The thirty-six poems that comprise Rachel Galvin’s recent collection Pulleys & Locomotion vary enormously in their scope. Verses move from the largely descriptive, like the excellent “The Baker Folds What He Does Not Remember”, to a set of more reflective poems, such as “In Gaitskill Bog”. The whole collection is liberally interspersed with well-chosen quotes and a range of prose snippets.
In this way Pulleys & Locomotion feels very much like a travel journal: a notebook crammed with poems inspired by an ever-changing landscape, mixed in with the various thoughts and ideas of the invisible narrator. Indeed there is much to support this: “Village of Pulleys & Locomotion”–one of the first poems in the collection–sets the scene of a departure from a train station. From there it’s off through a whirl of different experiences: from the witnessing of an eclipse in a distant village in “After The Eclipse: Village Tale” and “After The Eclipse: Village Riddle” to a roadside conversation in “Scenic Overlook One Hundred Yards”.
Perhaps likening Galvin’s collection to travel writing is misleading. These poems have plenty going on beneath the surface, and although it may travel great distances with the reader, Pulleys & Locomotion is far from a holiday read.
Movement and industry are constant themes. Trains and other forms of engine recur throughout the collection in various forms: ghostly trains pass close by in the night, the human eye is revealed as an engine in itself, and the reader is instructed in the building of their very own zoetrope. These pieces are linked by many shorter, more human poems, in which the inner lives of a series of strange characters are tentatively explored. The juxtaposition of these fragile moments with the more overwhelming focus on machinery and engines is oddly touching–a contrast that the poet draws out with her use of form and blank space.
Galvin’s voice is consistently strong. Her words display a world that is clearly very complex, real and exotic. The text is sprinkled richly with cultural and folkloric references–some of which are partially explained by a somewhat enigmatic notes section at the back.
As a whole the collection is immensely satisfying. In solid and mystical prose it carries the reader along on its expedition through strange lands. The journey is a long and tiring one, but wonderful all the same.