180.1: Mathias Svalina:: Washington & West Virginia & Whoa! How Joey Lawrence Said But No Longer Says Whoa! & Winter & Wisconsin & Witness & Wyoming 180

When I went to grad school, I didn’t know anything about poetry. Problematic, I know, as I was going to grad school for poetry. Those first few weeks at new recruit meet and greets, my peers would ask me, “are you narrative or lyric?” I didn’t know there was a distinction, or that the binary was so fractious. I think this may be a normal MFA experience. You don’t go to grad school to write poems—you’re already doing that—but to learn who’s producing work at the time. A poet who’d shown up in town the same year I did took it upon himself to learn me and lent me 10 or so contemporary books of poetry, among which was Mathias Svalina’s Destruction Myth. I remember my reaction: you can do this? Poets can be funny? And sweet? Work can be flooring, heart breaking, absurd, and beautiful? Svalina ended up serving as my primer to contemporary poetry and as I went on to teach in environments where folk didn’t have a background in poetry—underserved kids in New Orleans, inmates in Alabama and Louisiana—Destruction Myth became my go to text. The language was available, approachable. Svalina’s work does this here as well, achieving the incredibly difficult balance of accessible and profound, culturally relevant and hilarious but never cheap.

The strange thing is after writing this, I googled that book and the timelines don’t jive. Destruction came out in 2009 and by then, I had already left grad school. This seems fitting, my grafting the memory on to some earlier time. Svalina’s work has always been with me, will always be with me. It is what I hope for when I introduce it to my students and what I know will be the case for you. Nik De Dominic


You ask why & how this state is like a load-bearing slice of spiced ham, well, here the headless gesture & the viral drama attract the eye, here the same silly sun as last year leaps into the Chuck E Cheese ballpit. About moonrise, you see, the best dancers don’t need feet, as in, I have made my accent beefier. That’s a load-bearing wall—it’s all I have the time to love. One can still see one’s farewells on the terrace, in the dark, writ wide with fetal alcohol syndrome. That ballpit is nonstop. That ballpit’s like a touchstone. And then a little later someone vomits & it smells like tomato soup. Everything I do in Washington is to keep you on my tongue hours after wrapping fog-parts in old sacks. It’s a peacock stance, getting more coastal by the day—beauty gets less beautiful when nostalgia sets a product price.

West Virginia

The state motto of West Virginia is West Virginia Rules.

Whoa! How Joey Lawrence Said But No Longer Says Whoa!

The problem is you get acclaimed & welcomed when what you want is wilderness. I don’t like darkness or plaid shirts or how I don’t like Kerouac. Come here & sit on my face, a plate of mac & cheese. One more order of popcorn shrimp. One more batch of handwriting to decipher. Nothing could be more refreshing. I say Whoa! for four months’ notes & pixelated Hades, contestant movement inside stillness. And when I say Whoa! how Joey Lawrence said but no longer says Whoa! it is not so much a question as an old man in a temple watching the game on TV. This is not so much a question as a dentist. Not so much a question as a frenching, the spun sound of a yarn bag chugged in silence. All these voters are coughing too loud today. Not a question as much as a pixel pretending humanity. Bodies intertwine in the lens’ slack focus, as if the surface is not itself an emotion. Joey Lawrence saying Whoa!, the white that makes all else blue: if sound were normal you would not feel pain.


Is it too obvious to say Use Your Illusion would’ve made a kickass lady? Winter makes minimalism looks like a wrist. It has one body & every citizen lives it like a biography written in chalk. Diagnosed as a nickel, Winter takes weeks to corrode. Burrowed into a French fry, spoors & liquid eyes. Like looking at a friend’s piece of egg on a lip. A universe of expanding armchairs. A smartbomb wed to an antelope. A basket of wrenches. Go lie down on the white bed before the greenscreen, as lonely as a parking garage. Who can say what the sun illuminates on such a sun-bunted day as this when there’s nothing left to fuck but empty instant mashed potatoes boxes, light just a set of initials, everyone sleeping in their escape pods, waiting for any alarm? Winter’s better days are dead. Each stink greets a new horse & nothing is more life affirming in Winter than a turtle, yet sometimes Winter is a transitive verb. Fun Dip pouches on every night table, pages of bibles ripped out & used as terms, we need a computer as stupid as the state we live in & we need this computer to break every day. Only then could the bricks that hold our houses up be as breath-uponable as ash. What one loves in Winter is very dumb.


Case in point: AC/DC’s “Who Made Who.” But every part of Wisconsin is white. It is alphabetical, left of broken things. Noon was sinister, like this needle in this meatball. I keep cracking open hard-boiled eggs only to find idealist realism. In Wisconsin a speaking act is a conjuring, an object of the Icarus industry. If milk exists—we will exist. If there is a riddle I’m calling shotgun. We can help six percent, but how many will still die? The beauty of the folders takes precedence over what they contain. In Wisconsin I love to mispronounce my name to myself. Some time ago, two or four years ago, I stopped being a flautist.


In Witness every yawn’s a little brain death, every Amazon order comes with a half-sack of wings. In Witness you can be the Orkin man of your own dreams. You can be whatever fits inside a bankers box. On the highway each car enters a darkness fit for it: an act of kindness, a broken face the color of twos. Every now & then in Witness you must poke a man with man-arms. You must testify. Witness is known as the burning biplane state. Houses tilt like a finger up-the-nose to the knuckle. Witnessites know the Dolly Parton song “I Will Always Love You” as “I Will Always Love Your Sponge.” What we know as How I Met Your Mother they know as Everyone Loves Raymond. In Witness sometimes we return from the grave with an unstable derision & spell out those words we don’t want to understand, return as some still-menthol-smelling dipspit circling a drain, robotripping with an orca, listening to EPMD in a VW before choir with your dad’s old fuckbuddy, but TV has gotten so good these days there’s no reason to even suture a sucking chest wound.


Nothing can be said about a body that cannot be said about Wyoming—gallbladder, cystic duct, hepatic vein—no two livers leave a world alike. Picture a black six. A black one. Red six. Meat one. Varicose sky daily dries Wyoming & each night soaks it in spit. Every good-enough sunrise & every period sunrise, these are the pain Wyoming bears. Come serpents. Come vestments. Come humans in limp. Pave the city with t-shirts & pills. It’s sweater-weather here in primitive belief, the googly eyes on the wizard bong, no-water that I really am. Emotion is both object & production. The sex-drive of Wyoming in Oakleys & supplements, the endless inverted Enlightenment, the slam-into-a-wall of the sky, if beauty is found it is not experienced so much as a slot. It’s enough to make you milk a wire.