In her second collection of poetry, Bernard ( Bye Bye Blackbird ) takes the psalm as a point of departure and arrival, mingling a contemporary “scramble of idioms” with spiritual searching in more than 30 poems. The poetry is about rhythm, partly: the jazzy, worldly rhythms that surround us and can obstruct or buoy. It’s also about listening: Bernard’s ear has absorbed the calls and answers of previous meditative writings and writers before taking leave of them and claiming us as an audience. Her own voice adds to that gathering, offering lamentation, cynicism, restlessness, hope and a pictorial intelligence especially alert to urban subjects. And part of the pleasure of reading is the surprises she deals out, from word to word or line to line. In “Praise Psalm of the City-Dweller,” Bernard writes of “yellow sedans” that “herd like goats”; in “Psalm of Withdrawal” and elsewhere, she knits high and low vision and diction skillfully into one fabric. In “Psalm of the Explanation Dwellers,” she considers the battle of the sexes, without simplifying. There’s a quality of bolting in the book’s most energetic work that suggests a satisfying assertion of the human over the divine.
-Publisher’s Weekly

These 30 psalms might be read as the desperate utterances of the downwardly mobile: the apartment dweller fallen from grace, the homeless, the bereft, the healthy taken ill, perhaps fatally so. Their vision of bleakness is not limited to the urban landscape; in a beach scene, for instance, “crazy cottages stuck like bird houses above/the shifting sand/ tell their own Pentateuchal comedy, as it will/ someday also please the storm to laugh out loud” (“Psalm of the Spit-Dweller”). For Bernard, a possible explanation of our postmodern condition is that “there is/ only so much love in the world, and it got used up/by our ancestors” (“Psalm of the Explanation Dwellers”). Although many of these poems will need decoding, their emotive base is plain; a more accessible prose poem, “Lamentations and Praises,” which ends the book, seems, nevertheless, more ambitious and makes better use of the poet’s narrative gift. For brave readers.
– Ellen Kaufman