Praise: Islanders

In between seeing and saying. In between shadow and fire. The voices and words in Islanders honor the bodies of women disappeared from history, reminding us how it is that America has always been standing on the bodies of those it swallowed whole. In the lost voices of Chinese women detained at Angel Island we have the chance to yet hear something from the ruins: song. – Lidia Yuknavitch

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 intersubjectivity, all of it staged at the theatre of lost history, recovered.  – Chris Ransick

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

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 

Teow Lim Goh’s important first collection of poems gives voice to the Chinese immigrants detained on Angel Island during the Chinese exclusion era. Like the sea that “spins a song of solitude and pain,” these poems are haunting, deliberate, and utterly relevant to contemporary issues of race and immigration. Goh’s work is fearless: like the imprisoned women on the island, these poems “never return and never arrive.” Instead, they reverberate with the unanswerable question, “why must I prove that I am me?” – Nancy Pearson