Stay tuned all month for poet interviews in honor of National Poetry Month.
1) Why poetry?
It’s the thing that makes the world for me. I mean, I know the world exists. All the facts & the lies, & the loves & the oppressions, & the sap & the silk, & the whatnot & etceteras, they do their thing regardless of my position. But it doesn’t make any sense to me without poetry. Poetry, in all its indefinable bottomlessness, encruxes in me understanding that & how these things exist & make meaning, & that & how I exist in them, & beside them, & because of them, & in relation to them, & in no relation to them. The crux being difference, potential, opening. Poetry is my personal theory of everything. And like a TOE it is aspirational, foundational & impossible to prove. For someone else that crux might be basketball or economics or textiles or god or muscle cars. For me it’s poetry. This has its limitations. And this has its liberties.
2) Do you feel like poetry is more or less important & relevant today?
I think poetry, as I think of it, is fundamentally relevant & always has been & always will be. The objects of poetry that gets defined as, like, “Poetry”—published works, institutions, patronages, etc—& their ancillary mouthpieces may wax & wane in public influence, but I’m more interested in the impulse of poetry that brings a person to a page & makes them want to write a thing of ambiguous use-value, to write the emotions they can’t speak, the world they can’t imagine, the world they can’t escape, the words that have not yet formed definitions. That impulse can be revolutionary & radical or intimate & inscrutable or just silly just dumb, but goddamn, that shit is fantastic.
I am, though, incredibly excited that poetry seems to be having a wider public platform in America of late, that poets (especially younger & especially poets of color & queer & trans poets) have found more ways & less hierarchical ways of reaching readers & thereby become more present in pop culture. It seems important for getting new modes of thinking into the discourse, both in the sense of marginalized voices that use art & poetry as a mode of challenge & critique, but also the inherently unorthodox mindsets that are at the core of the making poems.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and a thinker.
When I was in undergrad Jay Wright came to my school & gave a reading. I was transfixed & amazed by his ability to range between the vatic & the personal, the narrative & the lyric. He’s the kind of writer that every time I reread work of his I get all tuned up to not only write more but to pay more attention to more of the world.
Check this opening to the poem “Tone”
Nothing that exists can be
temporal; still I come to lay this stick
upon these altars, those three
definitions of sun, the border and thick
measure of lost perfection.
Man alive, I love that. You can read the rest of the poem here.
4) Tell us about one lesser-known contemporary poet who you’d like more people to know about.
Have you read EVL MTN’s poems? EVL’s poems are offhanded & direct, full of iconographic images & startling juxtapositions & believable emotions. I want to keep reading them & reading them, scrolling on & forward. Here’s one from a twitter-thread-bookish-thing in which he posted a bunch:
5) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
I’ve mostly been writing dreams for my Dream Delivery Service of late. I take subscribers & write & deliver dreams to them every day for a month. I don’t think the dreams are poems, but maybe they are. Here is a dream that went out to many March/April subscribers:
You are in a dark house. There are others in the dark: feet scrape the floors; people quietly cough or clear their throats; breaths whistle faintly into & out of lungs. You don’t know how long you’ve been in the dark house. It feels comfortable. You know the rules: stand still; avoid touching; remain quiet; no imagining or anticipating. A tiny sphere of light appears on the floor of the dark house. In the darkness it seems impossibly bright. It bobbles & hops, then disappears. Nothing happens for a long time, just scrapes & coughs & whistles. Then the light appears again. It bounces & bobbles & dances in circles. It lands on a shoe. The shoe pulls away from the light. It lands on a face & hands quickly cover the face. The light lands on your chest & you try to swat the light away, but the light gets all over your hands & sticks to your hands, illuminating them. You try to push the light away but every part of you the light touches remains lit. The light reaches your face & your face is lit. You look around the house. It is not so dark now. Around you people swat at light, push light away. Each has their own sphere of light. Bit-by-bit, slowly & erratically, each light illuminates each resident of the dark house. Then your sphere of light dances forward, inviting you to follow. You follow. The light arrives at a door. The door is heavily scarred & scratched, as if a wild animal had been clawing at it in an attempt to escape. It is your name, carved into the wood of the door hundreds of times. Outside it is dark, but by now you are covered with light & filled with light & you illuminate the dark. You leave a trail of light in your wake.
Mathias Svalina is the author of five books, most recently The Wine-Dark Sea from Sidebrow Books. He does things with Octopus Books & runs a Dream Delivery Service.