Friday, April 30, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Jozi Tatham

Today's tattoo (and remember folks, we're continuing through May 2!) belongs to Jozi Tatham, who was referred to us by the Milwaukee Poet Laureate, Brenda Cárdenas (thanks Brenda!).

Her tattoo is certainly amazing:

Jozi had this tattoo done by Steve Bossler, who owns Greenseed Studios in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She had met him originally at Papes Blue Ribbon Tattoo in Milwaukee. Steve splits his time between the two locations.

Jozi explains the inspiration behind this tattoo:

I have wanted this back tattoo for years now. Where the Wild Things Are was my favorite book growing up. Because I have since become a writer, it's extremely important to me to remember the childhood imagination and creativity that we are all born with, but which we often "outgrow". I refuse to grow up and let my imagination slip away, and hopefully having the monsters of creativity tattooed on my body will keep that close to me.

Please check out one of Jozi's poems over on BillyBlog here.

Jozi Tatham is currently a poetry MFA student at George Mason University in Virginia. She hails from Milwaukee, WI where she received her BA and the place which serves as "the inspiration for most of my being thus far." She has been published in newspapers and small publications in the Milwaukee area for poetry and nonfiction.

Thanks to Jozi for sharing with us here at Tattoosday!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Phebe Szatmari

Well I am back in New York and posting this a little later in the day than normal. The good news for those of you enjoying the Tattooed Poets Project is that we will spill over until Sunday, May 2, before resuming our normal activities.

In the mean time, enjoy this amazing tattoo from Phebe Szatmari:

Phebe writes:

Driftwood, for me, symbolizes the worn, the weathered, the old, the beautiful—each piece takes on its own character. My wife and I have a large piece from Richardson Lake in Maine that resembles a leaping elk. Its movement and energy are striking.

I was also inspired by artist Deborah Butterfield who is known for her sculptures of horses (initially created from driftwood before being cast in bronze).

When I found tattoo artist Jason Tyler Grace, I knew that he had the artistic ability to render a realistic image that would also work with the contours of my body. I decided to get my tattoo in order to initiate a new dialog with myself—and because tattoos are hot.
Be sure to check out one of Phebe's poems here.

Phebe Szatmari was working full-time in an office in Manhattan when she learned there was a shortage of poets. She immediately dropped everything and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature at Stony Brook Southampton.

In her spare time, Phebe freelance edits, teaches writing, volunteers at LIGALY (Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Center), serves as a judge for teen poetry slams, and practices parkour. Her poems will be published in the forthcoming Writing Outside the Lines 2010 anthology.

Thanks to Phebe for sharing her lovely tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Steele Campbell

Today's tattoo comes to us from Steele Campbell:

Steele tells us how he came to choose this tattoo:

"I debated back and forth about exactly what tattoo to get and where, but this one seemed to come from within. It should.

This is the Campbell Coat of Arms with the Campbell Motto underneath with Claymore swords behind the shield, as it was the Campbell Clan that started the Black Watch. What can I say; we are known for being ruthless. And because the
Campbell blood courses through these veins, and even spills from them on occasion, I could not find a better representation of myself. It was done in Auburn, Alabama at Shenanigan’s Tattoo Parlour by Ember Reign, a hard-yet-sweet roller-derby-girl tattoo-artist (among other things) as a celebration of permanence. But as nothing gold can stay, only this tattoo and my blood have remained. As they will."

Check out one of Steele's poems here on BillyBlog.

