Monday, April 24, 2023

TBR: Aisle 228 by Sandra Marchetti

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 


We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?


Aisle 228 is about the 2016 Chicago Cubs, listening to baseball on the radio, and going to games with my father. The book highlights milestones across Major League Baseball of the past 50 years and culminates in the Cubs World Series win. Baseball fans any team will enjoy this title, along amateur historians and readers of literary nonfiction—it also makes an excellent gift! 



What boundaries did you break in the writing of this book? Where does that sort of courage come from?


Well, I’m not sure about breaking boundaries, but I know of many female sports fans who were also writers who never published work about sports. Maybe they wrote it but didn’t show it to anyone? Not sure. Marianne Moore and Annie Dillard come to mind as two of them. Many women have come up to me after readings or panels and said wow, I never thought of sharing my experience with sports—they mention that they aren’t really athletes or that there wasn’t a place for their voice in that sphere. Other sports fans have approached me and said they never liked poetry but they liked these poems. Conversely, others say they never thought of writing poems about sports, but after hearing mine they have a “tennis poem” in them or something, and that delights me!


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


I started writing this book in 2013-2014. I work a 9-5 and wrote and edited this book on (short) winter and summer breaks and a few residencies I was lucky enough to get. It was rejected 100+ times. I went to trade publishers who didn’t know about poetry but liked the sports angle. I had an agent briefly until he realized that he couldn’t help me. I sent to dozens of contests only to hear from publishers “open to anything” that sports writing was definitely out. I heard it was too short. Sometimes I never heard back. I was told to self-publish dozens of times. I kept revising—every six months—trying to remember “every line must be a poem and the book itself should be one poem.”


The poems were largely written by 2017, but 2022 was the acceptance year. What kept me going was knowing this book was good and that someone should want to publish it. And I had to polish out every impurity to get there. Also, it helped that readers reached out to me asking when the book would be out and where they could get it. The buzz was palpable and I’m so grateful for that. It pained me that I couldn’t give this book to my audience so I kept going. I’m so grateful I found a press amenable to the subject matter.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


“No threat, no poem.” ~Dave Smith


“Less is more.” –Maybe not writing advice, but as a “spare” poet, it’s always worked for me. I find we try to say things multiple times in our writing to ensure we’re getting our point across, but readers are smart and we don’t have to say it more than once.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


There were a lot of surprises in the writing of this book. I guess the big one is that right in the middle of writing it, the Cubs won the World Series! Also, Ichiro’s retirement (he seemed like a demigod—almost like he’d never retire). So, those things changed the course of the manuscript. What started out as perhaps being a melancholy love song to this team of perpetual disappointment, quickly had to adapt. I was thrilled to write about a winner, but was almost intimidated by the prospect. A few publishers approached me wanting to publish the book back in 2016/7, hot on the heels of the World Series win, but it just wasn’t ready. For better or worse, I stuck to my guns on that one and the book became more holistic—not just about the team’s win, but a lot more, too.


How do you approach revision?


I work on individual poems for a long time. Sometimes a poem of 75 words lives in the revision process for two or three years. When polishing poems for a book, even poems I see as “done” sometimes need another pass. Not every poem in a book is going to be of equal quality (despite what people tell you). So, they may not all have the same “ceiling” of potential, but they at least need to have the same “floor”—does that make sense? So those that stand out as clunky during a read through years later still need work. I think part of what helped this book across the finish line was that two poems that seemed a little rough to me for years finally were “fixed” before the book was accepted. I had tinkered with them—revised them eight different ways—but refused to give up on them. When I finally got them right, the whole book just read better.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


My favorite ballpark food is Gilroy Garlic Fries, available at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Enjoy them with a view of the Bay! Here’s my jerry-rigged home recipe:


½ bag frozen fries (Idaho Hand Cut Fries are a fave, or you can make your own potato wedges if you’re fancy)


5/6 large cloves of fresh garlic, minced


Freshly chopped Parsley, cilantro, or chive (according to taste)


Salt and pepper


Olive oil (can substitute truffle oil)


Parmesan cheese (optional)


1.)   Bake fries according to bag directions

2.)   Put all other ingredients in small bowl and mix

3.)   Add hot, baked fries to large bowl and pour mix on top

4.)   Use spatula to mix

5.)   Serve immediately (preferably with a steak sandwich or burger!)


(Optional: Therabreath Fresh Mint Mouthwash for after the meal. It does the trick!)















DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.