Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Coming to That: Poems by Dorothea Tanning

Coming to That: Poems is the second collection by Dorothea Tanning, an American artist who passed away only a few months later on January 31st, 2012 at 101 years-old. It's not only the first book by Tanning I've read, picking it up was also the first time I had heard of her. So reading Coming to That was this wonderful kind of double discovery, not only was the writing beautiful, but I also managed to stumble across an incredibly talented artist.

The very first poem in Coming to That, "Free Ride", was definitely one of my very favourites. It was short and evocative and sharp, telling a tiny story in at the same time. In fact, many of Tanning's poems tell stories, like "The Only Thing" about a wild girl gone tame: "Once in a blue / moon she would close her eyes and see // again what a million years ago / had been, for her, the right / and wild thing, the only thing."

In another one of my favourites, "No Snow", a long-awaited snowfall finally happens. Even "Interval with Kook" or "At the Seaside" which veers much more into the strange and unusual– which Tanning sometimes does, with things like halos and talking dogs– are still, at their core, stories.

Another one of my very favourite poems was "Woman Waving to Trees". One stanza reads:
"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."
It is the sort of poem that I could imagine Tanning painting, even before I knew what her paintings looked like. Afterwards, when I was done reading the collection, I looked them up and it was exactly right.

That said, Coming to That wasn't a collection that totally blew me away. Like many poetry collections, it was quite short, and within it were several poems I loved. But mostly there were good poems, with nice images, but not the kind I would go back and read again and again, not the kind to make me fall in love. Nothing was bad, but some were quite simple, and maybe more story than poem, more snapshot than painting. There are also times the poems go in quite strange directions, but it wasn't usually the kind of really wonderful wacky weird– like Buffy Cram's stories, for example– that blew me away. It was more the shoulder-shrugging-okay-weird.

Ultimately, Coming to That was a good collection filled with the occasional great poem. I would definitely be interested in picking up further work by Tanning, and although she won't be publishing anything else, it reassures me to know she had a long and productive life. In homage, I'm going to end with one of my favourite stanzas from the collection, coming from the poem "For Instance". 
"As everyone knows
dreams come true?
But you have to
dream them first."
Release Date: September 13th 2011  Pages: 72  Format: Paperback 
Source: D&M Publishers Publisher: Graywolf Press  Buy It: Book Depository

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