Steele Campbell is currently living (and I mean that robustly). He is essentially transient, but has paused his peregrination at Auburn University to complete a Master’s Degree on the fiction of Marilynne Robinson. He is the recipient of the Robert Hughes Mount Jr. Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets two years running and has been published in Decompression, The Boston Literary Review, Rope and Wire and Touchstones. He is the student poetry editor of the Southern Humanities Review. You can visit him at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Lisa Gill

Today's tattoo comes to us courtesy of Lisa Gill:

Lisa tells us:

"Last September, I got a rattlesnake in my living room. (I live rural outside the small town Moriarty, NM). I spent over two hours in close proximity to the snake, and ultimately ended up calling the sheriff's department and getting a deputy to help me catch it and release it off my property. After the encounter I spent months and months writing direct address poems to the snake and ended up with a play where the snake speaks back. The Relenting is both "true story" and archetypal and imagined journey, paralleling the transformation the snake sparked. The encounter, and the writing where I tried to process the encounter, changed my life, and because my life had changed (and is still changing), I wanted a tattoo to symbolize the transformation.

The only tattoo image I considered was the Minoan Snake Goddess.

I understood her intuitively in a way I'm still working to express with words. I worked with tattoo artist Serena Lander. I knew Serena's work on visual artist Suzanne Sbarge, who regularly helps bring Serena to New Mexico from Seattle. I trusted Suzanne and was right to. I had a great experience with Serena, the right kind of energy and contemplative exchange. I wanted line work, one color, kind of ruddy toned. She took images I sent her from archeological digs at the Palace of Knossos and transformed them into the image now on my arm.

I consider the image both a prayer and a mark of a turning point in my life. (I have three earlier tattoos, two black, one white, all smaller, from a decade prior, sparked by a different significant recognition.) The subtext for the new one is this: right before the encounter with the rattler, I'd just made it out of a wheelchair I'd been in for five months due to multiple sclerosis. Arms are not something I take for granted any longer... and the tattoo in that respect is simply about gratitude and facing disability with resilience, as much as I can muster..."

Please venture on over to BillyBlog to read an excerpt from the aforementioned The Relenting here.

New Mexico poet Lisa Gill is the recipient of a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, a 2010 New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award, and just earned her MFA from the University of New Mexico this April. She is a literary arts activist, currently booking poets for "Church of Beethoven," and the author of three books of poetry, Red as a Lotus, Mortar & Pestle, and Dark Enough. A fourth book, The Relenting, is forthcoming with New Rivers Press (June 2010) and can be considered either a play or a poem scripted for two voices, rattler and woman. She'll be touring the play in the upcoming year, starting with a staged reading with Tricklock's Kevin Elder at 516 Arts in Albuquerque in June and then onward to Minnesota, LA, hopefully even to NY.

Thanks to Lisa for sharing her amazing tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Jeff Simpson

Today's tattooed poet found us by way of Adam Deutsch. Jeff Simpson offers up this cool arm tattoo:

Jeff, a tattooed poet from Oklahoma tells us:

I started reading Horace in grad school and soon grew to be a fan of the odes. The quote, pulvis et umbra sumus—taken from the ode to Torquatus—is commonly translated as, “We are dust and shadows,” but I prefer David Ferry’s version: “we’re nothing but dust, we’re nothing but shadows.” The line offers such a blunt beauty to our mortality, I thought it would serve as a good defense against procrastination, etc. The tattoo was done by David Bruehl at Think Ink Tattoos in Norman, OK. David is an incredible artist. I basically gave him the quote, said I dig skulls, and he nailed the design on the first sketch. This was my first tattoo (I was a late bloomer), and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. I’ve already booked another session to start working on a sleeve.
Head over to BillyBlog and read one of Jeff's poems here.

Born and raised in southwest Oklahoma, Jeff Simpson received his MFA from Oklahoma State University in 2009. He is the founder and managing editor of The Fiddleback, an online arts & literature journal that will launch its first issue later this year. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Copper Nickel, Harpur Palate, The Pinch, and H_NGM_N. His first full-length collection, Vertical Hold, will be published by Steel Toe Books in 2011.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Cheryl Dumesnil

Today's tattooed poet is Cheryl Dumesnil.

