Poetry. Italian & Italian American Studies. It's been a while since baseball was truly the "national pastime"—long enough that Ken Burns had to remind us why it matters as much as the Civil War or jazz in understanding America—and perhaps that's why our impression of the game is more often drawn from movies rather than from the thing itself. Joey Nicoletti opens this book of poems in the form of "Fan Mail" to baseball players, by quoting perhaps the best-known contemporary tribute to baseball, James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, intoning "This field, this game: it's part of our past." For Nicoletti, that past is personal, and in the opening pages we meet his grandfather, a veteran of World War II, and are introduced to his large Italian-American family. There's another ubiquitous movie line about baseball that Nicoletti doesn't quote (because he doesn't need to), Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own declaring "There's no crying in baseball." There's no crying in these poems either, because Nicoletti tells us "I was raised / with tough love: // to hide my feelings / so that no one would use them / to hurt me." Reading these letters, we quickly realize that his admiration and affection for these players has less to do with how they played the game, and much more to do with how they helped Nicoletti to find his way in the world. "Why / do I feel so connected / to someone I've never met?" he asks of Dave Kingman, his baseball card in hand. One answer comes in a letter "To Razor Shines," recalling how learning about ball players offered a window into a world away "from the constant yelling, / screaming, kicking, and punching" and "became a hope / that I could make / a different reality / for myself; / that I could find / my own way / to be present / in the moment / without knowing / precisely how / things would work out." If baseball offered Nicoletti a way out, it also provides a connection back to his family and heritage, and there is deep love and respect in these pages, for instance in his letter "To Pete Rose" wherein he finds the player's batting record "is almost / as spectacular / of an achievement / as my mother / teaching herself / and her parents / how to speak, read / and write English / as a first generation / Italian American, / in a chippy game /of cultural assimilation / where there was / no seventh inning stretch." Returning to that quote from Field of Dreams, this is a book to savor, whether or not you know or care about baseball, because "It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again." It reminds us of what it is to be human.
Joey Nicoletti is the author of such books as Cannoli Gangster, Thundersnow, REVERSE GRAFFITI (Bordighera Press, 2015), FAN MAIL (Broadstone Books, 2021), and Boombox Serenade. His Pushcart Prize-nominated poems have appeared in Aethlon, Pembroke Magazine, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and other journals. He was born in New York City and is a faculty member of the College Writing Program at SUNY Buffalo State.Author City: NEW YORK, NY USA