Interview _ Marilyn Ricci

Marilyn Ricci is a poet, playwright and editor.

Her poetry has been published in a wide range of small press magazines and her pamphlet, Rebuilding a Number 39, was published by HappenStance Press. Her first full collection, Night Rider, is out now from SoundsWrite Press.

In this interview, Marilyn Ricci talks about her writing and about Journeys in Translation.

How would you describe the work you do?

In terms of my poetry writing, I’d describe it as fulfilling and often a huge struggle. When a ‘prompt’ or idea comes to me for a poem (usually through reading other people’s poetry) I feel an excitement because I know I’ve stumbled across something which is important to me. This is the beginning of a process which is sometimes quite difficult but will end, I hope, with a poem which is meaningful both to me and to others with whom I hope to connect. That connection is the important thing.

Which are the easiest aspects of the work?

I think the easiest aspects are enjoying other people’s work, getting together with other poets and gaining inspiration from this. Poetry isn’t a solitary occupation for me.

In terms of the actual writing itself, very occasionally a poem does seem to waft my way and I more or less just write it down and then play with it until it feels right. I wish that happened more often.

With regard to the writing process, one of the most challenging aspects is cultivating patience. When something has prompted me to write, I begin by getting a few lines down. I’m listening for rhythm, wondering about form, cutting out the extraneous to make sure every word earns its place in the poem, looking for what excites me in the subject matter and looking at that from an unexpected perspective or speaking about it in a new way. I’m constantly interrogating the poem as I work on it. This can take a long time and you have to be patient and bold – start all over again if necessary.

I belong to a women’s poetry group in Leicester – SoundsWrite – and I workshop a lot of my poems there to make sure I’m asking the right questions, to help me to be patient and keep working on the poem until it feels right to me. I often refer to a poem as ‘cooked’. What I don’t want is ‘half-baked.’

Marilyn Ricci's books include the poetry pamphlet, Rebuilding a Number 39 (HappenStance Press, 2008) and the poetry collection, Night Rider (SoundsWrite Press, 2017).

Who or what has had the most influence on you?

Regarding subject matter, many of my influences come from my childhood growing up on a council estate just outside Leicester. My parents worked in local factories and I’ve written a sequence about them, “Hannah and Con At Work” – in my latest collection, Night Rider. As was very common in 1960s Leicestershire, my mum worked in the hosiery and my dad in ‘the print’. But they weren’t locals. They were incomers from the mining areas of South Wales and County Durham who were moved during the 1930s on a government scheme to get people out of the depressed areas. They brought their politics with them which greatly influenced my view of the world and so I was very aware of social class differences and the systematic inequalities that produces. This led later to an awareness of gender and ethnic inequalities too and the crazy ways people attempt to justify them and promote prejudice. I hope this is apparent in my poem ‘Framed’ which is being translated – the notion that women covering their heads with a headscarf as something unheard of in British culture is a lie. Not covering the head in public in the UK is a very recent thing and as I said in the poem: my mother always wore a headscarf when she left the house.

The list of other poets who have influenced me is very long, almost too many to name. Here are a few: John Keats, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Stevie Smith, D A Prince, Stephen Dobyns, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Don Patterson, Dennis O’Driscoll, Carole Bromley and many others who may only be known in the small press world.

Supportive editors of small press magazines have also been a great source of strength and encouragement over the years.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement so far?

Getting poems published in magazines I respect isn’t easy so it’s always exciting when I get an acceptance.

In terms of publications, I’m very proud of my 2008 pamphlet, Rebuilding a Number 39, published by HappenStance Press. And this year I’m equally proud of my first full-length collection, Night Rider, published by Karin Koller at Leicester-based SoundsWrite Press. It has been a delight to put together the collection and to read from it at various venues.

Another highlight would be working with Somali friends to translate a beautiful Somali poem, “I Am Somali”, into English and getting that published in Modern Poetry in Translation in 2014.

I have also edited books and written plays that have been performed all over the East Midlands which has been a great experience, but that’s another story.

Marilyn Ricci's poems have been featured in anthologies that include Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). 

How did you get involved with Over Land, Over Sea?

I can’t remember exactly but I came across the fact that contributions were being sought for an anthology to help support refugees and asylum seekers. I thought it was a brilliant idea. And it has proved to be so.

Seeing the terrible scenes on the coast of Greece (it’s been happening for years in Sicily too) and then reading the sickeningly nasty responses from some parts of the British media made me want to counter that in some way.

What would you say is the value of initiatives like Journeys in Translation?

The value of an initiative such as this is quite hard to measure. It doesn’t produce the so-called ‘hard’ evidence (usually statistical) that is now so beloved of governments, corporations and many other organisations. That ‘hard’ evidence does have value, but it isn’t the only type of evidence which shows an activity has brought, for instance, great benefit to people.

In this case, it’s a matter of ‘small acorns’ which eventually produce mighty oak trees (there’s a nice English proverb!). Putting people in touch with each other through poetry is the sort of activity which brings fulfilment and a sense of worth to people’s lives and souls. For the writers, it’s wonderful that other people will delve into your poem, pull it apart and rebuild it. For the translators, it’s an insight into another poet’s mind and re-producing the poem so that it becomes meaningful to even more people. For readers it links people together as fellow human beings who may be very different, but also share a common humanity.

Marilyn Ricci’s “Framed”, Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) p. 114. Translated into Greek by Irena Ioannou. 

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land: Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.


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