West: A Translation

Copper Canyon. May 2023. 176p. ISBN 9781556596568. pap. $22. POETRY
The author of nonfiction (Appropriate: A Provocation) as well as verse (Nightingale), former Utah poet laureate Rekdal was commissioned in 2018 to write a poem commemorating the 150th anniversary of completion of the U.S. transcontinental railroad. What results is a captivating, extensively researched book blending poetry and essays, told from the perspective of the railroad workers while focusing on the lives and treatment of Chinese migrants and the devastation to the environment during the building process. In particular, the collection links the railroad’s completion to the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882–1943) while probing an anonymous elegy carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station that honored a detainee who died by suicide. The collection is accompanied by a thorough notes section at once lyrical, informative, and autobiographical as Rekdal, whose mother is Chinese American, explores her own family history. In the end, the railroad is emblematic of both possibility and oppression; expanding her work to explore the Great Migration, Rekdal comments, “What is freedom/but the power to choose/ where you won’t die?/ What is a train/ but the self once yoked to terror loosed/ inside a force that glides/ on heat and steam?”
VERDICT A remarkable collection offering history not typically told in textbooks; an accompanying website (westtrain.org) with video poems and historical images adds context.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing