Some of the Times looks at the daily disaster of late capitalism with a weather eye, exercising a quiet pragmatism. The poems are engaged with scavenging and inventorying. The first half of the book is an accounting of what daily categories of beauty and relief are available within piling crises. The second half of Some of the Times is a documentary poem about the economic decay of the poet’s hometown of Saginaw, Michigan. This section changes form to a prose poem, with paragraph-like stanzas more bleak, more stoic, more simply bereft. “The city smaller & smaller each year.” Throughout, the language verges on antipoetic. Conversational, blunt, a refusal of intoxication and mystification, or any kind of hallucinatory spectacle that language might be able make of these ruins.
Conversation, connection, rest – are a few ingredients of temporary reprieve. The stoop is a sliver of something (not freedom), that can serve as a gathering place. It begins to suggest a semi-public, something nearly a commons. Often throughout these poems, words fail. They are evocative of a depressive kind of classed pragmatism. Still, beauty is real, incidental, inside the disaster. Encountering is an act of salvage but not escape. In these poems, “shards of glass / & splintered wood” are beautiful, as is conversation with friends where these things can be noticed. Conversations among poets continue amid the intensifying crush of global climate change, illness, severe weather. The book, written before and published amid the pandemic, anticipates the aura of grim carrying on amidst crisis, the importance of cataloging small joys.
Some of the Times does not romanticize language, grappling with how available words of comfort are gathered and rehearsed. They form a self-conscious mantra, a refrain, the repetition of an empty form “… things I don’t believe / but believe I’m supposed to stay.” The disaster renders the speaker sometimes passive beneath its magnitude, an observer “The day passes / before us.”
Reckoning with emptiness, shattering, formlessness of self, and unavailability of meaning form the searching heart of the book, in which poems record the seeking reprieve from shifting constancy of loss. It is a book that reflects the affective reality of its setting, Philadelphia, the poorest big city in America, where 25% percent of the population lives in poverty. The acts of salvage are particular to Philly’s broken systems, it’s sometimes picturesque infrastructural decay. The moments held within the poems, a careful log of what nonetheless shimmers, are modest: waiting, watching shifting light, singing songs, going to the beach, disrobing after work. These are the small instances of movement, possibility, surprise, ways in which beauty just shows up out of nowhere. Yet these instances don’t fix anything, “I wouldn’t give this up / but no it’s not / freedom.”
Throughout, the book details again and again a fragment of release, and then reminds us that these moments are not freedom. Even “The love I feel is not freedom.” These declarations are a kind of refusal to romanticize that feels galvanizing, tough, the pre-requisite for political engagement, and activism.
Disaster and collapse manifest in the body, which is contiguous with the world. The external conditions detailed and listened to through news feels connected to the way illness manifests in the body of the speaker. The body is a precipitation, a portion of world. Still, in these poems there is a realness to the way it records connection, the way we feel isolated, outside and beyond each other even while side-by-side. Fighting and separated by private battles, which are connected, systemic. Our language becomes each other’s bodies in durational accompaniment. The repetition of comfort is a kind of exchange. We say what we can to acknowledge, to bring ourselves into relationship, and to try the incantation of what want to try to make real.
“What is / the opposite of / a resolution / a dissolution / a disillusion.”
Levi Bentley is a white queer poet, 2019 LAMBDA Literary Fellow, and 2017 Leeway Art and Change grantee. They live in Philadelphia where they design and co-edit Asterion Projects with Ted Rees. They have released chapbooks through Lamehouse press, Damask Press, and Well Greased Press. Poems have appeared in Apiary, Bedfellows, BlazeVOX, Elective Affinities, Emerge: 2019 Lambda Anthology, We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics from Nightboat Books, and a variety of other venues.