Pop culture provides a way for making sense of the world and an abusive Italian-American father in Joey Nicoletti's poetic memoir
How does a child make sense of the world? Like countless others, a young Joey Nicoletti – “Joefish” to his abusive father, and his mother who finally had enough and left – took refuge in comic books, science fiction, movies, and pop music. Though derided by some as “low-brow,” such media are modern manifestations of timeless archetypes, serving the same purpose that mythology has ever done. Thus BREAKAWAY, the origin story of the short-lived science fiction series Space: 1999 about a group of humans adrift on a moon unmoored from Earth, became a way of understanding his own family origin story, of his Italian ancestors coming to an alien land, making “the most out of what little they had, knowing that their survival depended on it.” The poems here, along with the title prose meditation, are crowded with memories, many painful, redolent with the fragrance of his nonni’s Wedding Soup and his father’s Benson & Hedges cigarettes, recounting the way in which Nicoletti made the most of what he had, his own survival dependent on it, managing in the end to break the generational cycle of abuse. “Now that my hair is almost as gray / as my father’s, I understand that / I don’t have to bury my anguish / like a treasure chest or a body, as he did.” Instead, he can tabulate in “My Rebirth” those many pop cultural touchpoints for expressing his thrill in life, as “once more, I praise / the same world / for spinning under / you and me.”
Poetry. Family & Relationships.
”Some families evolve, and others move through static stillness the way a tidal pool waits to be reabsorbed into an unknowable sea. In Joey Nicoletti’s BREAKAWAY, readers are gifted a rare glimpse into the mechanics of relationships between sons and their fathers, lovers and beloveds, mothers desiring to be seen through the joys of their children, and friendships as tenuous, and sometimes tectonic, as the changing shape of aging shoulders. The narrator in these poems asks, “but can I be/in charge, the master of my own narrative?” The answers are ours to discover, when holding knives in kitchens of our youth, and in remembering that we only sing when we want to. Nicoletti’s voice is of this time, yes, but it is larger in the way it holds close to memory and reverence. His poems tell us that no matter the weight of looking up to look back, “Mountains are rhetorical questions. / Everything has its own order.” —Kelli Allen
”At turns joyous and riotous, BREAKAWAY takes us on a heart-wrenching journey through a childhood filled with Marvel comics, sci-fi shows where “Kimar orders / the kidnapping of Santa Claus…to cheer the children up”, discoveries in the record department of Korvette’s department store, and moms getting drunk to the music of Joni Mitchell. Sometimes the memories are raw, too: “You break the neighbor’s window, I break you, / my father said.” Through it all, Joefish, the poet’s alter ego, wide-eyed, flies toward the moon, regards the stars, and comes tipping back to a world where fathers are gruff, grandfathers are migrant heroes, and memory is like the medicine of Nonna Ida’s wedding soup on Christmas Eve. Make no mistake, the present bears on the past here, too, as Nicoletti, teacher and citizen, hopes for a future where we can learn “to listen to each other’s songs.” —Julia Lisella
”The first thing to say about Joey Nicoletti’s breathtaking and breathless collection, BREAKAWAY, is that it worries, like a poodle worries a bone, the origin of origin stories. Time and time again, the poems return to beginnings seeding all the narrative seeds that germinate and curate and culture and create what becomes of our becomings. BREAKAWAY is all anabasis all the time, beginning and building brilliant cascades of crescendos, leaving home to then home into the homes we leave behind. The last thing to say is begin again and return, again and again, to these original regions of origins of our mythic hero selves and our questioning and quenching quests.” —Michael Martone
”Joey Nicoletti masterfully frames paradoxes of life— often in family— using candor and brilliant imagery as spotlights. And with wonderful, surprising lines delivering you to eventual luminous endings, his poems invariably rivet the soul. Exploring his heritage, comic books, cinema, and sports, Joey invites the reader into unparalleled worlds of wonder.” —Baruch November
Born in New York City, Joey Nicoletti is a graduate of the University of Iowa, New Mexico State University, and Sarah Lawrence College. He is the author of four poetry chapbooks and six full-length collections, including Cannoli Gangster (WordTech Communications, 2012), Boombox Serenade (BlazeVOX [books], 2019), and FAN MAIL (Broadstone Books, 2021). His Pushcart Prize-nominated poems, reviews, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies. He resides in Western New York with his family and teaches in the College Writing Program at SUNY Buffalo State University. Follow him on Twitter @ JoeyNicoletti and Instagram @joeynicoletti.