Neptune Park | Daniel Tiffany
Some would call Neptune Park a graphic novel—minus the pictures. Mumblecore, infidel pamphlet, lazy cento, its archive harbors a voice that sounds real enough—a verbal tranny—culled from the unhoused parley of shame (and its sisters), suburban squats, queer idylls, and teenage millionaires. Turning disparate texts and sources against the sensibilities of their origin, Neptune Park develops a phraseology—a synthetic vernacular—veering from contemporary pidgin and biblical homilies to Mother Goose and Virgilian epic. At once degraded in its lyric appetite and Sapphic in its emotional and stanzaic compression, Neptune Park fabricates an allegory of dissolution, sympathy, and remorse.
Neptune Park’s uncanny couplets are not like anything else—they read like Lynchian jingles, 3 AM blurts, off-key songs overheard in a Shell station mart. They are pastiche distillations or riddling alchemies that switch from the profound, to the kitsch, to the crass. Read these tantalizing, unfamiliar telegrams from a world that’s a theme park of our own.
Cathy Park Hong, author of Dance Dance Revolution
Neptune Park is an unexpected blend of a (not so underlying) severe attitude and a skippy pseudo-frivolity: “Dear little revelers / come hopping along.” Humor here (and there’s a lot of it, often in shades of nursery rhymes) is either let’s be fey or ironic. In a relentless series of stylish little shocks--twists of tone, thuggeries of grammar, punchy paratactic sentences, wry images (“a mirror / with all the upgrades”), and menacing statements (“You look like somebody / just turned you loose”), the book razzes the innocence that isn’t singing “shortly to be replaced.” Tiffany skates on the extreme edge of the blade on the thinnest ice he can find, daring the underneath to take him. But it won’t, not while he can still write—which is both his triumph and his complaint.
Calvin Bedient, author of The Multiple
The poems of Neptune Park crisscross a history-drenched radio dial, through which the reader hears a plea, a song snippet, a bulletin. And yet the erotic calls are everywhere, arriving on oblique frequencies. Flooded with far-away signals, mocking and haunted by turns, this radio band is a playful nudge in the ribs as well as a private accounting of the General Strike.
George Albon, author of Fire Break
Compounded of fairly tale, tall tale, chitchat, psalm, dystopia, soap opera, trip-hop and arcana, the poems in Neptune Park read like the ballads of some cool but disreputable seaside community repeatedly hit hard by the overload of its own absurd existence. Tiffany, like his namesake, solders their odd parts together with brilliant compositional sense and rare flare—but this time, the outcome ain’t that pretty. “What made me think / I could lock the pixie in her room?” he writes. “Calm as a kitten, / she ripped through the door.” Hooked on paradox, ill logic, histrionics and swagger, these poems retreat from the sun’s one eye to where everything is half-lit, meaning dim—but also partial, multiple, inhabited by shades, shady, darkly illuminated and partway to blotto. “I like this path / to darkness” admits Dido, the book’s doomed muse, and I like it too, and so will you—and it’s a good thing, because we’re already skipping down it.
Timothy Donnelly, author of The Cloud Corporation
- Daniel Tiffany has published three previous collections of poetry: Puppet Wardrobe (Parlor Press 2006), The Dandelion Clock (Tinfish Books 2010), and Privado (Action Books 2010). His poems appear in journals including Poetry, Tin House, Boston Review, jubilat, Fence, and the Paris Review. In addition, Tiffany has published translations of texts by Sophocles and the Italian poet Cesare Pavese, as well as Georges Bataille’s pornographic tale, Madame Edwarda. His books of literary theory have been included in annual Notable Books lists by the Los Angeles Times and other publications. His fifth work of criticism, My Silver Planet: A Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch, will be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. He is a recipient of the Chicago Review Poetry Prize and the Berlin Prize of 2012, awarded by the American Academy.
“Milk is a popular soothing drink for children at bedtime./ More daring still are the birds.” Such off-balance non sequiturs are the bread and butter, or else (to quote another poem) the “seahorse” and “blossom-fret” of Tiffany’s bizarre, compact, and seriously entertaining third collection. Tiffany (Privado) has a reputation as a challenging academic critic, and some of his oddball cut-ups, with their implied air quotes and their intermittent shock value, seem designed at once to court, and to baffle, postmodern interpreters: “there’s the devil behind/ the glass making clothes for fishies,/ everybody watching.”
Here is a poetry with the capacity to discover, in the midst of its “tingeltangel,” “Some kind of alternative mathematics / camouflaged between seven and eight.” Distinct from the flatness of Flarf, a form which also mobilizes kitsch for avant-garde ends, Tiffany’s poems enact a vertiginous crossing of Gothic depths (“This late-romantic region / where the borders are clocked / from dusk to dusk”), perhaps seeking a neo-Orphic explanation of the Earth: “Behind the guide, / tinted by the Earth’s // oblique veins, / a starlet appears.” The poems collected in Neptune Park depict, with some abandon, the nightlife of language, an inverted world where glitz reveals its profundity, a “transneptunian” zone giddily traipsed by a starlet named Dido. “Her favorite advice: / be Brechtian. / With earrings & adjectives.”
This is precisely how Tiffany’s body of work expands: like one lengthening chain of meaning in an agglutinative language. Eccentric scholarship lays the groundwork for creative experimentation. And Neptune Park may put it all together better than any of its precursors, poetic or critical. Unpredictable images pit art proper and tchotchkes together in a vernacular patchwork of slang, puns, nonsense rhymes, and balladic lilts that shouldn’t, due decorum would advise, unfold into poetry but nonetheless do and, Tiffany would add as a reminder, nonetheless always have.
If 'Neptune Park' refers to a business, it is, crucially, one that is no more. We might best imagine the title, then, as designating a zone ambiguously poised between two regimes of ownership. Having neither erased all trace of its former privacy, nor, assuredly, returned to a state of nature, the abandoned amusement park has faded sufficiently from public consciousness as to become a site for unsupervised play. The vision of freedom here is that of the graffiti artist or squatter, who seeks not possession, but opportunities for use.
Mostly the creeps turn their heads
so as to not see us.
A repeated phrase glitters on the threshold.
My boyfriends drink out of a dark
green puddle. What is Man
that thou should magnify him?
Then, too, then, too, then, too,
the Bardot girls listen for strangers
back home. Lucky that
grimy curtain doesn’t do much
to hide the bed.
now your poppybower
syndrome, not all there
to feel the pranks my boyfriends
have in store for me.