On the eve of the release of her new full-length book of poetry, Aisle 228, I sat down virtually with Sandra Marchetti to discuss her craft as pertains to the collection. Aisle 228, which came out April 14th 2023 from Stephen F. Austin State University Press, is a book of baseball poems (with a special focus on the Chicago Cubs) dedicated to the poet’s father. As Sandra, who often goes by “Sandy,” connected with me via Zoom from a busy coffee shop, her laughter leapt out over the chatter of the crowd while she mused on her poetic process. A transcript of our conversation follows; this transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity and concision.
Ana B. Freeman: Something that struck me when reading is simply that you were able to generate so much material on the same topic, so what was your process like when it came to invention, and did you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sandra Marchetti: I will say I’m very, very slow, and I’m not writing every day. I’d love to write more, but I have a nine-to-five job, and I have had that for six or seven years. I’ve been working on this book, all told, for about nine-to-ten years. I started writing the poems in 2013 or 2014, and I was done writing most of them by 2017—but I was not completely done, and the reason I bring that up is because in 2016 and 2017, after the Cubs won the World Series, there were a couple publishers who said, “If you could finish this up, why don’t we get this out now while the team is riding this high, and you could really sell some books,” which is a wild thought for poetry, but they could have been right. But there were some more poems to go—not a lot, but some. I needed that extra time to write the poems that finished off the collection.
The first 10–20 poems I wrote were about things that I already knew I really wanted to write about. I didn’t sit down and say, “Write the poem about the 2008 team today,” but I just knew those were all in there, and they’d been in there for years. The next 10–20 started really pushing out when the team got unexpectedly very competitive, and then I had a lot of new material because the team was good and we were winning. And then the last 10–20, that’s when I really needed those years from 2017 to 2020, to really write some things that were a little more general. “Late October” and “A Nine-Year Old Girl Watches the 1993 World Series” were written at the end—some of the poems near the end but not at the end of the book; these reflect the pieces that maybe I didn’t quite think of right away, but over the years, I realized there was a place for this or that.
And it’s funny because a lot of publishers still told me this collection was too short, but I just felt like with the way I ordered it and the length of it, when it was done, it was done, and that was it. I am still writing baseball poems, but they’re not a part of this collection. So for the last few years, I’ve just been revising it and sending it out. It’s difficult to find a publisher, so that’s why it’s taken so long, but that’s every poet’s story, I think.
ABF: Speaking of the organization, I loved how you divided it into “Losers” and “Winners.” Aside from the kind of obvious choice where a poem was describing a team losing or winning, since there were some poems that wouldn’t, on a first read, automatically fit one of those categories, how did you decide which section to put a given poem in?
SM: I had a couple of folks who are really smart, great authors, whom I met at residencies, who said, “I don’t know about a timeline that’s linear for this book. Why would you want to do that? Why would you want to limit yourself that way?”
I thought about other ways, and I really couldn’t imagine it any other way. And again, that was the last piece of this book. I knew it needed to be pretty much a chronological timeline, with these other pieces that really didn’t have a timestamp on them interspersed. I looked at all the poems from the 1960s to 2014 and I put them all in the “Losers” section. And anything from 2015 and on went in the “Winners” section. There are a lot of topics that are covered in some of those poems that if you just read the poem, you’d wonder, “How does this have to do with this side of the ledger?” It has more to do with what was happening during that era of the Cubs losing or winning. For example, it could have been about other teams winning or players having success, but the Cubs team was not winning, so it went in the “Losers” section. It’s very black and white, but it felt right to me.
Poems, for me, are puzzles....
ABF: I noticed that you used some rhyme, which is unusual for contemporary literary poetry, so tell me about that.
SM: I’m a big fan of slant rhymes, interior rhymes, consonance, assonance—but you will find really typical rhymes sometimes in my poetry. I like to mess around with line breaks a lot, so visually the poem will not look like it rhymes at the end of a line, but if it were lineated differently, it would. When I read the poems out loud, I like to read through line ending. I’ll read them almost like a paragraph, or I’ll pause at different places that are not the line ending. I like this idea that you can have one visual chunk that’s a line, but then you can have a sound chunk that’s different. Poems, for me, are puzzles, so that’s always been a really fun thing for me to just play with and enjoy, practice-wise. I use a lot of nonce forms, and most of my poems are metrical either as they are or with different lineation. I like to find rhymes that are unexpected. And I read most poetry out loud. I want my poetry to be read out loud, and I want to read it out loud. Also, the voices that inspired this book were less poets and more broadcasters; the rhythm of voices really inspired a lot of the sound of this book.
ABF: One title that caught my eye was “Relish” because of that double meaning of the condiment and your enjoyment of the hot dog and presumably, of the game. How did you go about titling your work in general?
SM: I got some good advice once that if you really can’t title something, go with a really, really long title, or write the really long title and see if there’s a word or two in there that catches your eye or makes you think. Also, there’s that old exercise that composition teachers make you do where they say, “Write out five or six different topic ideas, and don’t pick the first one for your paper, but pick the third or fourth one on the list.”
I’ve done that to title poems or book collections (though not this one) before. And I really like one-word titles, so I tried to have a series of one-word titles in this book—"Relish,” “Seams,”—there are some short poems that just have one-word titles, and I was trying to do a stylistic interspersing with that. I do look for double meanings. Also, in this book, there are quotations from announcers and authors that serve as poem titles. I borrowed other people’s words a lot, and I’m not ashamed of that. Sometimes I’ll title poems in another language, and then see if I can use that other language to find a good translation or alternate readings for the words, and then translate back into English. I think there are a lot of ways to go about it, but I love that idea of not just picking your first choice, because there might be something better further down on the list.
Aisle 228 is available for purchase at https://www.tamupress.com/book/9781622889556/aisle-228/ and wherever books are sold.
SANDRA MARCHETTI (She/Her) is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Aisle 228, recently released from Stephen F. Austin State University Press (2023), and Confluence from Sundress Publications (2015). She is also the author of four chapbooks of poetry and lyric essays. Sandra’s poetry and essays appear widely in Pleiades, Ecotone, Southwest Review, Poet Lore, Subtropics, and elsewhere. Sandy is the former Poetry Editor at River Styx Magazine. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing—Poetry from George Mason University and now serves as the Coordinator of Tutoring Services at the College of DuPage in the Chicagoland area.
ANA B. FREEMAN (They/Them) is an interdisciplinary writer based in Austin, Texas. Their poetry has appeared in Bi Women Quarterly and their fiction has been published by Stone of Madness Press and Electric Literature. Their nonfiction has appeared at The Spun Yarn, Odyssey Works, and Theatre is Easy. Ana is a former poetry reader for Southwestern American Literature and holds an M.A. in English from Texas State University.