West: A Translation by Paisley Rekdal is a hybrid essay and poetry collection that explores the connection between the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943). With historical images and documents throughout this collection, the reader is transported to the history of many that is untold and hidden. Rekdal’s narrative centers the average transcontinental railroad worker, the individual that represented the many whilst placing their lens, their lived suffering at the core of this collection. At the heart of this connection is a jarring exclusion that fosters an inner lament that can be seen throughout this collection. Beyond this lamentation can a unique sense of resistance be seen towards this oppression.
A bond paid down per mile
of track, Congress had to pass an act
to make the building stop. It’s in the past,
but first these barons didn’t plan
to meet: they planned to win. Each side
built right on past the other. From: 傳 / Pass (5)
Whilst this narrative is focused on Chinese work, exclusion and isolation, it is important to note that Rekdal makes good use of this narrative to highlight just how many ethnic groups have been used and abused in the name of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant ambition and manifest destiny. Intriguingly Rekdal’s words suggest that this WASP rugged individualism was driven merely by group subjugation, therefore nullifying the idea of individualist endeavours. In addition, Rekdal touches on the personal within this collection adding heightened gravitas but also an emotive sense of familial questioning and reflection alongside the ruminations that reanimate the mundane, the heart-wrenching and the emotional at large.
though our demand for them daily
increases we want 10,000
of them we want 100,000
we want half
a million to bring the price
of labor down… From: 實可 / Indeed (9)
Rekdal approaches othering and the discriminatory divisions that persisted as part and parcel with an all-consuming dehumanization that reduces human life to mere numbers, mere quantities of flesh for which labour must be extracted. Rekdal also draws some parallels to those many other groups suffering from inequality during the late 19 th , and 20 th centuries which allows for these poems to speak for the many downtrodden and oppressed, bewildered and legislated against. A common history can be seen between African American and Chinese workers which Rekdal affirms indirectly through both groups often simultaneous oppression and the dual-fold psychological and physical violence both experienced.
West: A Translation presents the reader with unknown parallels, lived experiences and harsh realities forced onto many during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Rekdal challenges the acceptance of this oppression whilst criticizing the disposability presented by white American legislation and governmental ambition that can only be said to be dangerously propagated by capitalist demands and pressures. This haunting narrative educates as much as it engages the reader and makes one reflect on the history often just out of reach. A tour de force of literary prowess, a collection worth taking the time to absorb!