Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Tattooed Poets Project: Jill Alexander Essbaum's Poetic Feet (and Jessica Piazza's Too!)

UPDATED! See below....

I've decided to launch this special National Poetry Month Tattoosday feature with the wonderful tattooed feet of Jill Alexander Essbaum, author of several collections of poetry, the most recent being Harlot.

Although this month I will be featuring tattoos on poets, not every tattoo is poetic, in the literal sense. Jill's inked feet are.

Jill met me in the Starbucks at 7 Penn Plaza on a cold day in February, prior to a reading at the KGB Bar later that evening.

She was one of the first poets who signed on to this project, and she allowed me the honor of taking a clearer picture of her tattoos, even though they appeared here, on the Best American Poetry blog, back in May 2008.

Although the concept may be alien to many, students and purveyors of the art of poetry know that a line of poetry can be broken down into metered verse that is identifiable based on the stress and intonation of the syllables.

People may have heard that most of Shakespeare's work is composed, for example, in iambic pentameter. What that means is that each line is comprised of five parts, or "feet," and each foot is made up of an iamb, or two syllables, the first of which is unstressed, followed by the stressed sound.

The name "Marie" is an iamb, for example, as the stress falls on the second syllable. "Mary," on the other hand, has the stress on the first syllable, and is identified as a "trochee".

There are other types of poetic fragments, such as dactylls and anapests, but the iambic and trochaic feet are the most common.

So what does this have to do with Jill's feet? When poets study and scan a line of verse, they mark it up, identifying the stress marks with the accents (or longums), and the unstressed syllables with a symbol known as a brevis.

Jill's feet are literally with the symbols denoting them as trochee (left) and iamb (right). Pure brilliance, in my opinion.

Jill and her friend Jessica came up with this idea last year and gave it significant thought.

As most poets (with notable exceptions, of course) are also teachers, they thought it would be a great visual aid when educating students on scansion.

Jill spent a weekend sketching and drawing the marks, not as easy a task as one would imagine. How to make the marks look like poetic symbols, and not stray ink marks, or even worse, scars, was a part of the process.

She and Jessica mulled the placement on the body: should they go on their wrists? Jill, a professed punster, then had the revelation: iambs and trochees are poetic feet, the tattoos should go on their own feet.

Trochee went on the right side, because it is a progressive, forward-moving beat. Iamb went on the left, as it is a heartbeat.

She and Jessica both got inked in June 2008, shortly before the West Chester Poetry Conference. What better setting to show off fresh poetry tattoos?

Each tattoo took only 15 minutes, and Jessica placed her ink on the sides of her feet, as opposed to the tops like Jill.

I want to thank Jill Alexander Essbaum for helping launch this special feature here on Tattoosday. I invite you to head over here to BillyBlog and check out one of Jill's poems, along with links to more of her work.

WAIT! There's more.....

Here's a photo of the feet of Jill's friend Jessica Piazza:

As noted before, it's the same tattoo, just oriented differently on the feet. Jessica added:
I figured, since it was my idea in the first place, I should be up on this if I can. Too bad we couldn't find a way to get tattoos that symbolize rhyme. I'm more of the meter dork than Jill, which is why I wanted these in the first place. (In all fairness, doing it on our feet was her stroke of genius!)
And, as Jill noted in the comment section, the tattooist is Chris Torres.

Head on back over to BillyBlog here to see one of Jessica's poems.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely perfect! I love the wit. Thanks for bringing this to us, Bill.

Anonymous said...

Love it man!! Can't wait to read everything this month xD

Jill Alexander Essbaum said...

I'm less a prosodist than my partner in crime, the gifted and metrically wise Jessica Piazza, but man, does I loves me some good puns. Jessica's friend Chris Torres did the inking in his shop in NYC.

If they hadn't turned out alright, we were prepared to say it was out tribute to the flag of Angola.

Thank you Bill for posting this!

Does this mean that today is... tattoesday?