really wake me up to wonder and surprise. At the same time, I am conscious of the privilege of traveling and the ways it can harm, or exploit. This is what I was trying to explore in “The Trajectory of Oranges” in particular—this way of being young and feeling so alive to the world, but not really appreciating, or understanding the deep history that spins out from everything around you and how you might be complicit in that.
One of my favorite aspects of this collection is the varied forms your poems take. The most distinctive for me was “My Dad’s Brother Called Every Five Years Then Disappeared,” which consists of 2 columns with lines that can be read together or individually. Does the form of a poem come as you write or is it something you decide on before writing?
Most of the time, the form gets worked out in revision. I may choose a basic form to begin—I’ll decide to write in couplets or tercets, for instance, in order to provide a productive constraint, but the form will usually change in revision as I figure out what the poem is really doing. “My Dad’s Brother,” however, was completely different. It was a rare poem where I started with the form. I’d read another poem written in this contrapuntal style and I wanted to try it.
Speaking of process, our audience is made of a lot of emerging writers. What’s your process typically for writing a poem? Any tips, tricks, advice?
I usually start with an image that’s stuck in my head. Something I’ve seen, heard, felt, read about. A scrap of dialogue. An interesting fact. I have never been much of a journaler and I envy those who keep a steady record of their lives, but I do always bring a little notebook with me so I can write down those moments of beauty when I recognize them. I don’t organize this at all and if someone else picked it up it would be the strangest list of unrelated phrases. It would make no sense. After a while, I type these up and see what’s there; I think about what these notes remind me of and I try to write a poem from the pieces. So, I recommend keeping a little image/beauty notebook. Maybe it will be better organized than mine.
And finally, what’s in store for the future for you? What new projects are you working on? What might your readers look forward to next?
I’ve been working on a short story collection; that’s been my focus for a little while. It also explores themes of grief and landscape and movement and history. Surprise, surprise! I am also writing more poems, but I hesitate to say anything specific about this new manuscript. It’s still taking shape.
Lindsay Tigue is the author of System of Ghosts, winner of the 2015 Iowa Poetry Prize. She writes poetry and fiction and her work appears in Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Indiana Review, 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 originally from Michigan and now lives in Athens, Georgia.
Michelle Donahue is a prose editor for The Adroit Journal. She has work published in Arts & Letters, CutBank, Beloit Fiction Journal, and others. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State and is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Utah where she is the Clarence Snow Fellow. She grew up in Southern California, but has lived in England, Ecuador, Mexico, and Istanbul. She currently lives in Salt Lake City.