Since 2014, Mathias Svalina has risen well before dawn to hand-deliver poems to subscribers of his Dream Delivery Service. His journeys have taken him to Tucson, Marfa, San Diego, Austin, and, most recently, Buffalo, NY. From July 16th through August 16th, he will be two-wheeling the streets of Brooklyn with his literary goodness and mailing dreams to subscribers who live further away.
For those who would like a sample of the Dream Delivery Service’s offerings, the Brooklyn Rail has some tasty bits. Anyone in the Brooklyn area can subscribe directly on the Dream Delivery Service website. We spoke with Mathias to learn more about the program and its affect on his writing.
What you do seems like advocacy for the life you lead as much as it is about the poetry. Do you consider it a form of Buddhism? The late, great Mark Baumer seemed to be a kindred spirit.
My kneejerk reaction is that I do not advocate that anyone live like me, that I don’t want to live like me, but that it is the only way that I’ve found that works so far. But that misses the heart of the question, I imagine, which is not about my life but about the embodied art.
If I advocate anything about the relationship between one’s art & manner of living, it’s that there are so many ways to live. We receive these set scripts for a life, from both the macro culture & the micro—from the fantasies of middle-class stability, to what it means to be a “real” or “important” writer or artist, to what it means to be middle-aged, to even what a nomadic existence should look like in all the familiar tropes of #vanlife #blessed #notallwhowanderarelost instagram shots.
None of those scripts have worked for me. I wish they did. But they don’t. This thing I do works. So I do this thing I do & it keeps me wanting to be alive. And while I don’t expect anyone else to have such an agonistic approach to their writing life, I think we do innately adopt & fall into the lockstep roles of these scripts in ways that are often detrimental.
I was on the road through Texas when I heard Mark died. I never met him but had watched & read a lot of what he was up to & had been very much looking forward to crossing paths with him. I saw affinities in what we were doing. I am not, however, blessed with his strength & clear voice & power of convictions. I try to use his experiences & his vision as inspiration for trying to do better & be better. A lot of people told me to be careful after he died & I told them all that I would be careful, but I’m not really sure what that means.
How has the Dream Delivery Service changed your writing?
I both write much more & write much less. Because I’m writing as much as I can during the months when I’m doing dreams, often up to 10 hours a day, it uses up a lot of the mania of writing that wells up in me. And I like that—I had grown distrustful of my constant urge to write, thinking of it as too much of an escape, as a self-medication whose side-effects I’d become inured to.
But because I write so much dreamstuff & am often traveling when I’m not writing dreams, I don’t have a lot of time for what I think of as my “real” writing, the stuff that would become books. Which is frequently frustrating, but also—I hope?—good in not making writing a matter of instant gratification. We’ll see how it turns out.
What impact has the service had on your subscribers? Do you feel like you are communicating with a particular audience, each time you set up shop?
It’s hard for me to gauge impact. Some subscribers write back to me or leave me notes telling me about how they engage with or react to the dreams, but most don’t. So of the ones who have told me about their reactions to the dreams, I think I’ve found that they carve out their own forms of intimacy, their own synaptic connections that are different than poems or a book. I’ve had subscribers say that the dreams I write & deliver to them have surprising & sometimes eerie connections with their own experiences or what happens during a day.
I don’t feel like I’m communicating in a direct way with my subscribers. Maybe, I feel like I’m trying to open these dreams up to the most potential connection that a reader can bring to it, while also bringing out the most idiosyncratic elements of my imagination in them. I try to balance weird stuff & strange dreamlike twists that only I would think with open images & potentially symbolic iconography. In that way I try to both be as much me & as much the reader as I can.
How do you prepare for a particular engagement? Is there specific training? Do you find yourself reading books about the particular city or town?
I love learning the histories of cities as I travel, reading up online or visiting local history museums. But more than that I love collecting the stuff of the city & populating the dreams with them, the local water sources, the landscapes, the kinds of animals I see scurrying through the night. As I bike around in the hours before dawn to deliver the dreams I try to note the things of the city & have those available in my imagination as I reach out for stuff & objects while I write.
What do you anticipate for your time in Brooklyn?
In other cities, the streets are usually dead in the hours that I’m delivering, just me & the foxes & ghosts. But Brooklyn doesn’t really shut down the way other cities do, so I’m anticipating a lot more interaction with people & cars on the street. I anticipate a lot more creative modes of delivering the dreams to people, since a lot of addresses are in big buildings, so maybe leaving them in bushes or under stones & such. I’m also just excited to be writing dreams in Brooklyn, which is so full of excitement & creative endeavors.
How many poems have you written for the Dream Delivery Service so far?
I’m not sure, maybe in the range of 10,000 or so? I don’t save them, other than one from each day in the past two years, so I’m just guessing. But if I’m writing something like 800+ a month & this will be the fifteenth iteration, I don’t know.
Is there a dream destination you’d like to take your service to, perhaps even a place where poetry is more a part of everyday life?
I really want to deliver dreams in a small town in the mountains, somewhere pretty secluded, & deliver to every household in town for the entire month, without them having to pay to subscribe. I think maybe that would be the culmination of the project.
William Lessard’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Hyperallergic, Prelude, PANK and the Brooklyn Rail. He co-curates the Cool as F*** series at Pete’s Candy Store and, with Mary Boo Anderson, is editing an anthology of Brooklyn writing for Dostoyevsky Wannabe.