How Ghosts Travel

James J. Siegel

ISBN 978-1-941550-74-8      $15.00        106 pages

This collection seems to have been written with vapor—the unseen made visible through James Siegel’s intuitive eye. The poems also form an elegy of place, Ohio. Personal phantoms populate this physical and metaphysical locus. Haunted by history and its ruins, the poet deciphers “[t]hat fur-covered / folklore crawling out from under the skin.” Recasting stanzas into incantations, Siegel conjures memories that “brush the sides of your face, / rest in the tangles of your hair.” Finally, ghosts become the Holy Ghost, with “a congregation of wings,” with “the rattle of the rosary.” Angelic presences reify the ineffable. And from that perspective, the poet shows the reader how “the vault of the stars unlocks.”

     Dean Kostos, author of This Is Not a Skyscraper and Rivering

 

How Ghosts Travel is James Siegel’s beautifully-atmospheric explication of his past, which here is ever-present. His voice, though casual and colloquial at times, is always tuned to the lyrical as he resurrects his childhood and young adulthood in industrial and small-town Ohio in poems scarred with heartbreak and loss. But what is perhaps most impressive about this debut collection is the sheer number of poems that remain vibrantly in mind long after they’re read, among them “Fishing Photo, Circa 1984,” “Boy Scout Blue,” “Massillon,” “Flatlands,” “The Road,” and “Serpent Mound,” one of the most skillful love poems I’ve encountered. This is a book well worth the price of admission.

     Myrna Stone, author of In The Present Tense: Portraits of My Father and The Casanova Chronicles

 

In How Ghosts Travel, James J. Siegel tells us “you may leave behind your landscapes” but not without warning “we cannot expect the past to just stop talking.” This collection channels that past, using crumbling maps, a oujia board, even the “bones of an ancient civilization unearthed where a parking lot was supposed to be” to revisit the “charged particles” of a childhood in suburban Ohio. A tribute to the Midwest of his parents and grandparents, Siegel observes “Factories close, families move, gears sigh one last time.” But luckily there are the drive-in theaters, Lake Erie fishing trips, County Fairs, and Boy Scout badges to remember. One would think this “world has slipped away” with “the drugstore windows filled with dust,” but Siegel reminds us “Nature knows what to do” when “it fills the empty spaces of the Ferris wheel with thick birch branches.” This book is a ride on that wheel, granting a view of the whole town, its industrial graveyards and abandoned homes made fertile again by their former lives and the poet who resurrects them.

     Michael Montlack, author of Cool Limbo (NYQ Books)

 

 

spuytenduyvil

James J. Siegel is a San Francisco-based poet and literary arts organizer. He is originally from Toledo, Ohio, which has inspired and fueled much of his poetic work. He was a scholarship recipient to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and his poems have been featured in a number of journals including The Cortland Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Assaracus, The Fourth River, and more. He was also featured in the anthology, Divining Divas: 100 Gay Men On Their Muses.