If they are brief and tend towards the monosyllabic, then they are simply echoing the fast-paced nature of contemporary life and virtual breakdown in interpersonal/human communication; if they are open to interpretations of hopelessness and pessimism, that is simply because they are reflecting the contemporary human condition; and if they come across as decidedly un-poetic, that is because they are realistic representations of life and not beautifying interpretations of it. With specific reference to the theme of death in "The Golem of Los Angeles," this essay will argue that Barnstone realistically expresses the contemporary human condition.
One of the first things that strike readers of "The Golem of Los Angeles" is its brevity. Sentences are short and straight to the point. In the opening sentence, for example, words are employed with precision and sparingly used: "The students glisten with youth." The sentence evokes images of strong-bodied youth, flushed with energy and health and immediately establishes a comparison with the speaker. Since it is their youthful energy and health which attracts the attention of the speaker and provokes commentary, one may immediately deduce that these are qualities which the narrator does not possess. The implication here is that through the careful selection of just five words, Barnstone communicates a very clear image, introduces readers to the narrator and sets the stages for the presentation of the poem's key theme - death.
With respect to the noted economy of language, it may further be interpreted as a signifier of contemporary lifestyles and modes of communication. As Barnstone (1998) explained in his PhD study, The Poetics of the Machine Age, we are currently living in an era dominated by machines and human-machine interactions have superseded human-human interactions. In addition to that, interactions with machines have imposed brevity of speech and of communication upon humans and have trained them to get straight to the point, without procrastination, prevarication or introductions. Indeed, the very style and structure of interpersonal communications has changed and Barnstone captures this change in "The Golem of Los Angeles" and, indeed, in the entire collection by that same name. Sentences, as earlier noted, are short and to the point, intent on getting the message across as efficiently and effectively as possible and not on inviting lengthy interpersonal exchanges.
The brevity of the sentences is not just expressive of the machine age and of contemporary communication patterns but of the brevity and fleeting nature of life itself. It is interesting in this regard to mention that in his essay on sonnets entitled "Manifesto of the Contemporary Sonnet," Barnstone (2008) chose to begin his article with the following quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "all that lives must die " (para 1). The reason why this quote and Barnstone's selection of it are interesting is that it expresses the underlying sentiment of this poem - life is fleeting. The speaker, once as youthful as the students whom he refers to at the outset, has been reduced by time to "dirt and clay," and to "dust." He is at death's door, more familiar with the death than he is with life. By juxtaposing healthy youthfulness with sickly old age and by separating those two image from one another with just a few sentences,