Dream Gossip


The Review’s Review

From Alice Notley’s zine Scarlet #1. Digitized by Nick Sturm as part of Alice Notley’s Magazines: A Digital Publishing Project.

“We asked our contributors to send us their dreams; most did not. A few did. One sent us some & then withdrew (“censored”) one. Dreams have gossip value—containing what didn’t happen that was so salacious. We offer this column as a random sampling of events in the night world; if you want to use it to remark on the nature of the poet’s (or the painter’s) soul, that’s your concern. We’re afraid that dream happenings are mere more of what goes on,” wrote the editors of the first Scarlet zine, Alice Notley and Douglas Oliver, introducing their new column, Dream Gossip. The first one featured dreams by Joe Brainard and Leslie Scalapino; a later column was illustrated by Alex Katz and prompted an essay by Notley on what we can and can’t learn from dreams. (Dream Gossip ran between 1990 and 1991, in the five issues of Scarlet, all of which have been digitized by the scholar Nick Sturm and are available here.) This spring, Hannah Zeavin interviewed Notley for our Writers at Work series. To mark the occasion, we sent a similar prompt to some of our contributors and staff, and are reviving Dream Gossip this week only. Welcome to our sampling of events in the night world!

—Sophie Haigney, web editor


Dream, April 9, 2024: I am eating chicken wrapped in cabbage at a table in my apartment. A book is open, possibly Middlemarch. The phone doesn’t ring but I pick up a landline with a coiled cord, and as I stare at the lines of text a voice on the phone says, “Nice place, but do you always just go looking into other people’s apartments?” Muffled but distinct, Beethoven is playing in someone’s car down on the street as they wait at the light. 

—Dan Poppick


I was walking with C., deeply aware I was running late for dinner with my mother. She said, “Just walk me a bit further.” I did. We must have been in New York, because of the way the street looked at night, like it has rained even when it hasn’t. Eventually tried to beg off politely, wincing, pointing to a watch that wasn’t there. Then she tied a black truss around me, and from the truss was a leash, which she tied around her waist. I tried to turn on my heels and make it to my dinner. Impossible, obviously.

—Hannah Zeavin


We are trying to make it across town. There are a few of us and I who am in the dream know that I know them but the I that is dreaming has never seen them. We are moving from place to place, trying not to get caught in the crossfire, but the half light through which we move from place to place, from cover to cover, is lit by laser fire. There are sides here and they are fighting but neither side is from this place, which is my reservation. Neither of the sides are from this place and we don’t know who they are but they are not from this place and we are trying to get somewhere. The grasses of the plains are gone and what has come is sand. There is sand everywhere and a hot wind blows and drifts the sand and we move across sand drifted like snow across streets and we hide in the shadows of wreckage and wait for a chance to move while the sides battle and laser fire lights up the sky which is no different in color from the ground. The wind is constant and hard and drifts the sand and we move and it is night. We are going across town for some reason. The pink-and-blue neon of a gas station canopy lights the distance.

—Sterling HolyWhiteMountain


One more way in which I am inadequate: I don’t dream, or barely, or if I do I don’t remember it. But surely, I thought, if I have to … To try to induce a dream I did some edibles. I was sitting around with friends. “What is the most important quality for a person to have?” I said, stoned. One said integrity, the other said generosity, I said bravery. Then I went to bed, woke up, nothing. 

The love of my life so far—he gets to keep that title until I find another one, as it is not in my nature to fake it—used to wake up every morning and tell me his dreams. At the start I would literally watch him while he slept, and he liked to fuck me so much that he would ask me to get on top of him in his sleep (please?). By the end his snoring got so loud that I couldn’t sleep beside him anymore, and he dreamed mostly about me fucking somebody else. 

Last week, I slept with a man, and then instead of leaving spent the night. I thought, maybe in the morning he will tell me one of his dreams, and I can steal it. No luck.

—Holly Connolly


I recently dreamed I’d made an ice cream cake to look exactly like the face of Karen Black, brought it to a party, and then became distraught when people tried to cut into it (the point was to let it melt!).

—Kate Riley


I dreamt I was in high school, at a statewide conference of the California YMCA’s Youth and Government program; in Fresno, I assume, because that’s where those conferences are held. I was standing in a large convention hall where an Irishman was making an impassioned speech. The woman standing to my left called him a faker. “That’s not a real Irish accent,” she said to me. “You can always tell.” In spite of her suspicions, I was doing this thing called spirit fingers, a gesture I remember from California Youth and Government which symbolizes enthusiastic agreement with whatever is being said. Spirit fingers is where you make typing motions with one hand while raising it in the air. Upon waking I put my arm down and found it was sore, and then I wondered for the rest of the day what the Irishman had so thoroughly convinced me of. 

