In 2019, Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal was commissioned to write a poem commemorating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion. The result is “West: A Translation:” a linked collection of poems that responds to a Chinese elegy carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station where Chinese migrants to the United States were detained. “West” translates this elegy character by character through the lens of Chinese and other transcontinental railroad workers’ histories, and through the railroad’s cultural impact on America.
In honor of the 152nd anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Paisley Rekdal joins us to talk about “West, A Translation.” We’ll hear some of the poems and talk about this important history.
Paisley Rekdal’s books of poetry and prose include “The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee,” “A Crash of Rhinos,” “Animal Eye,” “The Broken Country: On Trauma, a Crime, and the Continuing Legacy of Vietnam,” “Nightingale,” and “Appropriate: A Provocation.” A former recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, she is Utah Poet Laureate and Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Utah, where she is also the creator and editor of the community web projects Mapping Literary Utah and Mapping Salt Lake City. She lives in Salt Lake City.