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Dorothea Tanning

1910–2012

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.

By This Poet

6

No Palms

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.

Confusing hands with craze, they howled, "Let's cut them off."
Confusing, too, their spies, my lies without an echo.

Time and again they stitched my mind with warp and woof.
Time pounded in my ruby heart, doing a slow,

Slow dim-out in that lupanar, slow take, slow fade,
Slow yawning like a door. "Hello," I said. "HELLO."

There, flung across the room between inside and out,
There must have shown itself to me. . .an afterglow.

With such a blaze to celebrate where centuries meet 
With time itself, how could I hesitate? Although

Still trapped in the millennium I knew I had 
Still time to blow some kisses. Look up, there they go!

Woman Waving to Trees

Not that anyone would
notice it at first.
I have taken to marveling
at the trees in our park.
One thing I can tell you:
they are beautiful
and they know it.
They are also tired,
hundreds of years
stuck in one spot—
beautiful paralytics.
When I am under them,
they feel my gaze,
watch me wave my foolish
hand, and envy the joy
of being a moving target.

Loungers on the benches
begin to notice.
One to another,
"Well, you see all kinds..."
Most of them sit looking
down at nothing as if there
was truly nothing else to
look at until there is
that woman waving up
to the branching boughs
of these old trees. Raise your
heads, pals, look high,
you may see more than
you ever thought possible,
up where something might
be waving back, to tell her
she has seen the marvelous.

Coming to That

"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.