She offers up this lovely sand dollar tattoo:

Cheryl informs us that Amy Justen from Sacred Rose Tattoo in Berkeley did the work, three sand dollars on her lower left leg:

"Before my first son, Brennan, was born, I had three miscarriages. After his birth, I packed those losses away in a box marked “then,” and moved forward into parenthood. Or so I thought. Nearly a year after my second son, Kian, was born, old grief began seeping out of that box, coloring my days. While exploring how those miscarriages were still affecting me, as a way of integrating them
into my life rather than denying their impact on me, I had three sand dollars tattooed on my leg."

What folows is an excerpt from Love Song for Baby X, a memoir about Cheryl's circuitous route to parenthood, that tells the sand dollar story:

There is also a poem of Cheryl's over on BillyBlog here.

* * *

Sitting in meditation, I close my eyes and invite grief to appear. Now that I’m safely ensconced in parenthood, I can do this. Now that I know what I’m grieving: not the loss of parenthood, but the loss of three babies, I can do this. There, I said it: babies.

I breathe in. I see a meadow full of ragweed and green foxtails. I breathe out.

I wait.

Will grief enter as a mountain lion, all creep, shadow, and snarl? Will grief enter as a black-tailed deer, timidly nibbling the undergrowth?

I breathe in. I breathe out. I wait.

From the center of the field, something white and winged flickers up out of the grasses, flies like a lazy spring butterfly across the blue sky and lands on my left leg. It presses an image into my flesh then dissolves.

What I see there: three sand dollars sketched on my skin.

“Really?” I ask.

“Yes,” grief confirms, “really.”


* * *

“I know what my next tattoo will be.” I present this fact to my wife Tracie as she is standing in the bathroom, brushing her teeth.

She spits a mouthful of foam into the sink, “Yeah, the cherry blossoms and humming bird, right?”

“Well yeah,” I say, “that one too, but first I need to get a different tattoo.” I touch the outside of my lower left leg, “three sand dollars, for the three babies we lost.”

Tracie looks at me, blinking, toothbrush held in midair.

When I speak it out loud, the tattoo plan seems weird, a bit extreme. I mean, were they really babies? Were they really important enough to warrant a permanent mark on my body? I say, “I’m gonna sit with it for a few days, to make sure the image sticks. But it arrived in such an authentic way, I feel like I need to do this.”

She’s not a fan of tattoos, my wife. And yet she knows tattoo is a primal means of self-expression for me. This conflict of interests—wanting to offer me her unconditional support, not wanting her wife to look like a circus freak—it hangs in the air. Until we burst out laughing.

A memorial tattoo. A monument to three spirits that passed through this body. A tribute to all I’ve learned through their passing.

* * *

A week before my appointment at Sacred Rose Tattoo, I walk Pajaro Dunes, the beach of my childhood, looking for whole sand dollars. I want to bring samples to the tattoo studio, to present my artist, Amy, with examples of the real thing.

I want her to feel their grit between her finger tips, to trace the gray veins that creep up their sides like fissures in concrete, to see how the five-pointed star is made up of hundreds of needle-thin lines, to break one open and release the three, tiny, porcelain-like doves that rattle around inside.

I know this length of beach like no other. I know where the waves cross over each other, creating pockets in the sand that catch sand dollars, a cache revealed at low tide.

This weekend, for the first time in my life, I can’t find a single whole sand dollar. This weekend, I carry home a small Tupperware bowl filled with bone-white fragments.

* * *

The electric buzz of Amy’s tattoo gun, the burn of ink needled between my epidermal layers, sends endorphins pulsing through me. Lying on her table, I float in and out of the room, memory playing its filmstrip in my brain.

Years ago, while walking along San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, troubling through a life-altering break-up, I recalled something my sister had found on the beach when we were kids: a dime-sized sand dollar. Logic questioned the accuracy of that memory: could that really have happened? I looked out at the Pacific: five tiers of gray and churning pre-storm waves. How could something so fragile have made it from there to here? Not possible. Then I looked down at the sand. There it was, not five inches away from my feet: another dime-sized sand dollar on the beach.

