The Word Made Flesh
Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor
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Buy *The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide* by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor online

The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide
Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor
192 pages
October 2010
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Art and literature transcend the boundaries of common use, adorning bodies as cultural artifacts of self-expression, an eclectic mix of images as individual as those who sport them. The marriage of literature and tattoo is a reflection of an expanding culture, boundaries breached in the name of art, the flesh a canvas for provocative and favorite phrases. In the early stages of the Enlightenment, calligraphers wrote secret messages on women’s bodies. In The Word Made Flesh, the words themselves are celebrated, an armor of language against ignorance, the melding of art and thought captured in these pages.

Stories abound: David Wegehaupt’s colorful sleeve drawn from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest; an author’s words inscribed on the bodies of willing participants, like Robert Lee Emigh III’s selection of two provocative statements from Brian Evanson’s “Dark Property” - on one arm, “Truth cannot be imparted,” on the other, “Truth must be inflicted.” Our bodies are our embellished selves, or so it would seem in the self-expression of these particular photographs, popular culture without judgment of the artistic flourishes or stark designs of literature-inspired tattoos. Indeed, popular culture inspired Sandra Willie’s homage to the Twilight Saga, a ¾-sleeve mimicking the cover image of a red apple resting in a woman’s palms, inside the arm more flamboyant with a werewolf howling at the moon, a vampire’s face, a craggy cliff.

A fragment of text celebrates a poetic phrase, the love of language simple and asymmetric in two lines on Alyssa Carver’s arm that lines up with the veins in her skin: “a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.” As random as the tastes of those who meld a love of books and image, the rich, heavy pages of this fascinating book arrest with pale skin on black backgrounds, tattoos claiming pride of place whether a cartoon of The Very Hungry Caterpillar or the elegant script chosen from a beloved passage. These are the images of a proud subculture: verse, portraits and illustrations from Rimbaud to Bukowski to the brilliant Shel Silverstein, a catalog of humanity in thrall to language and ideas, a meeting of flesh and ink.

Provocative stories accompany the photographs, Shelley Jackson’s “Mortal Work of Art: Skin,” where each participant bears a word, becomes that “word,” part of a story that may or may not be assembled - and then, maybe not in logical order. The story dies with the “words,” but “the author will make every effort to attend the funerals of her words.” In “The Baby,” Donald Barthelme tells of a child who tears the pages from books, isolation in her room serving only to exacerbate the problem. The father faces an ethical crisis, his daughter’s hours in her room growing exponentially into years, her future. The story is accompanied by a photograph of Katherine Barthelme with her father, the words “Born Dancin’” inked above the wrist on her arm.

This blending of literature and art propels tattooing to another dimension by a community of “Bookworms Worldwide,” the wisdom of centuries distilled in the words and images that embellish arms, necks, backs, torsos: the iconic portrait of Walt Whitman, an illustration from Edward Gorey, Shel Silverstein’s creature from “Tickle Me, Pickle Me,” selections from writers as diverse as Shakespeare and ee cummings, a celebration of “the world made flesh.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2010

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