DREAMS TO A DOOR
A man of his words pedals personalized prose poems
At 1 a.m., Mathias Svalina rolls out of bed and dresses quickly. He doesn’t have much time. The streets of Denver will be empty for only a few more hours, and he has a long journey — 35 miles, on bike — to reach his customers before they wake up.
He has slept only three hours, but he can’t skip work — not today, or any day. He’s the only employee at the Dream Delivery Service, where he holds multiple titles: founder, content creator, marketer, salesman, courier, public relations director and resident dreamer.
Svalina, 42, is a professional poet who bikes the nearly three dozen miles every morning to hand-deliver personalized prose poems to paying customers. For a single $45 payment, subscribers of the service wake up to
a new and unique “dream” — ranging from 50 to 300 typewritten words — on their doorstep every morning for a month. (Nightmares cost an extra $3.75.) Svalina delivers the dreams himself, pedaling more than three hours to Denver residences in the quiet predawn.
“I’m trying to find the logic of dreams, when the inexplicable is commonplace,” he says. “I want it to be fun and spritely and cryptic, like an extended fortune cookie.”
During the day, the poet spends four to eight hours writing the surrealist dreams. In the first service month, in the summer of 2014, Svalina had 108 subscribers. He initially promised each one a unique letter every day.
“Pretty soon, my friends sat me down for an intervention,” he said. “I got no sleep and was in bad health, and they told me it was OK to reuse dreams now and then.”
Now he averages between 25 and 40 unique letters each day. On Sundays, every subscriber receives the same dream, allowing the overtaxed poet to catch up on sleep. His current delivery month, which runs from June 20 to July 20, serves 33 subscribers, about half of whom live outside Denver. Svalina mails those customers their dreams for an extra fee that covers postage.
Svalina, who has conducted 11 service months in half a dozen American cities since the inaugural run in Denver three years ago, has gained national recognition for perfecting his unorthodox daily schedule into a routine. Although he still strives to create a unique dream for every customer, some days sap his time, stamina or creative energies. On the August day when his mother needed emergency surgery, Svalina could will himself to write only five.
During a service month, he sticks to a precise preplanned route that varies little from day to day. The rigid regimen often prevents him from exploring the host city, despite committing hundreds of hours to navigating its streets and serving its residents.
“It becomes a very interior vision of the city,” he says. “In a way, I’m in this very closed version of the city, which repeats every day. So I learn to get excited about micro details and events — the potholes, broken glass, dead animals on the side of the road.”
When Svalina’s chronic restlessness boils into fullblown wanderlust, the poet-entrepreneur takes his talents to the road, bringing dreams wherever friends and institutions will have him. In Richmond, Va., he lived in an anarchist collective called the Flying Brick. In Tucson, he lived in an old fire station above the Museum of Contemporary Art. A violent lightning storm nearly killed him in the desert outside Marfa, Texas.
“There I was, the only thing on the horizon, on a nice thick piece of steel,” he says. “I just started laughing, manically, uncontrollably. I figured if the story of my life ended with being struck by lightning while biking in the dark in the desert, well, that would be pretty legit.”
The demands of delivery month prevent the surrealist from doing what he loves most: reading.
“The hardest and most disorienting thing was that I didn’t read for a month during the first delivery,” he said. “I found that to be really stultifying.”
His inspirations include Borges, Kafka and Kate Bernheimer, a contemporary writer of American fairytales. Now, Svalina carves out a half hour for daily reading and even listens to audiobooks during rides with a single earbud.
He has had a number of accidents but never landed in a hospital, although his bike is unrecognizable after years of surgeries and transplants. A mechanical breakdown in the remote desert of west Texas left him at the mercy of the only bike shop within hundreds of miles, which fixed his defunct crank set with an illfitting spare.
“It’s my only bike, and a real Frankenstein, with an ’80s frame and mismatched parts,” Svalina says. “It’s a mess of a bike, but I love it.”
His meager income from dream delivery buys his food and fixes his bike, which plows through the elements. Svalina has no reservations biking through rain, snow or wind, but he’s limited by his bicycle. Occasional breakdowns can derail a day’s delivery schedule and cost a pretty penny.
“The service doesn’t pay well,” he says, laughing. “Being comfortable with abject poverty is important for the project.”
For a man whose lone source of income depends on baring his subconscious via personalized, hand-delivered letters penned in the second person, Svalina remains something of a mystery to even his most loyal fans. Most customers of the Dream Delivery Service have never met the founding dreamer, whose invisibility garners comparisons to clandestine heroes of comic books and folk myths.
“It was like the tooth fairy every day,” said Julie Carr, a Svalina friend who teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “But better — because you didn’t have to lose a tooth and dreams are better than quarters.”
Jason Wardell lives in Denver and started receiving daily dreams last July after his wife signed him up for the service as a birthday present.
“It’s a dreamlike thing Mathias is doing, like something that’d happen in a real dream,” Wardell says. “It felt like I was a member of a secret society. The letter just sort of manifested on the door, and I would read it on the way to work and think about it for the rest of the day.”
Wardell, who studied English in college, wants to help local artists willing to pioneer creative and unconventional projects.
“As a gift for a literaryminded person, I can’t think of anything better,” he said. “I didn’t really know that something like this could exist until my wife ordered it. And now I think there should be so much more of this creative output. I would love to see more things like this in the world.”
Wardell has never met Svalina, who estimates that he interacts with less than a quarter of his customers, either in chance, early-morning encounters or through mutual friends.
His return to Denver represents a homecoming of sorts. The transient literary, who subsists through couch surfing, sees Colorado as a home base.
“Denver has been very kind and supportive to me,” he says. “It’s hard to leave Colorado once you get addicted to being this close to the mountains and all the built-in, stupendous, sublime beauty everywhere.”
That aesthetic sense pervades the dreams, which contain bizarre surrealist narratives that lack straightforward meaning. Although the specific content of the poems often veil the personality and pathology of their creator, Svalina finds a fitting outlet for selfexpression in his vignettes.
“Our dreams are always weird and inexplicable. You get an initial setting and a procession of narrative without logical causation or emotional clarity or rising and falling action,” he says. “It’s just open to whatever comes next. That’s how my mind works. It’s hard for me to be a normal person who pays bills and waits at stoplights. It’s normal for me to be weird and to think this way.”
Midway through the service month, Svalina is weary but motivated from his double life: biking through the deserted streets of the sleeping metropolis by morning and writing furiously to meet deadline by night. At 1 a.m. — rain or shine, dream or nightmare — he’ll start the 35-mile routine all over again.
“I’m tired,” he admitted, “but it’s the kind of tired that comes from loving what I’m doing. So I’m into it.”
“I want it to be fun and spritely and cryptic, like an extended fortune cookie.” Mathias Svalina, on how he wants his customers to view his work
Mathias Svalina has a big hand in delivering dreams – typewritten, personalized prose poems – by bike daily to subscribers in the Denver area.
Mathias Svalina’s delivery route “becomes a very interior vision of the city,” he says. “So I learn to get excited about micro details and events — the potholes, broken glass, dead animals on the side of the road.” »