Wastoid by Mathias Svalina. Washington, DC: Big Lucks Books, November 2014. 166 pages. $14.00 paperback.
Mathias Svalina’s Wastoid is a new animal we all need to marvel at. It’s a long storm of beautiful fairytale nonsense and wonder. It’s all about love and it is love. It’s frustrating to categorize a book like this and I usually try to avoid it. Instead I opt for a description fed by the book’s attitude and aesthetics and hope that the reader will color the book’s genre as they see fit. I so badly want to make a list of everything that’s present and shining in Wastoid; allow me, at least, to try.
Poetry is rooted in love. It circles around the lyricism of love (how moonlight changes the pigment of his/her hair et al.) and requires a love of words. Still, Svalina’s book really does deliver a new framework and color of love, a fresh shade and relieving sigh. In a fantasy world where anything goes, where fairytales are brief and hilarious and perfectly descriptive of the maddening deepness and indescribability of true love, Svalina gives a continuing nod to the Surrealist poets through wondrous images and objects, but in an entirely reinterpreted way.
The first time I met my lover he was a praying mantis. He extended one long green leg toward me & offered me his iPod. I inserted them into my ears & heard a sound I could not identify. It sounded like two wet bones rubbing against each other, but also like lakewater lapping off a handful of wet hair. Then I understood the sound. I was inside my lover’s heart & the sound was his blood, how a glass of cold water on a hot day undoes itself.
From that very first page, the expectations for what short prose-block poems about love might be are hacked at the knees and shown a new child. The surreal world Svalina points us to is magical and insane and therefore indicative of love; Svalina recreates that freefall love feeling where things blur past and nothing is certain but everything is of another world, a new world. At the same time, Svalina doesn’t let this world of love become too serious and stone-faced, letting his surrealisms explore how ridiculous these moments might get.
I arrive each morning to the sun smiling that smile that’s like, Dude, seriously: jaeger-bombs. And the sun says Sup? And I’m like, You know.
While humor can be an engine, it doesn’t necessarily flesh out the entire body. Svalina is careful to blend goofiness with beauty. In the very same poem, a few lines later:
And then even the dirt is gone & the sun & I are suspended & the generator’s snarl sounds like blood. … I think I liked love better when he was a synonym for blood.
Love is never a singular object and nothing is a singular object in Wastoid. While there’s often an immense distance between the two loving figures, we get moments where love can connect two points we never really ascribed a distance to.
I fell in love with my sight. My sight may grant a thousand errors but each proves his presence. On nights when all I can do is stand beside a friend as he talks to someone else & then move on to stand beside another friend and so on, I reach my hand below my eyes & my sight holds me & there is nothing that cannot be downloaded somewhere.
In this passage one of the senses connects the speaker intimately with another of the senses. Love transcends not just distance, but perceived boundaries of identity and sentience. Yet, again, Svalina’s moonlit-sort-of magic is struck down and set into place with a quick turn in “downloaded” — a modern reference which means, again, distance and connectivity muddy things even further.
Elsewhere in the book an actor falls in love with his own photograph, and the speaker’s lover, an ever-changing passive character, has bear’s genitals. The lover moves into the speaker’s eyes. The lover rents the speaker’s love by the hour. The lover is the Fourth Crusade. A man falls in love with a bomb strapped to another man’s chest and with each of these we are forced to reconsider what sort of connection love really is and where it can operate. Lovers are never obvious and Svalina is certainly never obvious.
I’ve made a list of Svalina’s scenes that I love—they are indicative of the book’s power. Of course there are so many worlds in this Wastoid that we’d need eight types of telescopes and some new elements to really show and feel them all, but this list is a good surreal skim. I’m in love with each page. I’m in love with them on my laptop screen.