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Kissing Other People or the House of Fame calls the bluff on Chaucer’s boast, expressed in his poem “The House of Fame,” to have dreamt the best. Composed out of a year of the author’s dream journal, the title poem puts its perverse syntax to work in a maximalist jaunt of surprising collisions, cunning errors, nightly displacements, work, parties, plays, and repressed—which is to say, permissive—speech. Ingest your theory with Advil and water, Gabriel says, or did her dreams say it for her? Kissing Other People is an experiment in mouthing collective language, on the premise that what seems irretrievably personal is in fact most social and most shared.
Kay Gabriel inherited Bernadette Mayer and Geoffrey Chaucer’s dreams. For this, I could denounce her, as Gabriel herself denounces friend and poet Stephen Ira in this book’s “Blind Item” (in exchange for his 78 cents). Instead, I accept her generosity, which offers a year’s worth of visions—between the Aprils of 2019 and 2020—rather than a single December day. She’ll tell you that her Personism is for the less fabulous, but it’s simply more collective: even sleep is a social matter, sending her to protests and parties and picket lines and visiting fellowships, demanding complicated schematics of love and its construction by meals. We get the chaise without the bother of an analyst. Minding our resistance, we ingest our theory as prescribed, but it’s okay because “‘sublate’ is a little gay.” This is no record of imaginary teeth with real fears; in dreams she drives capably. I’ve ended love and rearranged my days on the strength of advice Kay’s given me in my sleep, though I’m modern enough to know that dreams define their recipients, not the gods who deign to offer them to poets. Kierkegaard says city life made us lose faith in the dream as a source of divine will, but Kay takes God’s place. When her dream sorts us all into rooms marked kissing and not kissing, you’ll want to be on the right side.
In reviving the dream vision for the twenty-first century, Gabriel reminds us that each night as we sleep, we undertake the work of transformation, rewriting the experiences of waking life. The special task of poetry is to make these visions “available to everyone,” to produce something we can continue to share and hold in common, even while awake.
Offering echoes of Bernadette Mayer for their shared diaristic/journal lyric impulse, Gabriel. . . attends to a particular nuance of dreamscape and lived daily life, existing almost as counterpoint to the clipped flaneur of a Frank O’Hara; through Gabriel, the ordinary, the intimate and the internal is entirely the point, and by itself, is magical.
Kay Gabriel is a poet and essayist. With Andrea Abi-Karam, she co-edited We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics. She’s the author of Kissing …