poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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.

Artspeak

Dorothea Tanning, 1910 - 2012
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 would talk, fill the sky like a mouth,
clear its convulsive throat while flashes and crashes

erupted as it spoke—a star-shot avalanche of
visions in uproar, drowned by the breathy din

of soundbites as we strain to hear its august words:
"a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z."

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
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
poem
Now that legal tender has
              lost its tenderness,
and its very legality
          is so often in question,
it may be time to consider
the zero—
          long rows of them,
    empty, black circles in clumps
                          of three,
presided over by a numeral
                       or two.
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