In 2018, Paisley Rekdal was commissioned to write a poem commemorating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental's completion. The result is West: A Translation, a hybrid collection of poems and lyric essays that respond to an anonymous Chinese poem carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station where Chinese migrants to the U.S. were detained during the Chinese Exclusion Act. This poem, part of a dialogic pair written in Chinese, elegizes a fellow detainee who committed suicide at Angel Island. West translates this elegy character by character through the lens of Chinese and other railroad workers' histories, and through the railroad's cultural impact on America. Through its multiple voices, literary forms and visual documents, West explores what unites and divides America, and how our ideas about American history crawl forward, even as the nation itself threatens to spiral backwards.




West is accompanied by a website, whose interactive, non-linear structure allows readers to compose their own translation of the Chinese elegy.


"Race and the Railroad:" A Conversation with Dr. Julia H. Lee for CU Boulder, November 2022.