In the Beginning There Was Mathias Svalina: Dennis Etzel Jr. on Mathias Svalina’s Destruction Myth


Destruction Myth, Mathias Svalina, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2009

The Cleveland State University Poetry Center has something special going on in its New Poetry Series. I was surprised at the list of wonderful poets on their website, and met a few new poets there. As a reader of Octopus, one poet I came across was familiar to me: Mathias Svalina. His book was well worth the cover price, as Destruction Myth is a journey of how narrative is constructed via mythmaking.

There are 44 poems titled “Creation Myth” followed by a seven-part “Destruction Myth,” and “In the beginning” is the first three words in many of the poems. Destruction Myth also explores the possibilities of different views into our world. For example, the first poem covers a universe around Larry Bird: “In the beginning everyone looked like Larry Bird / but everyone did not have the name Larry Bird / & this was confusing.” I found myself chuckling while drawn in to what could be absurd, yet kept me hungry for another poem.

The best poems tie in what a reader might see as “world-creating” to reconnect the voice to the audience, like in the sixth “Creation Myth,” where “In the beginning there were only streets.” The streets that made everything, streets that “considered themselves houses,” a “street that looked like you / when you were eight years old” all vanish, because there is no Department of Transportation after all. This is the explanation for why cars suddenly jerk away, running over the ghost of a street and “is crying out / the only way it knows how”:

Your car does not love you. Your car knows
what it is to be a car & that cars belong
to the streets. Just as every bird
belongs to the bird feeder. Just as lead
belongs to the pencil. That’s how I felt
when I was eight years old
& my home broke apart.
Each page has a surprise, making reading a pleasure.

This might be what is so appealing about this collection—how the reader “has fun” with these poems, but discovers how these differently created worlds are our world. Here are a few examples of opening lines:

In the beginning everyone wanted to fight to the death. This made shopping difficult & also lovemaking & most everything else.
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The world began with the beat of a drum. / The drummer was in a metal band / so he was drumming really fast / & things started changing rapidly.
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In the beginning there was a gun. / Before that the world / was only gunpowder & steel.

Svalina takes the best of mythmaking and poetry with our culture and humanity to place it in front of us in the guise of humor. That is what makes this collection wonderful, including the final poem “Destruction Myth,” and how it flips the current attitudes of the world over and makes pancakes out of them: “Everyone saw the end coming / & threw a big party / with barbecued sausages / & moon bounces.” If you do not rush out and order this book, you won’t get to see how things will end. Seriously, this is an amazing first book that deserves more recognition.

Purchase Destruction Myth

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Dennis Etzel Jr. is a candidate for an MFA in creative writing from The University of Kansas. He lives in Topeka, Kansas.

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