Poetry News

"There was love in the air; we drank from it like hordes of bats.": An Interview with Mathias Svalina

By Harriet Staff

Nick Sturm conducted this interview with Mathias Svalina over at Bookslut.

Here's how it opens, with Mathias explaining his first encounters with poetry and his beginnings as a writer, a very young writer:

Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? In his analysis of the New York School poets, The Last Avant-Garde, David Lehman gives us Kenneth Koch's first poem, written at age five: "I have a little pony, / I ride him up and down; / I ride him in the country, / I ride him in the town." In a recent interview in Gulf Coast, Ben Mirov describes his first poem, from the sixth grade, which was "about a rock in a field that watches the passage of time. At one point in the poem, tractors come and tear the field apart." What happened when you wrote that first poem that resulted in you becoming a poet?

I don't remember a first poem I wrote, but I do remember the first time a poem affected me, physically struck me, as a reader. It was Blake's "Tyger." I was in maybe fourth grade and I remember feeling intensely creeped out by the poem. I don't remember what the discussion of it was in class, whether we talked about it as a sense of evil or the devil or whatever, but I remember that feeling of being energized by the words, by the incantatory qualities. I remember wanting to read it over and over again, wanting to read it out loud.

Somehow I feel like I was always writing poems. (I have a pretty crappy memory, so things before, say, 2008 mostly all blur together.) My friend Forrest, whom I've known longer than any other friend, says that when I was in elementary school my goal was to be a writer. So I trust him. I'm one of those people who filled up composition notebook with poetic giblets throughout junior high and high school.

When I was a little kid, like four or five, I used to make a lot of books. One of them became a sort of family legend -- I actually only know this because it was retold, I have no memory of it -- because it was about people in a space ship going to Mars or outer space. I couldn't, however, spell "ship," and I spelled it with a "t." So there were people riding the shit, the shit sailing through space, the shit landing on Mars, etc. I remember my family laughing a lot as they told this story. I'm sure that made some kind of impression on me that is still present in my writing.

How cute! There's more, and it's all great stuff. Make the jump!

Originally Published: March 6th, 2012