It’s 4 a.m. You hear a rustle outside. You think you’re being robbed and grip your baseball bat to peek outside. It’s a sweaty man in windbreaker and a bike helmet. Then you remember: Your dream has arrived.
It’s being delivered by poet Mathias Svalina. He leaves your dream on the welcome mat and steps softly off your porch. He gets back on his 1980s Raleigh touring bike, which turns into a great blue heron and flies off over Richmond.
You wake up.
Denver-based poet Mathias Svalina is in town through Oct. 25, delivering daily dreams to the doorsteps of Richmond subscribers between the hours of 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Style had a few questions for the bike poet.
Style: How the heck did you become a bike poet?
Svalina: Partially out of not understanding what my next job would be. I was an adjunct instructor in creative writing at University of Colorado at Boulder and was used to getting summer classes, then suddenly I didn’t. I had three months to fill.
Partially also trying to figure out a way to make money off the weird skill set I have, which is writing strange little surrealist poems. I’m really good at that, and there’s not really a commodity market for it.
It kind of started as a joke. I was drinking with my friend and saying, what I really need to do is find a way to trick people into letting me write a surrealist poem for them every day. Hopefully it’s not a trick anymore.
And you’re aware that the business model based around delivering print media to people’s doors every morning is struggling?
[Laughs] There’s other artists funding themselves through subscription services. It’s like crowdsourcing — in the 19th-century way. [John James] Audubon sold subscriptions ahead of time to fund his big book of birds. There’s a tradition of subscription-based arts, and also a slight resurgence. It’s part of the antique charm, too, hopefully. Charm might be self-gratuitous though.
Why not deliver at night before people sleep?
Logistically, I wanted the streets to be empty. In Denver there’s a thriving milk delivery service and I’d see those guys out there and feel very bonded with them. They thought nothing of me, I’m sure. I used to work as a night baker. Those night shift jobs that finish at dawn are very appealing to me in some way. I’m just making it up as I go along — something about doing it this way just seems funnier to me.
What are dreams to you?
I think of them more in the fabulist and narrative sense. It’s these places where logic is totally flattened, so any sort of connectivity is valid. So in a dream you’re shooting a bouquet of flowers and killing bison with it, of course. To describe that in a realistic sense would be cartoonish or just stupid.
This place of expectations and logic and rationality just all gets sort of flattened out into a place of pure acceptance of narrative and image, which is very appealing to me, because it’s how my mind works naturally anyway. I feel more comfortable with irrationality. It’s paying bills on time and stopping at stoplights that are difficult for me.
How many people in Richmond have signed up for this?
I’m delivering 38 a day now. Twenty I’m delivering by bike around town, and the rest are mailed. The biking takes me three hours so it’s probably about 30 miles.
Can I still sign up?
Sure! I can send people a chunk of belated poems for the ones they missed.
If I don’t think a poem is very good, may I have a refund?
Once, a friend of mine killed himself, and people got some dark dreams that day. One person canceled after that. Whatever I wrote must have been triggering for her, so I feel bad about that. That’s kind of why I started offering nightmares. It never occurred to me that people would want them. But four of the 38 right now are. They’re way harder.
Will you leave my dream in a tree like Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird”?
That’d be awesome. No one’s ever asked me to do that. But I’ve never offered — maybe it seemed a bit like a Miranda July story, a little too precious. I’m already a dream deliveryman. S
You can subscribe to Svalina’s dreams at dreamdeliveryservice.tumblr.com. Dreams by bike are $40. Nightmares are $43.75. Subscribers outside of a limited radius can get their dreams in the mail.