If you were going to wear another person’s face on your skin, would you choose a poet? Philip Jenks would, and did, and chose Emily Dickinson:
from “Chicago Ink” in Time Out Chicago:
“A Poet’s Devotion to Emily Dickinson” by Max Herman
Philip Jenks is a poet and university lit lecturer who has devoted the skin of his whole back to a tattoo portrait of Emily Dickinson... “It’s a large, powerful image that he’ll occasionally reveal to his students and colleagues as a conversation starter. ‘It can be a great opportunity,’ he says with a smirk, ‘to rethink her work.’“ See photographs of his tattooed back in the Time Out Chicago article and at Max Herman’s Web site.
We can see the affinities between poetry and tattooing, calligraphy and memory, words taken to heart and body art... but Jenks’ choice—to wear the poet’s portrait rather than her words—is a rarity. Poking around the Internet in search of other tattoos inspired by poets, we discovered many more tattoo poems than poets: At Contrariwise Literary Tattoos, there are three Emily Dickinson tattoos, two of “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers —” and one of “If I can stop one Heart from breaking,” as well as collections of tats quoting Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, e.e. cummings, Charles Bukowski, and a variety of other poems. And there’s a coffee table book of literary tattoos, The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos for Bookworms Worldwide (by Justin Taylor and Eva Talmadge, Harper Perennial, 2010), that ’s chock full of poem quotes embodied in tattoo form. Kim Addonizio and Cheryl Dumesnil’s earlier book, Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos (Grand Central Publishing, 2002), gives us the words instead of the pictures—poems, essays, stories and memoirs on getting, wearing and interpreting tattoos. So which of Emily’s lines would you choose to wear?
More on Emily Dickinson:
Biographical Profile of American Icon/“Belle of Amherst” Dickinson
Our Library: Poems by Emily Dickinson
“The Scientist in Emily Dickinson” (2010) “Circling Back to Emily Dickinson” (2008)
“Emily’s Pearls Still Shine in the 21st Century” (2008)
“What Would Emily Say? An Indeath Interview,” by Robyn Sue Millerz (2003)
“Emily Dickinson: Continuing Enigma,” by Jone Johnson Lewis