Bone Pagoda

Bone Pagoda

Bone Pagoda
Ahsahta Press, 2007

I know no other poetry so rigorous in disciplining its language, its syntax, its very music to honor “the first and final location of every war: the body.” — Marion Stocking, Beloit Poetry Journal.

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In the realm of history, Bone Pagoda takes its title from an ossuary on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border, where the bones of 3000 massacre victims are preserved. In the realm of meaning, it honors the first and final location of every war: the body. These poems are a personal journey through “Vietnam”—the country, the war, and the moral catastrophe signified by this word in American memory. They are also a formal investigation of how language behaves under pressure—poetic, political. Collage and allusion create a conversation, a community of language by which poets, politicians, soldiers, spies, and resisters are not merely quoted, but lodged in the lyric texture of the poems. The mind’s search for truth—both to find it and to say it—is felt in the shifting rhythms of lines and couplets, in grammatical swerves, incremental changes of phrase or sound, which can also mimic the choices and chances of war. Bone Pagoda was begun on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in 2001, during a prolonged spell of insomnia following September 11, the bombing of Afghanistan, and the anthrax attacks. It is dedicated to my late husband, a veteran of combat in the Mekong Delta, who traveled with me through all the “Vietnams.”

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Here is nearly the whole of a lovely review of Bone Pagoda by John Mingay in Stride Magazine. It’s nearly the whole, because mostly he quoted the poems… I reproduce it here because it’s unusually difficult to find the review on the web page.

What I encountered with Susan Tichy’s two part collection, Bone Pagoda, was page after page of pirouetting lines and phrases, collaged from a spectrum of documentary and anecdotal sources that lent the collection expansive, intelligent and, in many ways, playfully crafted qualities…

Yes, it’s about war and her latterly late husband’s role in it. But it’s also about her youthful fight against it and their return to its theatre, guided by the wisdom of maturity.

.. It’s about the process of writing and the use of language.

.. It’s about loyalty and exposure. It’s about humanity and inhumanity.  It’s about individual struggle and collective responsibility. It’s about the personal and public.

It’s really about everything.

Yet, it’s much more than being about anything.  It’s a journey through rhythms that mesmerise, language that blinds and emotions that are real and raw.  It’s pure poetry.


It’s one woman’s survival plan laid bare, but so much more than simple catharsis. It’s a response to the irony of having endured, shared and emerged, only then to have tragically lost.  

It’s really quite spell-binding. Buy it!

                 © John Mingay 2007

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And three more kind reviewers–

Nancy Kuhl in Rain Taxi

Pamela Hart in Galatea Resurrects #10

Fiona Sze-Lorrain in Galatea Resurrects #11

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Many thanks to the editors of Beloit Poetry Journal, Court Green, CutBank, Denver Quarterly, Hotel Amerika, and Indiana Review, who published poems from the manuscript.

Poems from Bone Pagoda: Desk & Chair, Bridge Fight, and Bone Pagoda in Fascicle 3.

About the writing of “Nui Sam,” on How a Poem Happens.

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Order from SPD  /  Order from Book Bar, Denver  /  Order from Amazon

Order directly from me

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Cover design by Quemadura

Cover photo: “Fragments of Time 12” by Ryan Pham.

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