About this poet

Born on August 25, 1910 in Galesburg, Illinois, Dorothea Tanning studied at Knox College in her hometown before moving to Chicago to pursue painting at the Art Institute.

Her collections of poetry include Coming to That (Graywolf, 2011) and A Table of Content (2004). She is also the author of two memoirs, Birthday (1986) and Between Lives: An Artist and Her World (2001); and a novel, Chasm (2004).

After discovering Dada and Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936, Tanning began working as a painter in New York. As she recounts in her memoirs, when the famed German artist Max Ernst visited her studio in 1942, they played chess, fell in love, and embarked on a life together that soon took them to Sedona, Arizona, and later to Paris and provincial France. She married Ernst in 1946 in a double wedding with artist Man Ray and dancer Juliet Browner.

About her work, Barry Schwabsky, writing for The Nation has said:

As with everything else [Tanning] has turned her hand to, she's made poetry her own...I've never met her, but simply knowing of her existence expands my sense of the possible in art and life.

Her paintings and sculptures are included in major museum collections such as the Tate Gallery, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée de la Ville de Paris, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Chicago Art Institute, among others.

Dorothea Tanning died on January 31, 2012, at the age of 101.

Coming to That

Dorothea Tanning, 1910 - 2012
"If it comes to that," he said, "there'll be no
preventing it."
He uttered it as I listened. Had I got it right,
hearing him?
"If it comes to that," is what he said, and,
as if talking
to himself, went on about how there'd be no
preventing it.
He came to that conclusion, saying it in a
slow way of
coming to that, whatever that was it might
come to before
not being prevented—and as if such a thing
were for him
the unthinkable, and would prevail, if it
came to that.

And while listening more closely now to
what he said,
I realized if no one paid him heed, it would
be as if he
hadn't said it—if it came to that— and would
then not be 
prevented from falling to forces known to 
care little for
what he said, even if they heard it, their
being wily
and forceful enough to make sure it would
come to that.

From Coming to That by Dorothea Tanning. Copyright © 2011 by Dorothea Tanning. Used with permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

From Coming to That by Dorothea Tanning. Copyright © 2011 by Dorothea Tanning. Used with permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning's collections of poetry include Coming to That (Graywolf, 2011) and A Table of Content (2004)

by this poet

poem
No palms dolled up the tedium, no breathing wind.
No problem was the buzzword then, their way to go.

In truth, my case was black as sin, a thing to hide,
In that they feigned to find me sane, so not to know.

Someone brought in a medium. Anathema!
Some clown sewed up my eyes, he said it wouldn't show.
poem
If Art would only talk it would, at last, reveal
itself for what it is, what we all burn to know.

As for our certainties, it would fetch a dry yawn
then take a minute to sweep them under the rug:

certainties time-honored as meaningless as dust
under the rug. High time, my dears, to listen up.

Finally Art
poem
That was in a room for rent.
It had a window and a bed,

it was enough for dreaming,
for stunning facts like being

at last, and undeniably
in NYC, enough to hold

enfolded as in a pregnancy,
those not-yet-painted works

to be. They, hanging fire,
slow to come—to come

out—being deep inside her,
oozing