West: A Translation

Longlist, National Book Awards 2023 for Poetry

book cover for West: A Translation by Paisley Rekdal
ISBN 9781556596568
Copper Canyon Press
Author photo of Paisley Rekdal. (Photo credit: Emily London)
Paisley Rekdal

Utah’s 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. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

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.