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Cherry Pie Press
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Glen Carbon
IL 62034-2905
ISBN 0 9748468 1 3

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This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

I have more than a passing interest in the American poetry world; at least enough to know that their emphasis in poetry is different to that on this side of the pond. It can be difficult to judge American material with the huge array of voices and variety, reflecting the vastness of that country, but it is refreshing to come across a voice like Martha Ficklen's, one that takes a lot of care in words, in her chapbook THE PALM LEAF FAN.

Even this book's appearance is fastidious, with the outer leaf cover in a translucent paper, over a green card inner cover, and the contents within beautifully laid out, allowing a transparency into the poems themselves.

A lot of the poems in this chapbook express

	measured bursts of forbidden freedom,
if you'll pardon me using Ficklen's own words. What comes across most strongly is her unique vision, expressed in words unusually chosen, as in ANTS IN THE KITCHEN:
	I thought for awhile they were riding in
	on The County News that arrives on Wednesdays.
is how she envisions the invasion of ants. The combination of quiet everyday detail sneaks up on the reader. Reminiscent of T.H. White's ONCE AND FUTURE KING, where Arthur becomes an ant for a while in an ant colony, the reader is jogged into appreciating both sides of the story: the human's inconvenience (and guilt) and the ants and their ingenuity.

Ficklen uses a lovely matter-of-fact quality in her poems about her family. These poems are infused with loving warmth, despite her factual presentation of subject matter, which makes it easier for the reader to wholly get behind the experiences described. For example in AT THE BEACH, curiously evocative of Katherine Mansfield's style, although the speaker's father is gravely ill, the focus is the children: how to keep them amused,

	while my Daddy was dying in town.
This helps to communicate the emotional state of readiness and denial prior to a parent's death, whilst being occupied with parenting. Later, the speaker reinforces that emotional distance that the illness has caused, describing the father as
		... propped
	up and smiling an empty grin that the stroke
	had left him.
This really conveys that inevitable conclusion, something that Ficklen returns to in MY DADDY IS WALKING AROUND IN HIS UNDERWEAR.

Another reason for being grateful for reading this collection is a poem titled EDWARD HOPPER'S TABLE FOR LADIES, METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK. This reader looked up the painting on the internet, which complimented the poem very well, allowing the reader to view Ficklen's take on this painting. The description of

	Scrambling accessories
that opens the poem, juxtaposes Ficklen's busy description of the objects and subjects, projecting an afterlife, with Hopper's tidy style of painting. Ficklen makes imaginative guesses about the people of the painting,
	Someone may be
	listening at the door, or could be waiting
	for his wife to slip into her coat.
and attributes cause and effect to the inanimate fruit:
	Yellow grapefruit illumines the buffet.
In Ficklen's poem all the objects, even the fruit have good reasons for being in the picture, reflecting Hopper's painting.

My only negative reaction is a feeling that one or two of the poems have a tendency to directly moralise. THE ELEMENTS uses a lot of abstract concepts, tying each one nicely to the elements, helping to flesh out each metaphor and element used. But the overall premises lead to a clear conclusion:

	If passed a plate of axioms,
	be careful not to choke.
	Principles must be sifted through,
	not served and swallowed whole.
Wise advice for most, however, this reader prefers to meander through a scene, taking any trail that strays, rather than be directly escorted up the garden path, straight to the front door. On balance, Ficklen's careful quality with her choice of words makes up some deficit here.

Overall, THE PALM LEAF FAN is a warm collection of poems that I enjoyed, reread and absorbed. The book is excellent value for money, considering the cover price and definitely an unusual gem.

reviewer: Barbara Smith