Crystal Curry
Slope Editions ($14.95)

by Greg Bem

“What telling there is is always good . . . But, my heart holds out for a mobilization frenzy,” Seattle-based Crystal Curry carefully projects in the preface of her latest, most complete, and most completely disruptive book of verse, Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium. Pulling the cover open is like entering an enthralling, mysterious cave and finding a microcosmic reality waiting within. Every element of the world appears familiar, but the lighting is quite selective. Truths come in hyper-conductive shrieks.

The book is a powerful reaffirmation that American poetry can be as bright as it is startling, shocking, and haunting. Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium revitalizes exciting literary themes in form and tone that have been deadened and softened since the ’80s, encouraging the fantastic with complex pizazz. In “Executive Branch,” Curry weaves verse that confronts issues of gender while retaining an isolated and unique aesthetic:

Grain bearers: frisk & fallow. Marizpan
Cloud: my bushels
to this. Daddy This: which
. Women
at desks, bound with
licorice: yes.

There is something in the air that makes these speakers imminent soothsayers. An established right of way is clearly dominant, and yet, in Curry’s realm, the end is nigh for comfort.

The personas in Curry’s poems latch on to their dynamic and unstable environments, giving those nearby stability through maddening, distinctive promises. In the tricky “Brigadier Rory Gentle,” the acidic tone leads the speaker into rules of reassurance for the audience: “We’re a fit fit fit & what you’ll think you see in my centurion slide out, is my shoe. / Grapple with the order, hoary morality, shoot up the ballroom, shake down the latrine. / I’ll cinch my shorts, Fort Trocadero, bar the door, tuck in safe, the rusting heirlooms.” In a world of decay, Curry’s words are able to invoke Pound, Duncan, and Olson, as well as more present influences like Ashbery and Iijema.

The poems form to make a language of sense but Curry does not offer it up easily; a cryptic barrier has been propped up like the defense of a sprite. In “Sky-Lit Hi,” frazzled verse reseats itself with a remarkably powerful use of repetition:

Digitally re-mastered from the pluribus tongue,
As clack through the dance hall as all-fall-down better,
Hip bones horde language, barometric or better,
The charge for admission: lip, Tom Collins or tongue.

Molding into the base of the text is metrical skill rubbed over an appreciation for form that is flicked around to spread a snarling mode of speech, one fit for a heroine or fallen angel. This voice rises and falls from poem to poem and can be found everywhere in the text, binding it together.

The subtly invasive lay-feminist voice is even stronger when it sounds most personal. In “How I Explain Myself to Former, Current & Potential Husbands,” Curry fleshes out an Aunt Maggie with anger, sorrow, and a horrifying seriousness:

I am bullet shells. I’m a frigging anachronist.
I aligned myself with the inner ear.
I pried your damned prick from my liminal ear.
I am prying your damned prick from my liminal ear.
I will pry your damned prick from my liminal ear.

This decrepit endurance is one of many examples of how Curry manages thematic weight in this book. As flashy as each speck of language is in each poem, the meaning circles all that “hapless demise / on the hovel door,” which lets us know we should be paying attention to the awkward, to the creepy, and to the familiar—and that we must concentrate on the process of liberation that leads us through each.

There is energy to be found here, and the energy is in capturing something ecstatic, something human, “as it is the cure / for the tender maladies.” Allow yourself to find the maladies in this book and relate how they are stilled and defused. Stepping into this cave is an enticing opportunity, but sitting inside and exploring the crevices provides a more intense and rewarding experience.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2011 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2011