cover image The Wine-Dark Sea

The Wine-Dark Sea

Mathias Svalina. Sidebrow (SPD, dist.), $15 trade paper (76p) ISBN 978-1-940090-05-4

In a deeply bleak fifth collection , Svalina (Wastoid) departs from the tone and diction of his prior work to compose a threnody where “emptiness pulses/ like a stick” and “asphalt spills/ into the caesura.” The poems proceed in series: each shares an obsidian tone, an austere shape, and the collection’s Homeric title. Where Svalina’s formal consistency previously highlighted madcap inventiveness, here it reinforces a sense of grief. “I want to show you/ what I saw/ in the glass,” he declares in the collection’s first poem, before confessing in the second that “there is so much/ I can’t form/ that is true.” These concerns about language’s inefficacy are no mere game: depression wracks this speaker (“If I had will,/ I’d be dead,” Svalina writes at one point) and the lyric provides little relief. “Exit this poem for me// show me a way,” one later piece reads in its entirety. What provides balm is a shared sense of purpose: “All these books can’t/ stop a stripmine,” but they can connect individuals. “In the sun I carry/ everyone I know & I/ am carried on their backs,” Svalina writes. His latest may be a heavy book, but, for anyone who’s ever made “an undetectable/ plea,” it’s one worth carrying. (May)