Now and then, Amy’s voice swirls into my dream-state: “How are you doing?”

“Mmm. Fine,” I hum.

And then the dream about my grandma returns—she and I standing in the shallow surf at Pajaro Dunes, sunlight glaring so brightly off the water, I couldn’t look directly at it. Reaching blindly into the sea, again and again, I grabbed up fistfuls of broken sand dollars, wanting the whole ones I couldn’t see. “Keep trying,” she said, “They’re in there. Just keep trying.”

As Amy works, etching the hair-fine, single-needle lines into my skin, I learn what the sand dollars are really about: hope and faith, trying and believing.


Winner of the 2008 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, Cheryl Dumesnil is the author of In Praise of Falling, editor of Hitched! Wedding Stories from San Francisco City Hall, and co-editor, with Kim Addonizio, of Dorothy Parker's Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos. Her poems have appeared in Nimrod, Indiana Review, Calyx, and Many Mountains Moving, among other literary magazines. Her essays have appeared on,, and in Hip Mama Zine. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her wife and their two sons. Visit her at

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Gina Myers

Today's tattoo comes to us courtesy of Gina Myers, who is the third poet this month to come back to the Tattooed Poets Project after appearing last year. Check out her 2009 contribution here.

Gina sent along this tattoo, which graces the inside of her left wrist:

Gina explains that this tattoo:
"... was done by PJ at Old Town Tattoo in Saginaw, Michigan. In addition to the word bird, I have several other birds tattooed on my body: a pigeon named Franklin, a phoenix, an eagle, and a number of swallows. "Ginabird" is one of my nicknames, and "bird" is a nickname I share with my best friend. I always thought it was weird when people got either their own names or their own nicknames tattooed on themselves, but this seemed okay since it was a shared nickname. It's not really about me. My best friend said she is getting the same tattoo in the same place, but that hasn't happened yet."
Be sure to head over to BillyBlog and read one of Gina's poems that she picked for us here at The Tattooed Poets Project.

Gina Myers lives in Saginaw, MI, where she works as the Associate Editor of 360 Main Street, the Book Review Editor of NewPages, and the Reviews Editor of H_NGM_N. Her first full-length collection of poetry, A Model Year, was published by Coconut Books in 2009.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Amber Clark

Today's tattooed poet is Amber Clark, whose tattoo is not only on a poet, but is itself a line from a poem:

This tattoo is om Amber's upper back, just below the neck. Amber explains how this tattoo arrived to become engraved in her flesh:

"The artist was Randy Ford at Maverick's Tattoos in Destin, FL. He is soft-spoken, gentle and engaged. He also gives guitar lessons. We talked at length regarding the nature of his work - in effect, branding people permanently, acting as conduit for the indelible. And I remember thinking that we both attempt to act in the world in very much the same way; he with ink, I with writing. This is brand new; I got it in January 2010 as a 34th birthday present to myself because I found this line of Mary Oliver's poem returning and repeating in my mind again and again over the years, like a mantra. It pushes me to create, to make, to be engaged with the world - which is both ironic and (maybe) shamefully delightful. Of course, I joke about the shame, but given the context of the poem, the connotations of 'mantra' seem silly."

The following is Ms. Oliver's poem that inspires so:

What I Have Learned So Far

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.
Please head over to BillyBlog to read one of Amber's poems here.

Amber Clark teaches English and literature at Northwest Florida State College as well as Gulf Coast Community College. She reads for Tin House, and she will be guest judging the Scratch Poetry Contest in June 2010. While most of her own work can still be found on napkins and matchbooks, in personal journals and private word docs, and on the windshields of friends' and lovers' cars, most recently, her work can also be found in Pebble Lake Review, SandScript, Slow Trains, Underground Window, and Poetry365. A graduate of The College of William & Mary and The Radcliffe Publishing Institute at the Center for Advanced Study at Harvard, she also holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University at Charlotte.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Tattoosday Book Review: Tattoo Traditions of Hawai'i

As we wind down through the last third of National Poetry Month and our annual Tattooed Poets Project, I look ahead to the coming week with very mixed emotions.

