Welcome to another installment of the Tattooed Poets Project!

This will be our sixth April celebrating National Poetry Month with a month full of tattooed poets’ work – both written and corporeal. Every day this month at 3:00 AM EDT, we will post a tattoo (or two) belonging to a poet, along with a sample of their work. Because interest has been unprecedented this
year, most days we will post TWO poets, with the second one appearing at 3:00 PM EDT. If you are a published poet interested in contributing, we will be featuring additional tattooed poets weekly, starting in May, or you can volunteer now for 2015. Please email tattoosday@gmail.com for details. And please, everyone, enjoy April on Tattoosday and thank you for visiting!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Tattooed Poets Project: Elliott D. Smith

I met Elliott D. Smith at the Union Square Barnes & Noble last month and took pictures of his tattoos for The Tattooed Poets Project. I also met his roommate Jared, whose work will appear here tomorrow.

Elliott has quite a bit of work, including a sleeve-in-progress, which is being constructed by the wonderfully talented Joy Rumore at Twelve 28 Tattoo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Check out this composite of Elliott's right arm:

This still-incomplete tattoo is part of a sleeve based on a mural at the Morgan Street stop on the L train in Brooklyn.
Photo by Elliott D. Smith

The sleeve has the Alice in Wonderland figure at its center, but a lot of other images, like the banana as well. Elliott pointed out in the photo above that the banana (lower right corner) is much smaller. For the purpose of the art of the tattoo sleeve, its scale has been increased significantly.

Elliott added that he visually enjoys the image of the mural, and his "own little Alice in Wonderland dream land" is slowly taking shape on his flesh.

Also on his right arm with the sleeve is this quote from "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action," by Audre Lourde:

The quote is "I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior."

There are times when a writer's words resonate so loudly in your ears, they shake you to your core. Elliott told me that he "read it [these lines] one day and the next day got the tattoo."

He offered up this interpretation of the line: "it's easy to think of yourself as victim," he said, but succeeding in life is about "surviving and fighting through victimhood".

Elliott also has these words on his outer wrists:

This is the third poet this month with "poet" inked on his or her flesh. However, the combination of "freedom poet" adds another dimension to the corporeal text.

This was a "spur of the moment" tattoo, Elliott told me, elaborating that aside from the obvious "poet," he is "holding freedom in his hand and facing out".

Finally, we don't get a lot of lower back tattoos here on Tattoosday, but when we do, they are extraordinary:

Elliott took a couple of photos into Joy and she crafted this design. The concept is a spin on the "power to the people" idea, but with an emphasis on urban people. "Most Americans live in cities," he explained, "but [they] don't have power". This is a spin on the frustration that many feel, that the values of the citizenry of the American cities are not represented by the government.

As for poetry, Elliott offered us this work:


I own thirteen striped shirts.
I have known the misfortune of wearing lines on skin,
stretch marks and self-hate carve flesh in convincing fashion.
No lover has ever asked me why

I have known the misfortune of wearing lines on skin,
razor blade reminders tattoo thighs with teenage dreams.
No lover has ever asked me why
it was so easy to steal from myself.

Razor blade reminders tattoo thighs with teenage dreams,
this belly, a thanksgiving turkey for carving--
it was so easy to steal from myself
when I didn’t believe I had anything to give.

This belly, a thanksgiving turkey for carving.
Sliced up white meat
when I didn’t believe I had anything to give.
Mother doesn’t know there’s blood on the stairs.

Sliced up white meat,
stretch marks and self-hate carve flesh in convincing fashion.
Mother doesn’t know there’s blood on the stairs.
I own thirteen striped shirts.
~ ~ ~

Elliott D. Smith reps Louisville, Cincinnati, and Brooklyn. When he's not  working with formerly incarcerated people or conducting research on masculinity, he drinks whiskey and talks too loudly. He believes in the power of tattoos, reference books, and matching music with the weather.

Thanks to Elliott for sharing his ink and his poetry here with us on Tattoosday!

This entry is ©2011 Tattoosday. The poem is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

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Lo said...

Excellent tats and poem!!

I am curious about the poem - it seems to be a non-rhyming terzanelle, I think. Was the form intended or just turned out that way? Whatever it was - it's intriguing and very well written.

Thank you

Bill Cohen said...

I should have mentioned the poem is a pantoum.

Mandy said...

Wonderful! That's cool!

Lo said...

Pantoum it is. I wasn't even close. Back to school for me!

Be that as it may, I do really like this. It's intriguing and it's slightly sinister and the overall impression is one of great insight.