Rachel Galvin’s Pulleys & Locomotion

A version of the following review will appear in the next issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

In reviewing Rachel Galvin’s Pulleys & Locomotion (Black Lawrence Press, 2009), I was going to write about letters, language, genes, family trees, and story lines. I was going to write about evolution and how the poems in Pulleys & Locomotion evolve, and how they make “light [. . .] come to you / out of curiosity.” I was going to write about the greatness of “Letter as an Ode” and how it acts as a pulley to hoist the initial poems with the heft of the latter poems and how it hoists the latter poems with the weight of the initial poems, or should I say, I was going to write about how “Letter as an Ode” acts as the book’s fulcrum. But then I moved to another curiosity . . . . The lines in these poems move, and they move well.

I have lately been thinking about how a line should move. One way is to move clause by clause and phrase by phrase and  in a manner similar to how the three phrases in a haiku move. Further, there should be tension between the syntax and the line, which we all know. It is these movements, in part, that make a poem do something, for a poem doesn’t mean a thing if it doesn’t do – “A poem is what it does,” as someone once said – and Galvin’s poems do.

Let’s look at “Squire the Hour”:

Squire my measure of skin, flesh the paseo
from bundle to fondle. Your hands will ring
in the hour, will dwell from tip to tip. Unscaffold.
Unstring. Bind conjugate leaves to spine. Fuse

the lambent day flush between us. Love recites this room
while a flung moment croons, sotto voce, sotto
voce, venetian-blinds your relishing gesture,
resumes its caress. Resumes.

(p 46)

Listen to how soft that “voce” is in line 7. That happens, in part, because of the tension. The voice falls on the line break and becomes soft. It’s also set up by the earlier movements, especially lines 3 and 4 with all the starts and stops. It’s almost like there is a syntactical meter of go and stop, or go and leap and go.

What you will also notice in these poems, as you probably heard in the above poem, are the tight harmonies. When I say tight harmonies, I mean the sounds in one line are picked up again in the next two to three lines, much like a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem or a Linda Bierds poem  or, in this case, a Rachel Galvin poem. Just listening to line one’s sounds, you can hear how almost every sound is picked up in the next few lines. And then there’s the long O in “paseo” that gets a muffled rhyme in line 3 and doesn’t get picked up again until line 6 with “moment,” “sotto,” and “sotto.” Maybe it’s that long echo that also causes the soft voice in line seven’s “voce.” You know, a moment to pause. A reflection on that hanging “sotto” because you just heard it, it sounds familiar, and you think you heard it even earlier too, and you want to be quiet to see if you were right and if you can hear it again.

In the end, we have harmonious poems that move with tension between line and syntax – the pulleys and locomotion that move us through a terrific book.

NB: “Ode to a Letter” better win a Puchart or I am resurrecting the ghost of Foetry.com to investigate. Bill Henderson, you’re on notice.//

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April 2010


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