I will focus on the positive, however, and say that Tattoosday is going on a little excursion, traveling nearly 5000 miles to the archipelago known as the Hawaiian Islands.

There, I hope to spot some ink and meet a member of the tattoo community who I very much admire.

Last weekend I threw a photo on the sidebar recommending the new book by artist and writer Tricia Allen, who tattooed my friend Cat several years ago (I wrote about it here). On Saturday, April 24, Tricia will be having a book release party (and tattoo contest) at the Barnes & Noble in Ala Moana Center in Honolulu.

I will be in attendance, covering the event, and reporting on it to our loyal Tattoosday audience.

But the purpose of this post is not only to announce my travel plans, but to make some more folks aware of Ms. Allen's talents.

Shortly after posting Cat's ink, my awesome mother, who I can't wait to see, sent me a copy of Tattoo Traditions of Hawai'i, written by none other than Tricia Allen. It was a coincidental gift, but a much-welcomed one at that.

As a resident of Oahu for fifteen years, I have roots in the islands, despite my New Yorkerness, which is itself diluted by a dozen years in L.A.

It was with this appreciation of Hawaiian culture that I gobbled up the book and, rather belatedly I'll admit, have decided to review it here on the site.

What sets this volume apart from most tattoo books is that it approaches the traditional tattoos of Hawai'i from archaeological and sociological standpoints. The reader who is interested in the development of tattoo art through history will find this book informative and fascinating.

And despite the subject matter and the minimal existence of historical photography, Ms. Allen still engages the reader, as her respect and appreciation for the art form guide her efforts.

Once she has dispatched the historical aspect of the tattoo in Hawai'i halfway through the book, the author speaks to the resurgence of the art form in the 1970's and beyond.

And although much has been said about Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins and his contribution to the popularity of tattooing in the armed services, Ms. Allen focuses not on the widespread social acceptance of tattoos across the United States, but rather, she breaks the second half of the book into anecdotal sections focusing on specific individuals, their tattoos, and their relationship with their own personal and cultural art.

To the lay person unfamiliar with Hawaiian culture, this exercise is a fascinating journey that analyzes more than just a design; it explores the process and sets the modern Hawaiian tattoo apart from the more common tribal art that took the mainland by storm in the 1990's.

What we are left with is a unique pursuit of the understanding of not just the art of tattoo, but the cultural significance of the practice that has gone from a remnant of an ancient tradition to a new expression of cultural and ancestral pride.

Tricia Allen's Tattoo Traditions of Hawaii is a fascinating look at the art of "Hawaiian" tattoo both ancient and modern. It is important to recognize the history of the tattoo in Hawaii, yet also to appreciate the influence of other Polynesian cultures in the art form. Not only do we recommend this title, but we anticipate that Ms. Allen's new title will be similarly compelling.

To learn more about Tricia Allen, the art of the Polynesian tattoo, and to buy her books, check out her great website here.

The Tattooed Poets Project: Aaron Anstett

Today's tattoo comes to us from Aaron Anstett who had also initially inquired about joining us last year on the Tattooed Poets Project.

Although the quality of the image may have a lot to be desired, the age and nature of the tattoo make it worth a peek, in my opinion:

Aaron explains:
"The main image was based on an illustration by a college girlfriend and applied nearly two decades ago, at a tattoo parlor outside of Iowa City, Iowa (at that time, I don't recall there being a shop in town, but who knows). The words from [John] Donne's The Sun Rising were applied a couple years after that, at a shop in Houston. Donne has long been among my favorites, though other poems more so with the passing of time."
It should be noted that "BUSY old fool, unruly sun" are not merely words from the poem, but the memorable opening line. You can read the whole Donne poem here.

