West: A Translation

Paisley Rekdal

Forthcoming May 2023

In 2018, Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal was commissioned to write a poem commemorating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. The result is West: A Translation—an unflinching hybrid collection of poems and essays that draws a powerful, necessary connection between the railroad’s completion and the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882–1943). Carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station, where Chinese migrants to the United States were detained, is a poem elegizing a detainee who committed suicide. As West translates this anonymous Chinese elegy character by character, what’s left is a haunting narrative distilled through the history and lens of transcontinental railroad workers, and a sweeping exploration of the railroad’s cultural impact on America. Punctuated by historical images and told through multiple voices, languages, literary forms, and documents, West explores what unites and divides America, and how our ideas about American history creep forward, even as the nation itself constantly threatens to spiral back.

West is accompanied by a website (www.westtrain.org) that features video poems and encourages self-exploration of the transcontinental railroad’s history through an interactive, non-linear structure. Pairing this urgent book and innovative website, Rekdal masterfully challenges how histories themselves get written and disseminated. The result is a tour de force of resistance and resilience

ISBN: 9781556596568

Format: Paperback

回 / Return

If falling leaves return to roots, what grows
when leaves cannot be gathered?
What returns if not the body? What remains
if not the soul? Who is to say these graves
empty of their bones mean only loss, not
that these men escaped death’s hold entirely:
they are not home, but they are not here,
either, or have become so full of here
we need another word than gone. So throw
out the cormorant, its leg tied with silken ropes.
Let it drag the air for memory. Over and over,
as many times as you want. You can’t snare
what isn’t missing. This country claimed their bodies.
It never trapped their souls.

About the Author

Paisley Rekdal is the author of three works of nonfiction, including The Broken Country: On Trauma, A Crime, and the Continuing Legacy of Vietnam, and six collections of poetry, most recently Nightingale. She is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets, among others. She teaches at the University of Utah and is Utah’s poet laureate.

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