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Past & Present: Oliver de la Paz & Paisley Rekdal

PBF Pass

November 4, 2023 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Portland’5 Brunish Theatre

In The Diaspora Sonnets, Oliver de la Paz uses the traditional sonnet to eloquently invoke the perseverance and myth of the Filipino diaspora in America. Paisley Rekdal’s West: A Translation is an unflinching hybrid collection of poems and essays that draws a powerful, necessary connection between the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882–1943). Moderated by Eric Tran (Moth, Sugar, and Smoke).

Oliver de la Paz’s family’s search for a sense of “home” and boundless feelings of deracination are evocatively explored by award-winning poet de la Paz in this formally inventive collection of sonnets. The Diaspora Sonnets eloquently invokes the perseverance and bold possibilities of de la Paz’s displaced family as they strove for stability and belonging. The sonnet proves formally malleable as de la Paz breaks and rejoins its tradition throughout this collection, embarking on a broader conversation about what fits and how one adapts. A series of “Chain Migration” poems viscerally punctuate the sonnets, giving witness to the labor and sacrifice of the immigrant experience, as do a series of hauntingly beautiful pantoums. Written with the deft touch of a virtuoso and the compassion of a loving son, The Diaspora Sonnets powerfully captures the peculiar pangs of a diaspora “that has left and is forever leaving.” Longlisted for the National Book Award in Poetry.

“There is no container more fitting to the conveyance of the nuanced sorrow of the permanent displacement from home, a word ‘ensnared with thorns,’ than the sonnet, certainly as it is practiced by Oliver de la Paz… The tenderness in these poems comes through in their ‘gradations of memory where one // belonged,’ and in their penetrating artfulness, itself a kind of love.”
—Diane Seuss, author of frank: sonnets

In 2018, Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal was commissioned to write a poem commemorating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. The result is West: A Translation—an unflinching hybrid collection of poems and essays that draws a powerful, necessary connection between the railroad’s completion and the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882–1943). Carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station, where Chinese migrants to the United States were detained, is a poem elegizing a detainee who committed suicide. As West translates this anonymous Chinese elegy character by character, what’s left is a haunting narrative distilled through the history and lens of transcontinental railroad workers, and a sweeping exploration of the railroad’s cultural impact on America. Punctuated by historical images and told through multiple voices, languages, literary forms, and documents, West explores what unites and divides America, and how our ideas about American history creep forward, even as the nation itself constantly threatens to spiral back. Longlisted for the National Book Award in Poetry.

“Through these poems, readers are asked to wrestle with the complex, layered histories of race, creed, class, and gender that are all too often overlooked in monolithic presentations of America’s past and present. Elegiac and shot through with righteous anger, this essential collection demands a national reckoning.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

Portland Book Festival General Admission Passes are required for entry into all events. Passes are $15 in advance and $25 day of Festival. Youth 17 & under get in FREE. All full-priced General Admission Passes include a $5 book fair voucher and entry into Portland Art Museum. Passes admit attendees to the Festival; individual events are first-come, first-served. More info here.


Oliver de la Paz

Oliver de la Paz is the Poet Laureate of Worcester, MA for 2023-2025. He is the author and editor of seven books: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, Requiem for the Orchard, Post Subject: A Fable, and The Boy in the Labyrinth, a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry. His newest work, The Diaspora Sonnets, is published by Liveright Press (2023). With Stacey Lynn Brown he co-edited A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry. Oliver serves as the co-chair of the Kundiman advisory board. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Poetry, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He has received grants from the NEA, NYFA, the Artist’s Trust, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and has been awarded multiple Pushcart Prizes. He teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at PLU.
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Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal is the author of six collections of poetry, in addition to three nonfiction and hybrid-genre books. Her most recent book is West: A Translation. Her honors include being named Utah’s Poet Laureate.
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Eric Tran

Eric Tran is a queer Vietnamese poet and the author of Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke, winner of the Oregon Book Award and finalist for the Thom Gunn Award, and The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer. His poetry has been featured in All Things Considered, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily, and has received recognition from Best of the Net, Prairie Schooner, and New Delta Review, among other publications.  He is a psychiatrist in Portland, Oregon.
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November 4, 2023
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
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Portland’5 Brunish Theatre
111 SW Broadway Ave
Portland, OR 97205
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