Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Indie Ink Runs Deep: John Smelcer

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from John Smelcer. John is the author of over fifty books. His stories, poems, and essays appear in over 500 magazines. For almost a quarter of a century, he has been poetry editor at Rosebud.

Memento Mori: 
My Tattoo Celebrating Life, Death, and Remembrance

Twenty years ago, I had an idea to write a book about the day Jesus was crucified. Everyone knows the story. But this was different. I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of Simon or Cyrene, who the bible says was impressed by Roman soldiers to help carry the heavy cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem up to Golgotha. Everyone recalls that some unfortunate spectator was ordered to help Jesus along Via Dolorosa, but almost no one ever talks about him, not even in sermons. Simon would have been whipped by the soldiers urging them forward and jeered at and spat upon by bystanders who wouldn’t have known that he was ordered to help at sword point. The flesh on Simon’s shoulder would have been laid bare by the raspy wooden beam as was Jesus’s shoulder (most people don’t think about that wound). Throughout the ordeal, Simon would have been covered in Jesus’s blood. Their blood may have even intermingled. There is no other story in the gospels of Jesus’s blood mixing with someone else’s blood. What would be the repercussions?

After two decades of off-and-on writing and research, including taking graduate courses in religion at Harvard University, The Gospel ofSimon, was just released and includes blurbs by folks like Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Saul Bellow, and even Coretta Scott King. There’s even an interview with W. P. Kinsella, who wrote the novel that was adapted into the Academy Award winning motion picture, Field of Dreams. Having lived with the persistent and profound vision for so many years, and feeling emptiness where it had once consumed me, I felt compelled to have some lasting symbol to remind me of what I had gone through. What says forever better than a tattoo?

That’s a grimace, not a smile.

Tattoo artist Chad Weigert of Why Not Tat2’s in Kirksville, Missouri working on John Smelcer’s shoulder. 

John Smelcer’s Simon and Jesus tat

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