Destruction Myth by Mathias Svalina
(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, Cleveland, OH, 2010)
Creation Myths by Mathias Svalina
(New Michigan Press, Grand Rapids, 2007)
Once Upon A Time, There Was A Review
So what carabao dung are these! What fresh hell etcetera? I’ve written three reviews now, and by the mischievous gods and vicissitudes of the computer age and a senile desktop, I’ve lost all three. The original was brilliant, the subsequent two reviews written in an attempt to recapture thoughts less so (but still adequate for GR’s porpoise). But now, I’m here facing the fourth attempt to write a review of Mathias Svalina’s publications when I’ve struck out of brilliance.
I want to persevere because it’s worthwhile drawing attention to Svalina’s debut book, Destruction Myth, of which I earlier read excerpts in the chap Creation Myth. After the latter, I vowed to keep track of anything Svalina next produced and Destruction Myth does not disappoint my salivating expectations.
So what have we got now? A myth of a brilliant review now … destroyed? (Listen, if American Idol’s Ellen Degeneres can say clichetically about a guest judge, “Time to get on the Shawnia Twain,” I can pun off the book’s title, okay?) But perhaps what’s more significant is the fact that, even after three—they were not just brilliant but long—reviews, I want to keep trying to write a review rather than just give up.
So I’ll try again, this time energized by having just opened Dunya Mikhail’s also-brilliant THE WAR WORKS HARD (New Directions, New York, 2005). Here’s an excerpt from the book’s opening poem:
What good luck!
She has found his bones.
The skull is also in the bag
the bag in her hand
like all other bags
in all other trembling hands.
His bones, like thousands of bones
in the mass graveyard,
his skull, not like any other skull,
two eyes or holes
with which he saw too much
the bones in the bags,
the full bag finally in her hand,
unlike her disappointed neighbor
who has not yet found her own.
—from “Bag of Bones”
The attention-grabbing approach – “What good luck! / She has found his bones”—compelled me as well to return to Svalina’s book yet again because Svalina’s poems share with Mikhail’s poem a refreshing way of upending perceived normality and assumptions. And Svalina does it with wit:
In the beginning there was nothing. But the nothing smelled like bacon. No one could figure out how nothing could: 1) have a smell & b) smell like bacon.
—from “Creation Myth”
No need to belabor the obvious—how the above and many other poems play with the illogics of describing existence at the start of creation. Perhaps this is talanhiga (metaphor), too, for my own attempt to recreate my earlier reviews.
Emptied of brilliance, I can just muster how the “Destruction Myth” poems manifest that ol’ saying of creating-inherently-destroying, before lapsing to a show-and-tell. If this is destruction, what a way to go:
You will go out on a date & it will last forever.
It will be an episode of Cheers.
Cheerfully snort, then continue with poem that continues
It will be a river with no bottom.
It will be a bridge with no river.
—from VII of “Destruction Myth”
The illogic continues to hold…can you hear someone laughing even as this pretends to be deadpan:
Years later the history textbooks
Will refer to The End
As The Intervention.
My favorite part of “Destruction Myth” is the first section for melding elements of poignancy, philosophy, regret and desire, etc.—let’s just read it, shall we:
In the end there will be a bowl full of grapefruit seeds on the steps to the Lincoln Memorial.
In the end there will be a hat on the top shelf of a musty closet.
In the end there will be a suburb drowned in ocean water.
In the end there will be a child’s skull filling with ash.
In the end there will be a poker hand with five hours of hearts.
In the end there will be a broken bike lock sticking out of the ice.
In the end the bears will take their bear clothes off & reveal themselves to be animals.
In the end the men will chew their own feet off.
The end will be a knotted strand of bleached-blonde hair. You will find this knotted strand of hair on your pillow & you will not be able to recall whose hair it could be.
The end will come up behind you on the left but tap you on the right shoulder so that you turn around & no one is there.
Please to note, too, the rollickin' energy in this book!
One is tempted to think of this book as a comedy, after all, there’s this from “Creation Myth”
He set the first fires as a joke
& the rest were acts of boredom.
He built the first mountains
because there is not much else
to do when you’re God.
He built the sky because
he kept bumping his head
on Heaven & cussing.
Omnipotence is lonely.
He’s still unclear
as to why he created humans.
But if it’s comedy it’s also tragedy; the observant poet is much too aware. To wit, later, “Creation Myth” shares:
In the beginning there was a pen that drew itself into existence & then drew all the grasses & flowers & then drew all the trees & mountains & then drew all the rivers & lakes & then drew all the firemen & cops & then drew all the militaries & intelligence agencies & then drew all the traitors & murderers & then drew all the victims & the barbed wire.
Flowers to barbed wire—that’s this world indeed as we’ve come to make it.
In conclusion, this review can only approximate what I more brilliantly discoursed in my lost reviews. (Also, I just recalled, vaguely, as I'm ending this that the earlier lost review praised the chap design of the earlier publication...so let me hereby note the kudos, albeit parenthetically.) Let me tiredly conclude:
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her newest book THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010) over at Litter Magazine and at Tributary. The book's "Afterword" essay by Joi Barrios is also newly-available online at OurOwnVoice. If these reviews get you curious, please note that its publisher Marsh Hawk Press is supporting a fundraiser for Haiti relief by giving a free copy if you order at least $15 worth of booklets through the Hay(na)ku for Haiti fundraiser; as THE THORN ROSARY is priced retail at $19.95, this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.