Aaron Anstett's collections are Sustenance, No Accident (Nebraska Book Award and Balcones Poetry Prize), and Each Place the Body's. He's completing the last weeks of his term as the inaugural Pikes Peak Poet Laureate and lives in Colorado with his wife, Lesley, and children, Molly, Cooper, and Rachel.

Head over to BillyBlog to read one of Aaron's poems here.

Thanks to Aaron for sharing his tattoo with is here on Tattoosday!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Daphne Lazarus

Today's tattoo takes my breath away.

The work comes to us from Daphne Lazarus, who does not have the extensive poetry credits that many of our other contributors have, but does write poems. She heard about the Tattooed Poets Project via Theresa Edwards (day 1 of this year's project), editor of Holly Rose Review, an online poetry/tattoo publication in which her work has appeared.

But let's just take a look at the photo Daphne sent, shall we?

The first thing I would recommend is to click on the photo to see it enlarged. Daphne did want me to acknowledge the photographer Irvin Tan at Monochrome Meese Photography. The amazing artist behind this phenomenal back piece is Shane Tan. Clicking his name will take you to the site where you can see several more photos of this work, as it was being created.

With a piece like this, as Daphne put it, the work "speaks for itself". Agreed, but I did seek clarification on the piece at the top on her neck:

This is a traditional Thai tattoo, sak yant, also known as yantra tattooing, which serves as an emblem of protection. The whole work took place over numerous sittings in a one and a half month time span. "Sometimes I had to work the next day," Daphne told me, "it was...a hell of an experience but it marked a milestone in my life. So worth it." Indeed. We are fortunate to have such amazing work displayed here on Tattoosday.

Daphne was born in Singapore. She received her BA (Hons) in Arts Management from LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore in 2009. She has curated several contemporary art exhibitions featuring emerging Singaporean artists and an exhibition featuring art works of pioneer Singapore artists from a permanent collection of an art institution. Daphne writes for a tattoo website at in collaboration with tattoo artist Shane Tan. She was also one of the event organizers for Singapore’s first body suspension show in conjunction with the first tattoo convention in Singapore.

Daphne’s passion lies in writing about art and tattoo culture and has several articles featured in several contemporary art publications. She has also written a thesis on tattoos for her undergraduate study. She will be pursuing a Master’s in Art History at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.

Daphne is not a poet by profession, but she uses it as a tool for catharsis. She has published literary works mostly in contemporary art journals and aspires to be an art writer and art historian.

Check out one of her poems over on BillyBlog here.

Thanks again to Daphne for sharing her back piece with us here on Tattoosday!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Rebecca Wolff

Like Brendan Constantine yesterday, Rebecca Wolff was a carryover poet from last year. That is, we couldn't quite coordinate getting a post together for the Tattooed Poets Project in 2009. Fortunately, we were able to get everything lined up this year.

Good things come to those who wait.

Rebecca sent us two tattoos. We'll let her describe them for us:

"I have seven tattoos, and the ankle is number 4. I got it in 1990, in a dock-side sailor-type tattoo parlor in Glasgow, Scotland, when I was about 22.

The artist was kind of a big lug, and none too bright, and at a certain point in the tattoo (I had my eyes closed) he said, "Uh, did you want the Z and the A to meet?" and I was like, "Yeah," and he was like, "Uh oh," so if you look closely at the latter end of the alphabet (right around the STUV) you'll notice it kind of gets all squinched up, and then the WXYZ is kind of all spread out so as to make it all the way around.

The wild rose on my side is what I still believe to be my final tattoo, though I find myself craving sleeves often.

I got it when I was about 31, in about 1999, and it's the only really super figurative tattoo I have. The others are all kind of ironic symbols of symbolism. So the idea was to jump into full-color symbolism and then leave it at that, and that's what I've done.

This one was done at a place on Canal Street in NYC by a young Japanese artists whose name I never really caught."
Be sure to head over to BillyBlog to read a poem Rebecca selected just for us!