—Owen Park


My dream was a book that doesn’t exist. It was read aloud to me by a male narrator and illustrated with photo slides. Called August Is Back, it was an autobiography of a glamorous Jewish Italian woman, written in old age. Her passions were food and sex. She was voracious!

And for a reason—growing up, she’d had a dear sister who died young. This made the author of August Is Back lean into living fearlessly and sensually. While she was clearly fab, her writing was so abruptly erotic that I felt embarrassed. She described at length the moisture on linen sheets after sex, the winking drip of overripe plums on the branch, and the satisfying mouthfeel of the word “climax.” Even in my dream, I found it a bit much. 

The final image was of her with her husband, holding hands in their garden. It was shown to me in black-and-white—one of the vignettes. I can’t remember if he was still alive or had already died. She herself was close to death, I understood. She wore a rumpled, plaid skirt over big calves. I woke up thinking, Huh!

—Rosa Shipley


He was sallow, aristocratic, fat. Half in the dark, his face appeared at the reckoning, festive. “You will feel a flatness,” he said to me, his skin an ashy blue. “Eat the fruit. You must … eat the fruit.” Had I gotten something wrong? Was I too impatient for wisdom? Did I abandon my commitments? Was I ungrateful for beauty when it faded too soon? Was my hospitality conditional? Was I made lazy by the long summers? Did I grow greedy for epiphany? Did I ask for mercy when I had withheld grace? Did I conflate freedom with narcissism? Was I caught delighting in the disgrace of others? Was my empathy self-serving? Was I frugal with forgiveness? Was I unmoved by violence? A muffled animal wail ripped out of me, but I was not conscious of making it. No sound came out. Strobe lights flashed, as if we were in a nightclub. Up until my reckoning began, I had planned to live life unrejected in love, and I assumed I would be envied by multitudes.

—Geoffrey Mak


I dreamt I couldn’t find my way back to the office once I had stepped out into the hallway. The corridor was no wider than a large desk, with dizzying spiral staircases, something straight out of Gaudí’s mind: pink walls made of clay, doors with drooping frames in bloody maroon. After hours going around in circles, I realized I did know how to get back in from the outside and turned in the direction I thought led to the exit …

—Nikita Biswal


Gene and I were in rehearsals for a stage adaptation of Batman. I’m not sure which episode. It was a musical, and we were told by the choreographer that we should fly, even though Batman doesn’t really fly—only Superman flies. Maybe we were supposed to be bats. Anyway, I’d never flown before, but I stood on one leg and leaned forward until my torso and my lifted leg were parallel to the floor, like in yoga. Then I picked up the other foot so that my whole body was in the air and started cruising around the stage. A huge triumph.

—Jane Breakell


Dream. The police commit me to a mental hospital. A year goes by. I’m standing near the front gate when a man in a brown security uniform tells me that he’s a time traveler sent back from the future to torture and kill me, and that the screams I’m about to hear from inside the hospital will be my own as I’m dying, and that this fact of my other self dying will be the perfect cover for my real self, me, to escape this hospital and join the time-travel police, which, he says, has been the plan all along. He’s smiling. As he tortures my first self to death inside the hospital and I hear my screams as I beg for mercy, my other self finds the hospital supervisor. I ask her what kind of plan this is. Why is it so convoluted? Why did it take a whole year? She laughs at me.

Dream. James has a black cow that loves me. It stands up on its hind legs to hug me, sing to me, and dance with me. 

Dream. I have pursued a bird to the rooftop in a green leafy neighborhood of a big city. A famous cult leader wearing sunglasses approaches, moving from roof to roof. He calls out: “I like to sell drugs, and I also like to steal birds.” An eagle lands on a branch over me. I’ve never been so close to an eagle before. I am knocked flat on my back, transfixed by wonder. A jaguar leaps into the treetops. I wait for the hawk to attack the jaguar. Now a second jaguar struts up and sits on top of me. 

Dream. Trepanning, beheading, vivisection, amputation, serrated knives. I am pursued down unfinished wooden stairs into a muddy basement. Upstairs, there are two wonderful golden owls.

Dream. Scott admires my “sphinx implant.” 

—J. D. Daniels