Dream, dreaming, dreamed: Mathias Svalina to champion a surrealist poetics formed out of the everyday in Brown Bag

Maybe you get your newspaper delivered, or your pizza, or maybe you use apps like GrubHub and Doordash to get your favorite foods delivered straight to your doorstep.


Thanks to Mathias Svalina, there’s now something else you can get sent to your home: dreams. 

Svalina, a poet, author and educator, runs a Dream Delivery Service — basically a GrubHub for the weird, surrealist dreams of Svalina’s own creation. And in about a month, Mathias Svalina will bike around the Rocky Mountains, destined for a remote yurt on the outskirts of Fruita, Colorado. He’ll be living there without access to electricity or water, doing one thing and one thing only: dreaming.

“Fruita was supposed to be an agricultural utopia, but turned into a desert western Colorado town instead,” said Svalina, the Chautauqua Writers’ Center Week Seven poet-in-residence. “I’ll be conducting my Dream Delivery Service via mail, about five miles outside of town.”

The dreams Svalina writes are usually 100 to 300 words long, and can include elements of surrealism and absurdism mixed in with the details of a particular subscriber’s life. 

At 12:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 11, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch, Svalina will give a Brown Bag craft lecture on how to build a poetics out of the commonplace, everyday aspects of our lives.

“Surrealism and dream logic is a more easy and natural version of the world than the version that I think we’re supposed to have,” he said. “Rationality controls things. My mind interprets the world as a pretty absurd place, on a micro and macro level. When I started writing in a surrealist mood, it felt way more natural than when I tried to write realistically.”

For both his week-long workshop and his Brown Bag lecture, Svalina said he doesn’t intend to force any kind of poetic rulebook on his audience and lecture attendees: Instead, he wants the participants to dictate the content of their writing.

“I’m hoping that people who are, say, expert cocktail makers, will bring with them the process of making a cocktail, the aesthetics of what makes a really good cocktail, and then the process of how a cocktail is served to people,” he said. “Then, they’ll translate those moves — those techniques — into writing, so as to produce poems that are governed by the poetics of the cocktail, rather than the poetics of the sonnet.”

Reimagining quotidian rhetorical forms is a common feature of Svalina’s books, which include books based around creation myths, instructions for business plans and absurdist writing prompts. 

And one of the more recent examples of Svalina’s rhetorical tinkering is America at Play, a book of instructions for children’s games.

Svalina had the idea for America at Play in the basement of a thrift store in Nebraska.

“I found a little pamphlet that the Nebraska state education department had printed in the 1950s, I think,” he said. “It had all these games, some of which were familiar, and some of which were clearly made up by the author of the pamphlet, that no one had ever played.”

Something about what Svalina called the “arcane rigidity of controlling play” ultimately proved to be the spark for creating the book. 

“I took that form and wrote maybe 100 or 120 instructions for children’s games, and tried to sort of see how the form would lead to its own kind of poem, rather than trying to write in a poetic voice or apply poetry to that kind of writing,” he said. “For me, that’s a lot of where my writing comes from.”

Tags : America at PlayBrown Bag PreviewDoordashDream Delivery ServiceGrubHubMathias Svalina

The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.