The poems in All Simple Things But Time ruminate on time, memory, the natural world, and significant people and events in history. The collection also includes a series of poems that follow the travels of a fictional character named Norgood, aka “N. G. Flake, Around the World,” to London, Munich, Zurich, Hong Kong, and home.
Poet Howard Bernstein offers some notably fresh imagery and word play in his work. In “The Edge of Farmlands,” for example, the author writes: “On farmland’s edge, row apartments grow/The walls sieve sound.” In another poem, he observes: “dusk sets the pumpkin heads aglow.” In many lines, the author displays an appealing, wry sensibility, as in: “Ice cube poised between the teeth – and crunch/the desperate ritual of lunch – with Gin.”
Unfortunately the slim collection’s scope — far too wide to closely explore any particular subject or era — undercuts its effectiveness. In “Between the Twitter and the Tweet,” the speaker comments upon the current cultural moment: “Our fingers can’t stay still […] The tinier the device,/ the grander the paradox.” Two poems later, readers are catapulted to ancient Greece: “Bacchus, dear Bacchus,/ pardon, Dionysus, Olympic Greek.” Readers are sent from place to place and subject to subject, with no sectional divisions denoting time, place, or theme; the result is literary whiplash.
In addition, the speaker often relies on archaic diction, even when addressing current events (“a winsome summer’s lass,” “will come to naught,” “beneath a gibbous moon”). Bernstein is at his best when he keeps the language simple and the images concrete: “It’s enough to be alive,/ to stroll the park/ like a cool breeze” and “This is a College Girl town in winter./ Deep snow, frozen bright, holds/ clapboard houses. White on white.”
The author is clearly well-read and knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects, and his poetry offers some fine moments. Readers who can overlook the disjointed feel and occasionally overblown language will find much to appreciate.
Also available as an ebook.