The Tattooed Poets Project: Eileen Myles - "Poet, Take My Measure"

For this, our penultimate post in the April Tattooed Poets Series, we present a tattoo from Eileen Myles.

Last week Thursday, I met Eileen on my lunch break at a Starbucks in Union Square. For a blog based on meeting people with tattoos, it was refreshing to sit and chat with a poet in person. It was only the second face-to-face meeting with tattooed poets. All others have been based on e-mail submissions.

Eileen is a fixture in the New York poetry scene, and has been a resident here since the early 1970's. She's also the first poet featured who I've actually heard read, so I felt like I was re-meeting with an old acquaintance.

Eileen has three tattoos, and I opted to talk to her about the one on the inside of her left bicep:

Eileen explained that she got this tattoo back in 2001 (before 9/11 - which led to a whole other conversation). The phrase is a quote from Dante's Inferno (translated by Robert Pinsky), the first part of The Divine Comedy.

In the Italian, the lines are:

"Io cominciai: "Poeta che mi guidi,
guarda la mia virtù s'ell' è possente,

prima ch'a l'
alto passo tu mi fidi."

Dante Alighieri, Inferno, II. 10-12

Or, as translated by Mr. Pinsky:

"I commenced: "Poet, take my measure now:

Appraise my powers before you trust me to venture

Through that deep passage where you would be my guide."

Robert Pinsky, The Inferno of Dante, II. 9-11

Eileen got this line of poetry tattooed as a signpost for her embarking on a novel called The Inferno: A Poet's Novel.

The lines from the original work by Dante are spoken by Dante to the poet Virgil, checking to see if he can handle the journey on which he is about to embark.

Writing as a woman, she draws a parallel to the inferno of Hell with the life of a female poet.

This tattoo was inked by Stephanie Tamez at Porcupine Tattoo on the Lower East Side. Both Stephanie and Porcupine have moved, Stephanie to New York Adorned, and Porcupine from the Lower East Side to Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Thanks to Eileen for sharing this tattoo with us here at Tattoosday!

Please head over to BillyBlog to see one of her poems here.