The subway growls to a stop. Inside, the “Mona Lisa” smiles. Four Catholic priests play backgammon at a table, unperturbed.
This is the type of dream that subscribers to Mathias Svalina’s Dream Delivery Service can expect — delivered to their door in a peony envelope by Svalina on bike.
As Week One’s poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, Svalina will deliver the poetry Brown Bag, “New Intimacies: The Written Word’s Life Beyond the Page” at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday June 26 on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. He will discuss different ways of engaging with poetry that transcend beyond the static of the page.
He has been brainstorming ideas for his talk while bicycling around Western New York and Pennsylvania, circling Chautauqua ahead of his upcoming visit.
The Dream Delivery project, now in its fourth year, has changed Svalina’s life. He reckons he has now delivered about 20,000 dreams. He employs the postal service for those mailboxes he cannot reach by bicycle.
“It’s given me a chance to build my life around the art that I’m making, rather than routine.”
– Mathias Svalina, Poet-in-residence, Chautauqua Writers’ Center
And on a more pragmatic level, it’s changed his worldview because he has converted to the itinerant lifestyle.
While a lack of stability may be one of the downsides, living off of dreams is certainly a plus.
“That’s not something everyone can say,” Svalina said. “I get to tell my mom that I run the most successful dream delivery service. I have that going for me.”
The dream poems range from being straightforward to montage-like. They may be goofy, nightmarish, absurd or beautiful. Importantly, Svalina said, dream projects do not follow rules of world order.
For example, in one dream the latest phone up- date swaps emojis for mathematical equations; the cry-laughing emoji becomes f(z)=u(z)+iv(z).
The final line: “You look at a cherry tree in bloom & rather than thinking How beautiful, you think L1(x)=1/10ex.”
In another dream, a run-in with skeletons reveals the antidotal powers of their bony lick. Both of these sound like scenarios to dissect with the therapist from another dream: the hookah-smoking caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland.
It may seem like a war waged against the boring, but Svalina finds the whole spectrum of silly, free, exquisite and subtle “remarkable.”
But why the pink envelopes? Besides pink being his favorite color, it helps break up the monotony of beige bills and elevates the envelope, garnering the Dream Delivery Service an elusive, fairytale feeling, according to Svalina. The project has given Svalina a more expansive view of what can be considered art.
“One of the things I love about Dream Project, the way dreams create themselves, is that sense of accepting whatever comes naturally,” he said.
It should be noted that these “dreams” are not Svalina’s own; he said his imagination is more soaring and searing than his real dreams, which he describes as “boring” and “standard issue.” In these anxiety-ridden dreams, Svalina is often both late to an appointment and stuck in place.
“And also I’m not wearing pants,” he said.