Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Cure for Pain: A Review of
Aisle 228

by Sandra Marchetti
(Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2023) 

Reviewed by Krystal Languell

Poetry is the cure for loneliness. Baseball is the cause. So goes the first section of Sandy Marchetti's Aisle 228. Titled "Losers," this half of the book portrays the trials and tribulations of a fan whose patrilineal inheritance includes allegiance to the "lovable losers" commonly known as the Chicago Cubs. Spare and sharp, Marchetti's work unfurls moments of grief, inviting the reader to feel alongside her speaker. Disappointment needs a witness to carry on. Take the poem “Cross Country,” quoted in its entirety here:
    At 15,000 feet
    and climbing,
    I look down
    from Seat 7A
    into a suburban
    swimming pool
    and feel my
    glasses splash.
    Whenever I
    fly I search
    for the baseball
    There are so many
    in the Midwest
    and you can
    always spot them—
    how the dust plumes,
    how green the grass,
    how there is so much
    good land for them.

The speaker searches for signs that the tie to her beloved game is unbroken. She seeks the same reassurance in the next poem “AM,” in which she turns on the radios in her home to create surround sound. She gathers her squad.
Frequently, Marchetti uses the volta as an opportunity to open a door to the reader. The poem "Praise" describes the movement of a stadium crowd, which sits and stands roughly in unison. The poem ends, "Tell me, / what do you do at church?" creating an opportunity for the reader to compare their own spiritual activity to a series of sporting rituals. Moreover, the form, a loose sonnet, echoes the traditional mood. 
Often, too, Marchetti uses the pronoun "you," though the identity of that "you" varies from one piece to another. "You dictate my stillness / and my bend" evokes a strong sense of physicality. It's a little sexy. And yet this line is directed not at a lover, but at long-time Cubs radio broadcaster Pat Hughes. Marchetti subtly provides the contextualizing images we need to be able to quickly change gears with her. Her reliance on images suggests the book is not driven by character and narrative, despite what you might expect from a book centered on sports. Rather, this collection is driven by emotion—not the mind, but the heart.  
As part of a poetic system, Marchetti's imagery creates surprise; a rabbit leaps out of a hat in the middle of some poems. Later, "Distortion" describes a road trip into Wisconsin with AM radio tuned to the Brewers game:
    The signal glowed 
    fainter with each ray
    disappearing, I was
    northing with Bob Uecker.

Denominalization is a fancy word for what Marchetti does to the word "north" here; you could just call it verbing the noun, too. The line also compactly suggests the image of a car traveling north on an unbending Midwest highway. Marchetti otherwise conforms to conventional grammar, making the moment appear in sharp relief. I could see the bug guts on the windshield as the radio signal faded along with sun. 
Baseball is the cure for loneliness. Poetry is the cause. Writing can be isolating, pulling poets away from our communities and loved ones to toil at our desks. What a welcome diversion the ballpark can be, especially when the home team is doing well. "Winners," the second half of Aisle 228, follows the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who opened a portal to hell by winning the World Series that year. As Obvious Shirts, a new t-shirt company founded by a Cubs fan to proudly state obvious opinions, phrases it: "The greatest game ever played was on a Wednesday in Cleveland." How odd! Communal celebration, alongside a sense of the supernatural, inhabits this section of the book.
Marchetti skillfully renders the emotional rollercoaster of being a fan. The important moments of a game happen quickly. In a double play, "hands work the blur." In a poem about defensive plays, a little magic has to be invited in. There is magic, but crying as well. Myths are busted. As the final play of the World Series concludes, she notes "silencethen / a bursting beat." The em dash and the gerund seem to invoke Emily Dickinson, whose “After great pain, a formal feeling comes–” is resonant with the moment of epiphany. The poem ends, “First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go.” Even though the Dickinson poem illustrates death, it suits the victorious situation well too. Certainly, Cubs fans felt a great pain in the 108-year drought between championships. And stupor definitely followed.
Baseball and poetry offer escape from the quotidian, an opportunity to immerse ourselves in larger, if metaphorical, struggles. Forming a sort of binary star, each also offers a window into the other. Think of the poetic language sports broadcasting has given us in just the last few years, ranging from Marshawn Lynch’s “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” to Thom Brennaman’s “drive into deep left field from Castellanos.” Out of huge data sets in the world of sports, artful moments emerge like precious gems. In Aisle 228, Marchetti uses the Cubs’ historic victory as a lens on the emotional range of a life-long fan. Of the pivotal memories she highlights, many are experienced alone. Readers find that winning and losing can both be lonely, but connecting with other fans is a cure for pain.

Krystal Languell is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Systems Thinking with Flowers (fonograf editions, 2022). She works for a family foundation and in her unpaid time participates in dynamic resource mobilization with and for recently arrived and formerly unhoused folks in Chicago.

No comments:

Post a Comment