Rebecca Wolff is the author of three books of poems: Manderley, Figment, and The King. Her novel The Beginners is coming out in 2011 from Riverhead Books. She is the editor and publisher of Fence and Fence Books, and publisher of The Constant Critic. She lives in Athens, New York, with Ira Sher and Asher Wolff and Margot Sher.

Thanks to Rebecca for sharing her tattoos with us here on Tattoosday!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Brendan Constantine

One of the more satisfying aspects of this year's Tattooed Poets Project has been completing posts for poets who first contacted me in 2009 during our inaugural year of the endeavor.

In Brendan Constantine's first e-mail to me, back in February 2009, he mentioned being "extensively tattooed," a fact that, over the last thirteen months, escaped me. Brendan and I have stayed in touch, and he was finally able to send me a photo last night of one of his tattoos. I was surprised to see this amazing back piece:

Photos by Shawn Burkley
Brendan explains how this work came into existence:

"In 1994 I went to an retrospective of legendary Japanese artist, Kawanabe Kyōsai, at the National Gallery in London. Known as the ‘Demon of Painting,’ Kyōsai was among the very first artists in his country to bring western techniques to bear upon traditional themes, a move which earned him much criticism. I was transfixed by his work and came home with a huge book of his prints. Artist, Kirby White, then with Yoni Tattoo in the San Fernando Valley, shared my enthusiasm for this unique painter and said, “I would kill to work in this style!”

Unfortunately, halfway through the process, Kirby began to experience chronic back pain which ultimately kept her from finishing the piece. Nevertheless, I asked that she sign it, something few if any people allow artist’s to do. I know the work is supposed to be its own signature, but I wanted the piece to bear Kirby’s mark the same as if it had been rendered on rice paper.

Photos by Shawn Burkley

About two years later I met artist Sung Song at Pure Tattoo in Los Angeles (he has since moved on, now at Unbreakable Tattoo in Studio City) and discovered he was also devoted to the work of Kyōsai . I showed him where Kirby left off and he enthusiastically finished the job, adding his own improvisations while respecting Kirby’s work. The piece now bears both their idiographic signatures as part of the design. I’m a happy gallery!"

Photos by Shawn Burkley
Thanks to Brendan for sharing this amazing work!

Please be sure to head over to BillyBlog to read one of his poems here.

Brendan Constantine is a poet based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in numerous journals, notably Ploughshares, Ninth Letter,The Cortland Review & RUNES. His book, Letters To Guns, was released in 2009 from Red Hen Press. He is currently poet in residence at The Windward School and Loyola Marymount University Extension.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Alexandra Teague

Someone recently asked me where I find all of these tattooed poets. A great question, and I owe thanks to many people, for most individuals come by way of word-of-mouth from other poets. But I also reach out on my own, often sending dozens of e-mails to writers around the country, and the world. It's like shooting an arrow into the dark, one can only hope the missive strikes a target.

I was recently poring over a copy of the anthology Poetry Daily Essentials 2007 and picking poets to e-mail. I stumbled across Alexandra Teague's "House Guest" and sent her my standard "ink-query." And sure enough, she became one of the few poets I wrote to out of the blue who replied because, not only is Ms. Teague tattooed, one of them is poetry-related. As she so aptly put it, "I sort of had to reply to you."

Without further ado, here are Alexandra's tattoos:
I was inspired to get the Japanese kanji for "poetry" after seeing a pin at the Poetry Magazine table at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in 1999.

I'd been thinking about getting a tattoo and couldn't decide on a design, but as soon as I saw the kanji, I knew it was exactly right. I see it not only as a symbol of the art of poetry but also as a reminder to live poetically. I got the tattoo at a shop in Miami (I don't remember the name). I did a bit of research to confirm that the kanji was correct (since I don't know any Japanese), but I didn't have it really confirmed until several years later when a new friend, from Japan, said, "Do you know what your tattoo says?" And I said, "I hope so." Fortunately, according to her, it really does mean "poem" or "poetry."
She also shared this lovely tattoo:

The other tattoo is a couple of years old. It was done by Amy Justen at Sacred Rose Tattoo in Berkeley, California. I've always loved the ocean and wanted to live by the coast, so the California seagull is symbolic for me of my migration out West. Amy Justen has a background in fine art and does some really interesting, painterly work with white and grey, which I love, but which made some people think the tattoo was a decal when I first got it!
Be sure to head over to BillyBlog to read one of Alexandra's poems here.

