West: A Translation (Paperback)
National Book Award, 2023 Longlist * "Elegiac and shot through with righteous anger, this essential collection demands a national reckoning."--Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW* "A must-have for libraries." --Booklist, STARRED REVIEW"A remarkable collection offering history not typically told in textbooks."--Library Journal
Punctuated by historical images and told through multiple voices, languages, literary forms and documents, West: A Translation explores what unites and divides America, drawing a powerful, necessary connection between the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act.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 during the Chinese Exclusion Act, 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) which 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.
Former Utah Poet Laureate, Paisley Rekdal is the author of four works of nonfiction, including Appropriate: A Provocation, and six collections of poetry, most recently Nightingale, which won the 2020 Washington State Book Award for Poetry. She is the recipient of fellowships, grants, and prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, Pushcart Press, and the Academy of American Poets, among others. A Seattle area native, Rekdal received her MA in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto, and an MFA from the University of Michigan. Her work reflects her academic background in its frequent exploration and engagement with historical events that propel future narratives and identity politics that shape her life as an Asian American woman. She is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah, where she is also the creator and editor of community web projects Mapping Literary Utah and Mapping Salt Lake City.