THE PERSON OF THE WEEK, #9: MATHIAS SVALINA
Mathias Svalina is 6’2”. Mathias lives in Denver. I met Mathias Svalina in the early fall of 2005. I can remember our very first conversation actually, standing in the hallway outside some sort of student orientation on the third floor of Andrews Hall with paper plates of cheese and crackers in our hands. It is a good feeling knowing, as you’re talking to someone for the very first time, that that person is going to change the course of your life. One of the first things he said to me was that he had been rejected by Octopus Magazine a handful of times. One of the very first things I said to him was that he should be a co-editor of Octopus Magazine (an online magazine I started with Tony Tost but was at that time editing by myself) with me if he wanted to, and also that we should start a poetry reading series in Lincoln because we felt like there was a little bit of a void there for the poetry we were into. So we did and that reading series was called The Clean Part. We were able to pack some great crowds into the Tugboat Art Gallery. It lasted for a few years after we left too—it was then run by Jeff Alessandrelli, a friend of mine now living in Portland, and another friend of mine, Joshua Ware. Mathias and I handed over editorship of Octopus Magazine in the past year to Joseph Mains in order for us to focus our attentions primarily on editing Octopus Books, which we now do with the help of our assistant editors, Alisa Heinzman and Hajara Quinn, and the rest of the Octopus Books/Poor Claudia/Bad Blood crew. Mathias and I started Octopus Books together when we were sharing a T.A. office together in Lincoln as Ph.D. students on the campus of the University of Nebraska. We ran the press out of there for a year—sewed up and printed and dozen or so chapbooks, and printed our first full-length book (Julie Doxsee’s Undersleep), all from that little windowless corner. There were some nights that we got some malt liquor or a four pack of Boddington’s and read submissions, or edited a manuscript out loud. Alisa Heinzman was there too, from the beginning. We felt like two side-by-side islands in that program, in that office, and my poetry changed because of it. We were writing our poems side-by-side trying to figure out what our own voices were like by looking over each other’s shoulders. Mathias is a vegetarian and sometimes he is a vegan, but on top of that, one time, for two weeks, if I remember correctly, he tried to be a sandwichetarian. He tried to only put sandwiches in his body during that time. I think he made a pretty good go of it, but at one point we had a disagreement on what actually constitutes a sandwich. Sandwiches count, of course, and so do oreos, or even quesadillas maybe, but maybe not burritos. Mathias and I have gone on a few poetry reading roadtrips together, which have made me really happy. One in particular, the first, we drove around the midwest on a little 6 stop tour with Joshua Marie Wilkinson. You can watch a little documentary of the trip here. The three of us attempted to read out loud the entirety of Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You during the week’s worth of time in the car, but we only made it a little past half way, which is still a feat. One part we read over and over to each other is on page 26 of the Lost Roads edition (2000), the part that goes “…and I thought when you have a swimming party always go alone do not attend show up by yourself don’t show up unless no one is there swim alone never with a buddy always go in the water by yourself no matter what they tell you jump off banks even if you know it’s shallow below crack your head open always swim at night jump in when it’s COLD and you gasp and can’t move my advice to all is death by water if you have an appointment at dawn a duel swim to the forest of honor with the moon over your shoulder…” It felt like that week I turned into a little bit of a different kind of human. It ended with a reading in Mathias’ basement apartment in Lincoln that is still, to this day, one of my favorite readings of all time. I felt so alive and happy, somewhere at the beginning of a life. The three of us each have tattoos somewhere on our arms now that say “always swim at night”. Mathias and I also have the Octopus Books logo on our arms together. It was my first tattoo and I got it with him. Also, on another car trip about 6 or 7 years ago, we were in his shitty little car on the way Kansas City to fly out to some AWP conference together, and he played a song called Unrepairable Gentleness by the Japanese hardcore band, Envy, and he said this is what loves sounds like, and then I felt like I knew. He has given me some of the best and most important hugs in my life at exact times I needed them most, the kind of hugs where I can let go of my entire body, my legs and arms, and he can hold it all. Mathias has one of my favorite laughs on the planet. It is distinct. I like to try to imitate it, but it is difficult. When we are at house parties together, I know where he is at all times even when I can’t see him. Mathias has also taught me a lot about Black Metal. When a black metal song comes on he does this thing with his hand, kind of cupping it above his own head with his long crooked fingers, like he’s massaging a goat’s testicles from below, or maybe unscrewing an oil cap on a car from below. Mathias and I have collaborated on poetry some too. We’ve written a manuscript called Science Fact together, which is a book of science facts, which in itself is also clearly a science fact, and it is about 400 pages so far. I am not the only poet who Mathias has collaborated with. He has written these books with Julia Cohen: Sugar Means Yes (Greying Ghost Press), When We Broke the Microscope (Small Fires Press), Force, Proximity, Repulsion (Cinematheque Press), and You Are The Motor (Further Adventure). And this book with Paula Cisewski: Or Else What, Asked the Flame (Scantily Clad Press). And, of course, Mathias has written books on his own too, all of which you can read. Here are just some of them: Destruction Myth (Cleveland State University Poetry Center), I Am A Very Successful Entrepreneur (Mud Luscious Press), Play (The Cupboard Pamphlet), and the most recent one is The Explosions (Subito Press).Today is Mathias’ birthday. There are so so many other things I could say about Mathias, but I’ll just leave it at this. And because it is his birthday this week, Mathias Svalina is this week’s The Lovely Arc’s The Person of the Week.
After or before buying and reading one of Mathias’s books, I recommend following him on his twitter here.
Please submit your suggestions for next week’s The Lovely Arc’s The Person of the Week to me via email.