Mathias Svalina’s Destruction Myth is a collection of great intellectual rigor, grounded by an awareness of the everyday. It presents a series of forty-four poems, all but one entitled “Creation Myth.” Reaching back into history – and sometimes prehistory – Svalina’s poems explore origins. Indeed, almost every work but the last (“Destruction Myth”) starts with some variation of “In the beginning.” Relying upon this formula lifted from “Genesis,” Svalina nonetheless demonstrates great range. He presents highly personal material, confessing “how I felt / when I was eight years old / & my home broke apart,” alongside thought-provoking anthropological generalizations (“Human life begins / at the moment / of contraception”; “Nothing without thumbs / is human”). And he displays skill with both free verse and prose – though the latter mode seems better suited for his forthright tone and frequent use of dialogue.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the many threads woven through Destruction Myth is the commentary on language. Svalina imagines the government regulating parts of speech, and juxtaposes lists of “beautiful” and “ugly words.” His preoccupation with language is not academic. In fact, Svalina exhibits a healthy skepticism about universities, notably in a poem about “a hole” obsessed with “PhDs” that ultimately says nothing. And Svalina’s interest in language is not confined to poetry: he is deeply concerned about how people across the ages have used words to interpret – and sometimes displace – quotidian experiences. He treats with equal care iterations inspired by Chris Farley movies and the Bible.
That said, Destruction Myth will not appeal to everyone. It asks to be understood as a whole, and Svalina’s relentless pursuit of the same philosophical questions in poem after poem will put off some readers. But those seeking an intelligent, cohesive volume that interrogates how we make sense (and nonsense) will definitely appreciate Svalina’s work.