Mathias Svalina is the the author of five books, including Destruction Myth (Cleveland State University Poetry Center), Wastoid (Big Lucks Books), and the recently released The Wine-Dark Sea (Sidebrow Books). He is an editor for the small press Octopus Books. Since 2014 Svalina has run the Dream Delivery Service in Denver. In 2016 and 2017 he is delivering dreams in various cities, including Richmond, Tucson, Marfa, Austin, and Chicago, often biking between cities.
Thao Votang: I find your Dream Delivery Service quite timely — people are subscribing to things they care about to support those things and it appeals to a need for escape, though dreams aren’t always an escape. Would you tell us why you started the service?
Mathias Svalina: In one sense, the Dream Delivery Service was an extension of the kinds of books I was writing, which tended to be serial surrealist projects like a series of surrealist creation myths, a series of surrealist business plans, sets of instructions for impossible children’s games, etc. I wanted to write in these serial modes but also interact with readers in a different & more intimate process: biking around town delivering freshly written dreams to their doors every day before dawn seemed like a fun way to build a relationship with a reader for a month.
In another sense, I was broke &, being a poet, I don’t have a very lucrative skill set to draw upon. Somehow starting a Dream Delivery Service seemed like the most logical plan.
TV: Why did you decide to bring the Dream Delivery Service to Austin? What appeals to you to here, aside from perhaps SXSW?
MS: I actually forgot SXSW is happening while I will be here! Austin has always loomed legendary in my imagination of American arts, a city of wild & weirdo artists, a city of both laconic & crazed exploration. But I haven’t spent more than 24 hours in Austin in about a decade & I wanted to see what the city feels like these days & wanted to write in the atmosphere of the expanded Austin. So, when I decided to bike around the Southwest & Texas from city to city, Austin seemed a natural fit.
TV: When did you start cycling and why is it your transportation of choice over a car, public transportation, or walking? I’ll be curious after you visit all the cities to hear about your experiences cycling in different cities and even different areas of each city.
MS: Biking through cities in the morning dark has a specific charm to it too. I feel alone in the city, a ghost flitting through ghosted architecture. It’s like the cities reveal an intimate nature at these times, Denver’s vestigial ferality, Richmond’s fog-soaked graveyards, Tucson’s javelinas & coyotes rising up out of the dark. I love cities in those pre-dawns hours.
I’ve used bikes for commuting most of my adult life. Cars & car culture are just not for me, both as an environmentalist & aesthetically. I haven’t owned a car for about a decade now.
I liked the idea of biking around before dawn delivering dreams to people’s houses for the practical reason of covering more ground, but also because it had the feel of a childhood newspaper delivery route. It made the project & delivery embodied, & there’s something important to having an athletic outlet to the project since I have to sit & write for about ten hours every day. I tried one month of only mailing dreams, thinking it would be a break, but it was far less fun.
TV: In addition to the experience of cycling around a new city, what do you aim to do/see while you are in each city? And in Austin?
MS: I’ve been connecting with other writers & artists in the cities I’ve been doing Dream Delivery Service. Because I usually have to wake up & start delivering at 2 or 3 AM I don’t tend toward late nights, but I love meeting people to discuss their work or visiting their studios. Beyond that, I spend a lot of time wandering around the cities during the day, trying to soak up the landscape & atmosphere unique to those places, & often trying to incorporate them into the dreams I write. In Austin I’m excited to explore the Blanton & to see what’s happening at the Contemporary, & (of course!) I’m looking forward to writing dreams at Barton Springs.
TV: You’ve been more open to marketing/advertising the Dream Delivery Service because it is your income now. Do you have a cap to your subscribers? A break-even point or a limit to how many dreams you would be able to write every day?
MS: I try to keep the subscriptions to about 40-50, because I know on my best days I can write that many unique dreams. On a more typical day I write 25-30 dreams & some people receive the same dreams. Sometimes I write a dream I really am proud of & I’ll deliver it to a handful of people because I’d like more than one person to read it. Conversely, I’ve had some bad days when personal problems or emergencies interfere & I write fewer dreams than normal; but that also seems like part of the project, that it’s a lived experience of trying to push my imagination every day.
TV: Last question: Why are nightmares an added charge?
MS: At first I added that as a joke, thinking that A) no one would order nightmares & B) people would get that it’s the same amount of work so charging more is silly. But it turns out that nightmares are much harder! Dreams are so open & connective & improvisational, whereas writing nightmares the narratives & images have to close down to dread or fear or terror, which narrows the chance for exploration & fun. Every month a few people order the nightmares. And every month I’m relieved that not too many people order them. Living in a constant, cultivated dreamstate is a relief to me, but having to cultivate a nightmare state, well… that’s already been done for us on a political level.
Mathias Svalina will read at Malvern Books on March 3, 2017 with Ji Yoon Lee, EVIL MTN, and Layne Ransom.