Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium

By Crystal Curry

Slope Editions
November 2010
96 pages


Reviewed by Weston Cutter


I've been waiting for Crystal Curry's Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium for six years now, maybe seven. See, long ago, in an issue of Conduit, I read her poem, "My One Paneled Wall":

There are one trillion ways to say my one
paneled wall
. Such as, any necklace is

too tight, the air has been punched out
of breakfast, the scenario involves many

ceremonies of lypo & lipids, or the eyes have
. Beauty is the only recourse, she says & pencils

& forks insist they’re liked best lined up
& facing northward. At the moment

of your death, she says, you must have
courtesy samples of lipsticks & eye shadows

to divvy amongst your hungry nieces. Heat
sticks to smile & ass, indivisible. Fire

in the cheeks sticks, stumbling over his till. The
tremor of fruit, faintly. The fork whispers:

 northward. A word for “fucking miracle.”

I remember reading that line "the air has been punched out / of breakfast," and feeling like something had been pushed aside. We've all got poets like this, right? Poets whose work fundamentally opens stuff up, poets who slowdance possibility and make it seem easy? Curry has been that for me for a long time: I've still got a copy of "My One Paneled Wall" stuffed in a book somewhere.

Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium is gorgeous and the language is as alive and ferocious and omnidirectional as I could've hoped. Curry's book is a new title to add to the very short list of books which fundamentally operate as books. It gathers feeling from the fact that it seems to be becoming as it's laid out.

Let's get specific. The book is split into five sections of roughly equal lengths. The forms Curry repeats most often are either 1) the block-o-poetry with explosions (instead of each poem wearing the left-justified shirt, there are, in most of her block poems, tabby flingings, wider-cast moments and lines) or 2) couplets. There are poems in this book which present sideways on the page and there are long poems which feature six-or-so line stanzas and variable line lengths. There are some prose poems.

Look at the title of this book, Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium. Trace it fully out: the reader's included as of the first word, and these arms (whichever arms, but let's assume, on first glance, it's our regular old flesh-and-bone arms) being chrome plays/leads directly into of Gymnasium. Note that a simpler writer would've made the phrase Our Chrome Gymnasium Arms, which is something else entirely: simple, direct, lacking major play. The key is of Gymnasium.

Any reader's wise to bear in mind that transformative of phrasing from the title—the whole book shouts and echoes and bleats regarding what things are of: this is an omnivorous, connective collection, in which, ultimately, almost everything is of other stuff. For instance, here's the first bit of "Cherries":

We wanted it far more finger to nose; low pile
on knee-high seats, haywired. We wanted it shamrock,

erotic wind. Bright city: we're doing it. Lightning:
come in
. We wanted it come to rest on the craps table,

so we would feel so very money storm then.
Better than tens. Whirling lights, then.

The luxurious playfulness of these lines knocks me sideways each read. The poem begins not just with an utterance of desire, but wanting something more like something else, and that something else is odd, impossible to simply parse (more drunk? more play-like?). Then, after a grounding moment (assume whoever this we is is haywired, is among the "low pile / on knee-high seats"), more wanting: what's it mean to want something shamrock—and not just shamrock, but erotic wind? And then this same magic, this other-directional flinging: these next words are statements but are so wild and strange and inviting it's hard to imagine any reader not succumbing completely to them. "We're doing it. Lightning: / come in." It's an invite-to-all, to chaos and charge and illumination and the potential for burn or fire, for everything. Curry's poems are wildly open mouths, calling for everything. And the rest of this little section? Just more evidence of how edgelessly daring Curry's willing to be: even feeling doesn't trace the understood paths, but, here, bristles oddways, to say absolutely nothing of the crazed causality she's establishing.

This happens every page in this book: wild lines and acts of becoming. In fact, in the preface (4 pages, 8-lined prose poems each page), Curry preps the reader: "You are always just about to become. I wear a charged possibility—nothing more." That's from the second page of the preface, and the structure's played out in each section (before that: "You are a plague, a harbinger of three swell-worn ships. I wear a bracelet of / constellations—nothing more"; after, "You are the / hairs on the back of the neck. I am wearing a cloud of dust—nothing more." and then "You are a long-term picture. I wear the praxes of / agriculture—nothing more."). Of note in all of this isn't simply the magnificent play of words, nor the shocking gorgeousness of how things are repeated (and how the poems, strange as they are, play out like good old narrative poems which expand notions of what the world is and what can happen), but the action in each: there's call and response, one thing's existence and another thing's existence put side-by-side, stripped down and cast in odd light, and, because of their proximity, they make each other mean.

It's hard to talk about this book, honestly—it's akin to Bruce Covey's excellent Glass is Really a Liquid, in that it builds its own rules and structures, and that the book uses play to get at seriousness. For instance: "How I explain myself to Former, Current, and Potential Husbands," and "Drink To," the first which is understandable enough, the second which is a multi-page monster of what to toast to which (of course) includes none of the things one'd automatically think to drink to. What Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium does best and most often is enact want and need and playfulness and then, instantly, satisfy the want it's created. Early in the book, in "Automated Floorness/Ceilingness Questionairre," the poem asks "When you / sweep / does it make a broom?" That sort of enactment is how this book shines hottest and brightest: in all the right and best ways, Crystal Curry's debut feels alive in the reader's hands, becoming something anew each time it's read.