HappenStance, 2008 -  £4.00 www.happenstancepress.com

Marilyn Ricci takes us on a journey back through that familiar rite of passage, growing up.  However, this isn’t a hagiographic journey, but one tempered by adult knowledge, creating a compassionate narrative.  For example in ‘Consuming Passion’:

I say something’s been eating him since the war.

That was sixty years ago, she yells above the roar of her
welding torch out in the hall where she’s rebuilding
a number 39 which used to go to Crystal Palace,
and will again if she’s anything to do with it.
Which is where they met.  Crystal Palace—
flashy and glimmery.

Dad’s out of control. Mum’s up to there.

There’s a telling comparison of parents in ‘Mams’ and ‘Dads’ where one mother “rolls down the Co-op like Jean Shrimpton” while the other “attacks burned-on grime with Brillo / pads and a blunt knife.” Yet both dread the night: one “climbs the stairs, slowly, as if/ flowing hard against a chill wind” and the other “hopes his needy arms stay buried.” One dad “blows home on a cloud of resentment”; the other, digging “remembers hot days in Italy—/ children buried in rubble.”

Marilyn Ricci’s strength lies in the acutely observed detail that illuminates the poem beyond the ordinary. For example, “Her shoulders ease their burdens./ She squeezes my arm on the way to the kettle” (from ‘Home’), “Their lives, I think, were matches on flint,/ sparks lingering/ in night air” (from ‘Matches’); “Straw hat, red gloves and a white handbag/ swinging from her elbow as she waved/ and I cringed” (from ‘Glove’). It’s as if she starts with such a detail and builds the poem around it. Mostly this works, but occasionally I felt the surrounding blocks slipped into prose and just needed a little more attention to rhythm to keep the cement around those blocks smooth.

Rebuilding a Number 39 doesn’t just focus on the autobiographical. ‘Yakking’ tells the tale of two grandmothers gossiping whilst toddlers feed ducks, and ends in a near brush with tragedy. ‘Rebuilding a Number 39’ is a good introduction to Marilyn Ricci, a stepping-stone to a fuller collection.

Emma Lee

What the Common Reader says about Marilyn Ricci’s Rebuilding a Number 39:

I picked up this little gem because I thought the cover was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen on any pamphlet with its black outline of a mouth blowing words like ferns, or flowers. When you look carefully, you can see the most beautiful shapes of doves. I really enjoyed reading about ordinary, everyday family life through the eyes of a daughter. The writing has a real warmth to it. ‘Eclipse’ speaks volumes about the closeness between mother and daughter:


          I look up at her. My star of a mum,
          my would-not-run-off-with-the-milkman mum,
          my warm, moody, unpredicable mum,
          might threaten-to-eat-her-young mum,
          my never-got-used-to-the-South mam.