It becomes clear from the very first poem in this collection, that Crib is no light bedtime reading. This sub-sequence of forty poems is a selection from a larger collection of a hundred and eleven poems, written for the poet’s young son and completed on his first birthday. All of these one hundred and eleven poems are but a small part in Petrucci’s larger project, i tulips.
As endearing as this collection might sound, Crib is by no means soft and cuddly, and it never at any point becomes overemotional. I felt that if it weren’t for the title, it would be quite difficult to link the majority of these poems to Petrucci’s little son at all. Instead of coming wrapped in a baby blue blanket, the subject of this collection recalls a rather inkier gestation.
Crib is more accurately an exploration of the literary process itself. The child that can be glimpsed throughout the sequence is often described as a series of body parts, mirroring Petrucci’s fragmented writing style. In “as fruit whelms”, Petrucci describes a “peach-heavy head”, his “chin a white pear’s” and
[…] lids raspberry
-crushed after crying […].
Although this fragmentation could be interpreted as a father’s attentiveness to his newborn child, the few emotionally raw images within Crib appear scattered in a stormy sea of unruly words that themselves demand attention and challenge perceptions of language.
Petrucci’s sentences run wild; the short and compact stanzas he uses do little to tame the words that overflow freely disregarding their own structure or meaning. The lack of punctuation adds to this sense of disjointed motion, and although the poet seems to insert double spaces between certain words that might aid the reader’s interpretation, these do not always fulfil such a function:
desire : on
bed & rail.
This clear exploration of the literary substance of words highlights the child and poet’s shared struggle. The frustration that underlies this task is expressed most explicitly in “i watch childbody”:
i watch childbody
locked out vowelled
-jointed as when
from its rock […]
The term “childbody” lends the poem an awkward, almost primitive element, and the use of extreme enjambment creates a visual representation of the word “misjointed” relevant to the collection as a whole. This self-awareness is then emphasised by the onomatopoeic italicized words found later in the poem: “click” and “snick”.
Frustration emerges throughout the collection in the form of violent vocabulary such as “blood” and “death”. Certain images such as
could be seen as portraying the trauma of birth or the dichotomy of life and death, and there is certainly ample symbolism throughout the sequence that requires unpacking and close reading.
That these poems never run the risk of becoming over-sentimental is mainly ensured by Petrucci’s range of vocabulary. The third stanza of the first poem sets the standard for what is to follow by describing the poet’s baby as:
I enjoy literature which challenges me enough to warrant re-reading, yet it is important to note that Crib demands a level of commitment to match its author’s unmistakable dedication to language. The reader may find aspects of e.e.cummings here, but perhaps without the earlier poet’s emotional connections. Whether the reader feels Crib rewards the close re-reading and still more re-reading required is a moot point, but for me, the whole experience was not quite enough.