Author: Daniel Tiffany

Daniel Tiffany is the author of six books of poetry and criticism, including, most recently, Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance (University of Chicago Press, 2009). His poems have appeared in Tin House, jubilat, Fence, the Paris Review, Lana Turner, Conduit, the Boston Review and other magazines. His fourth book of poetry will be published by Omnidawn Books in 2013. He is a recipient of the Berlin Prize for 2012, awarded by the American Academy in Berlin, where he is currently completing a critical book on poetry and kitsch.

Bridegroom & Lusitania & Kids We Call Stars & Secrets of the Latest Winter Fashions & Extinct


Her favorite advice:
be Brechtian.
With earrings & adjectives.

While buttered larks
fall from the sky.
There’s just no way.

Standing against a tin wall,
bird nailed to a mirror,
her mouth is painted with branches.

Discover not a secret
to another,
the good book says.

One small sip is quite enough
to make you think
you have entered another world.

And all doubt about which one
it is disappears at once.

She—yeah, Dido—starts hitting the guy
with her cigarette case.

And their sleep is taken away.

The green alchemy gives them
no peace.

I can’t begin to explain
the world they left behind

or where that hunky Polo guy
trying to put out the flames with his shirt

came from.
I know I’ve seen him somewhere.


His angels be charged with folly,
it cracks between their teeth.

A boy rings a bell and the peeling
hatch opens again by itself.

On the wall is an Albers;
things twinkle in the lounge.

Some fifty people are present;
most have a second helping.

Then, too, then, too, then, too.

Head bumper
Eyebrow branky
Nose anky.

Mouth eater
Chin chopper
Gully, gully, gully.

Tell you something
you might not like to know.

Milk is a popular, soothing drink for children at bedtime.

More daring still are the birds.

Off to the terraces again,
without fault, without object,
guided by the waves, by coal dusts,
by fistfuls of red petals scattered to the air.

Kids We Call Stars

The day after the day
not yet called unhappy.

In a matchstick coach
on the ocean floor

burns the tiniest of lamps,
a liar’s candle

painting the veil and her pillbox hat—
some pixie crying in a $500 outfit.

Now I never
will forget that floating bridge.

What the Japanese call
lost-roof technique.

Heart, liver and lungs,
collectively known as the pluck.

Even a honey wagon.
They all disappeared.

What made me think
I could lock the pixie in her room?

Calm as a kitten,
she ripped through the door

and closed her eyes, asking
stuff about life on Earth.

Secrets of the Latest Winter Fashions

Not daring to enter,
we passed near the little door.

Not daring to enter
the dark cells where all day

the mutants sleep
trussed up in gauze

and the latest machines.
The proud helpers do stoop under them.

What are you saying?

I saw a cottage near the sky,
I saw the Old World

fixing lavender pie.
It’s simple: you put your money

down, take your girl
upstairs and clown.

Neither shall your place
know you in the end.


I saw a girl just like a cat,
I saw a kitten wearing a hat,

I saw a man who saw these too
and said though strange all were true.


You’re gonna do what I say.

It will always be like this.

Hunter bent with the unwanted
gifts of hunting.

They keep you in a sanctuary.

it says at the entrance.

You stop eating
and drinking until something

possesses you.
For the heart studies destruction.

I just came here to have
a word with you.

The room is white/ is charred/ is white.
The evening storm might blow.

Let go of the girl.


                             Someone call the trainer.

Someone call the trainer.

Sampler and Sediment: The Art of Peter Sacks

Sampler and Sediment: The Art of Peter Sacks

Wade Wilson Art, Houston, Oct 29 – Dec 11

Necessity 14

Peter Sacks is a South African painter, now residing in the U.S., with a distinguished history as a poet and literary critic. Responding to the most recent exhibitions of his paintings (in New York and Houston), one could introduce his work by saying a few words about late modernism, or about an African variant of modernism (see his Migration series), or about exile and painting, or even about poetry and painting. Many of Sacks’ paintings, for example, incorporate fragments of texts, typed out by the artist on scrolls of cloth with a manual typewriter. And in some of these paintings, if one looks closely, one discovers scraps of poetry (Rilke, Celan) pressed into the sweetness of decay (Visitation 1 (Celan), for example).

Visitation 1 (Noah), detail

Thinking about Africa, or modernism, or poetry in relation to Sacks’ paintings would not be inappropriate, given the context of the artist’s work and some of its dominant stylistic properties (scale, abstraction, collage), along with its melancholy affinities for text and textile (Visitation 3 (Job and Dante), for example). Yet Sacks appears to have found a way to deploy the tool kit of modernism to ends more or less alienated from the conventions of modernist ideology: formal experiment, depersonalization, critique. For the coolness of these paintings is not a matter of technique or cognition but a mapping of the erosion of feeling—its sediments and strata. The poignancy of these images, entirely at odds with their scale and abstraction, evokes a world that is captive yet resistant to the historical world: a world that summons in the viewer something like the mysterious affect and the irretrievable motives of one under enchantment, one controlled from afar.

Visitation 3 (Job and Dante)

Responding to this phenomenon in Sacks’s paintings is hard to talk about: the images deepen one’s solitude, bringing one to the threshold of “frozen tears”—a crystalline formation of inaccessible feeling. Facing these images, I felt several times the impulse to weep beside the paintings, but the predictable suppression of such feelings seemed also to be implicit in the operation of the image. It was as if these saturnine—and saturnalian—images caught me up in a ceremonial web, then released me into a kind of nostalghia, all the while continuing to bind me, to suspend me inches apart from the realization of feelings summoned by these paintings.

Migration 15

Seeking to define more closely the effects of modesty or deferral, one could also say that there is something atavistic but also domestic about the discoveries induced by Sacks’ paintings. The viewer is at once enchanted and forewarned by the artist’s preservation of scavenged lace, linens, garments, shawls, in these compulsive tableaux (Necessity 14, for example). The humble materials embedded in these large, serial images hover as well in the anonymous well of those arts—such as stitchery—that are produced without expectation of recompense or even acknowledgement, reminding us how mysterious the relation between identity and artifact must remain. These paintings might help us to relearn how to make art in this way, how it might be possible to produce works without signatures–at any scale–to render the enigma of the sampler, the embroidered pillow case, or the lace collar. In addition, the use of corrugated materials in many of the paintings—Visitation 1 (Noah), or Summoning 5, for example—suggests a kind of quilting, or honeycomb, associated with these “pale” arts. For similar reasons perhaps, one discovers in the paintings of deep, obliterating color—Necessity 9 or Summoning 20 for example—the welling-time of an amber fossil: a lone, garbled clue trapped within its sumptuous depths.

Summoning 20