#63: Mathias Svalina
Denver-based poet Mathias Svalina, a sometime teacher and small-press editor, lately devotes himself to delivering writing and delivering dreams to doorsteps by bicycle, when he isn’t writing his own poetry by the volumes and keeping track of fellow souls who’ve also chosen the road less-traveled. Read his answers to the 100CC questionnaire and take an exhilarating ride through Svalina’s midnight world.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Mathias Svalina: It would be fun to collaborate with the painter Remedios Varo. Her particular blend of fabulism, archetypal social critique and the surreal is a deep source of inspiration for me. At a museum as a teenager, totally unfamiliar with her work, I stumbled upon a show of her paintings of monkish people transforming starlight into birds, and other such miracles. Seeing them taught me, for maybe the first time in my life, that I was not alone. I’d like to collaborate with her just to watch her mind at work and to get a glimpse into how she developed the majesty of her weirdness.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Man alive, everyone—or at least everyone who is hard at work to enact some kind of change. Maybe the artist I’m most interested in is Julie Mehretu. I love how she layers different kinds of gestures and modes of thinking in her paintings and drawings. Her work is so smart and so vast and so inclusive of many cultures and ways of thinking and being. I walk away from her paintings knowing I must do more, work harder, be more expansive, more aware of the world—not only as a writer but as a human.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
I don’t think I have an answer for this question. It’s not really how my mind works. I try to be enthused for whatever makes an artist want to create and affect their world. The amazing thing about art is that each work provides a new way to make sense of the chaos of being human. And if that way is not for me, that’s cool. When you write or paint or perform, you never know who will be affected and changed by what you do, but they are out there. All art finds its audience.
What's your day job?
I am a dream deliveryman. I run a Dream Delivery Service. I take subscriptions and write and deliver dreams to subscribers every day for a month at a time. I spent 2016 and 2017 traveling around the country, delivering dreams in various American cities, and now I am back in Denver running the service out of the new Denver Theater District arts-incubator space, Understudy. During the months in which I deliver, I usually wake up around two or three in the morning and bike around town in the dark, dropping off little pink envelopes, containing dreams at people’s front doors. Around dawn I finish deliveries, and then I write dreams all day for the next morning’s deliveries.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Scenario 1: Buy all my friends who need health care the best medical assistance they can get. Hire lawyers for undocumented people. Do all the things that perpetually having no money keeps me from doing to try to change the world.
Scenario 2: Devote all my time and all the money to uncovering the identity of the mystery patron and secretly funnel all the money back to the patron while they keep funding me, so that the flow of money becomes a financial standing wave. Find a financial surfboard at a thrift store and teach myself how to surf on this standing wave.
Scenario 3: Take a couple thousand dollars to buy durable bike parts and fix my busted teeth. Cash out the unlimited funds every day until I have collected all the money in all of the world, toss that in a pit, and set it on fire.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver is great: supportive friends, loads of talented writers and musicians, and easy access to the mountains—sublime. I love how people like NINE Dot ARTS, Dan Landes of City, O’City and Campus Lounge, and Sommer Browning of the Georgia Art Space are working hard to keep Denver’s scrappy identity, as the city expands in its identity-obliterating pace. What makes me want to leave Denver is that everywhere else is pretty great, too. And there’s more not-Denver in the world than there is Denver.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Colorado could transform the entire state into a complicated maze and have all the residents of Colorado wander the maze for their entire lives, collecting hole-punches in their punchcards. You would get a hole punched in your card each time you discover the way out of the maze, but then choose to get lost all over again.
I’m not sure that would help, though. Probably more funding for the arts and more ground-up methods of funding artists in communities would be easier than changing the whole state into a maze. Actually, the maze thing is probably not a good idea.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
The novelist Steven Dunn. His novel Potted Meat is the best book I’ve read by a Colorado resident in a long while, and there are a ton of amazing writers in Denver, so that is really saying something. And with Art of Storytelling, the reading series he curates, he provides a model for inclusivity in arts events. And on the personal level, he is one of the most positive, compassionate and supportive people I’ve met in the arts. Read his book! It’s amazing!
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
For November, I’m delivering dreams in Denver and hosting dream-events at Understudy, including an open mic for telling dreams, a night of collaborative dream-interpretation, and a dream feast of all surrealist and absurdist recipes, like "Watch Kabobs Garnished With Debt" and "Crockpot Cold Water." While in Understudy, I'll be inviting people in to tell me their dreams, so I can create a collection of dreams all dreamed in Denver: The Big Book of Denver Dreams. Come by and share your dreams!
Starting in the new year, I’ll be traveling and delivering dreams on the road again, in San Diego and Chicago, and probably Seattle and Buffalo. Maybe more cities. I’m not sure yet.
I have a couple books of poetry coming out in the next year or so: The Depression, a collection of absurdist fables about chronic depression, and The Hosanna Mansions, a book of poems I wrote while my dad was dying of cancer. The press I work with, Octopus Books, has amazing new books: Testify by Simone John and Broadax by Amy Lawless.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I think people should fall in love with the artist Benjamin McQuillan. His immersive projects include things like absurd mock-anthropological studies, teaching himself flint-knapping and other Neolithic skills on materials like old toilets found at the dump; creating works entirely out of junk found on the free section of Craigslist; and a roving back-lit church sign declaring pointed and ridiculous messages, which transforms the liminal and emptying spaces of parking lots into contemplative acts. He makes beautiful, thoughtful and often funny things. He’s great.
I think people should fall in love with Sommer Browning’s DIY alley-gallery, Georgia. She has a beautiful vision of an arts space that is integrated into the lives and fabric of the neighborhood.
And Steven Dunn has a new book coming out soon. Did I mention that he’s great?
Mathias Svalina is in residence at Understudy, 890 C 14th Street in the Colorado Convention Center, through November 30. Upcoming events with Svalina at Understudy include the Denver Dream-In: Open-Mike Storytelling for Dreams, Thursday, November 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; Dreameaning: A Night of Collaborative Dream Divination, Tuesday, November 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; and the Dream Feast, Thursday, November 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. All events are free; RSVP in advance at Eventbrite. Learn more about Svalina and the Dream Delivery Service online.