Pulleys & Locomotion, Rachel Galvin’s first full-length collection, finds delicate grace balancing on that titular ampersand. As pulleys are a tool of motion and locomotion is movement itself, so this collection asks us to stop and consider not just the trajectory, but first what enables it to occur.
The book begins with a sort of master plan, an untitled poem which instructs us to “Consult” three photographs while we “tour the region.” These described photographs contain a zoetrope purchased in the marketplace, a dybbuk hovering by the speaker’s shoulder, and a “knot of amber” under the speaker’s tongue. In essence, Galvin has given us the tools required to decipher her poetry – the work of a writer who listens to a restless spirit, carries a symbol of eloquent speech hidden in her mouth, and whose book itself functions like the “flammable” zoetrope, in that it too provides the illusion of motion from presenting a rapid succession of static pictures.
Galvin’s strongest poems are those that inhabit villages whose names seem transcribed directly from fables (“Village of Pulleys & Locomotion,” “Interlude in the Insomniac Village,” “Village of Twice-Salted Seas,” etc.) or are populated by archetypal folkloric figures such as a traveling peddler and a baker whose arms are inscribed with phrases denoting his mother’s and his father’s souls. The poems that detail a perhaps more personal history are among the book’s (thankfully few) weaker moments. This is a strong debut which, at its best, makes the zoetrope’s illusion “luminous, blurred” and real.