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Between 1910 and 1940, Chinese immigrants to America were detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station in the San Francisco Bay. As they waited for weeks and months to know if they could land, some of them wrote poems on the walls. All the poems we have on record were found in the men’s barracks: the women’s quarters were destroyed in a fire.
Islanders imagines the lost voices of the detained women. It also tells stories of their families on shore, the staff at Angel Island, and the 1877 San Francisco Chinatown Riot. A blend of fact and fiction, politics and intimacy, these poems chronicle a forgotten episode in American history and prefigure today’s immigration debates.
About the author
Teow Lim Goh’s poetry, essays, and criticism have appeared in PANK, The Toast, Guernica, The Rumpus, and Open Letters Monthly, among other publications. She lives in Denver and dreams of the sea. This is her first book.
Praise for Teow Lim Goh
Blending research and imagination, Teow Lim Goh creates a polyphonic narrative of early twentieth-century Chinese immigrants who were detained on Angel Island. In these spare but powerful lyrics, she presents fragments of the same material from disparate points of view, and then provides a backgrounding flashback to 1877 San Francisco, where “the Chinese must go” becomes a refrain. In this poignant journey across “the borders we inhabit, the borders / we inherit,” the author finds a history that she makes ours, as well as her own. — Martha Collins, author of Blue Front and White Papers
The voices channeled by Teow Lim Goh in Islanders arrive with little poetic adornment, with a restraint instilled by Chinese culture and reinforced by exile and imprisonment. It is possible to feel rage while hearing, or overhearing, these distress calls from the forgotten reaches of American history. But the real power of this poetry sings out from an empathy so complete that we readers and the poet herself almost vanish into them. Instead of cultural difference and the exile of history, Goh’s poetry reminds us that the suffering these poems give voice to exists here and now, in the forgotten reaches of our own lives.
—Joseph Hutchison, Colorado Poet Laureate, author of Thread of the Real and Marked Men
These poems are imagined out of ash—script written on walls of a detention building that burned down and took the record with it. Teow Lim Goh would have those voices back, voices from the barracks, voices at the gates, on sea crossings to China, on bay crossings to San Francisco, amid riots and in cold examination rooms, in a brothel, in a prison shower, in rooms of privilege and power, challenging readers to navigate layered tone and inter-subjectivity, all of it staged at the theatre of lost history, recovered.
— Chris Ransick, author of Language for the Living and the Dead