Alexandra Teague’s first book of poetry, Mortal Geography, won the Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and has just been published (April 2010) by Persea Books. Her work has also appeared in Best New Poets 2008, Best American Poetry 2009, and The Yale Anthology of Younger American Poetry, as well as journals including The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, and New England Review. She was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and has since lived in Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, Montana, Hawaii, and California. She currently teaches English at City College of San Francisco and lives in Oakland. For more information about upcoming readings and publications, visit

Thanks to Alexandra for sharing her tattoos with us here on Tattoosday!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Julie Platt

I always feel like I'm not doing a tattoo justice when it wraps around a curved limb. Generally, I will be reluctant to showcase a piece without displaying the entire tattoo, even if that means multiple pictures shot from different angles.

Today's tattoo is one of those rare designs that is worth sharing, even if the reader can't behold every inch of it.

Julie Platt sent these photos, along with an explanation, which follows:

Julie says
"It's the audio waveform of a blackbird song made into bracelet around my left wrist. It's inspired by an image on the cover of Kate Bush's album Aerial.

I got this tattoo to commemorate earning my MFA -- I wanted something visible to remind me of poetry, whose root is song."
The tattoo was inked by Chris Boilore at Fish Ladder Tattoo, in Lansing, Michigan.

Check out one of Julie's poems over on BillyBlog here.

Julie Platt was born and raised in Pittsburgh and now lives in Michigan. Her print poetry chapbook, In the Kingdom of My Familiar, was published by Tilt Press in 2008. My mini e-chapbook, Imitation Animals, was published by Gold Wake Press in 2009. Two poems from
Imitation Animals were selected to appear in Dzanc Books' Best of the Web 2010. My work will also appear in the forthcoming e-anthology Poems to Sweat By: Hungry Young Poets 2009, published by VanVinkinroy's Indie e-Book Emporium.

Thanks to Julie for sharing this great tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Rob Talbert

Today's tattooed poet is Rob Talbert, who was pointed in our direction by Adam Deutsch.

Rob has seven tattoos, but points out that 80% of his back is covered. The tattoo he submitted for us to enjoy has special meaning for him:

Perched on his upper back, a quick glance might prompt someone to say "What is that?" Clicking on the photo will enlarge it for better detail. But more importantly, iy's not really about what it is, but what it represents to Rob. We'll let him explain:

I lived in Corpus Christi, TX for three years. It's one of those towns where there's an impressive absence of entertainment and an overabundance of bars. I've always wanted tattoos and decided it was a suitable time to get inked since all my money was going to booze. And college. Those are synonyms, I think.

Forever Art Tattoo is a small shop in the corner of an eroding shopping center along South Padre Island Drive. The first time I walked I met Jim Sweeney, a hardcore biker who never opened his eyes all the way, called me Brother, and spoke in a very loud monotone voice. I liked him immediately. It was obvious I'd never been in a tattoo shop before and, though I didn't know it at the time, he was charging me very reasonable rates. Jim wound up tattooing my whole back and did a damn good job of it. Most of the work is custom, and a good percentage was done free-hand; some people don't trust their spouses that much.

My favorite aspect of this particular tattoo is that it's original. It's not something I pulled off the wall or brought in to him. This tattoo doesn't represent something in MY life, or MY ideas, or MY friends and family. It represents Jim completely and independently artistic of me. Jim conjured this from the depths of his mind and my only instructions were "give me something badass." I believe he did.

Wherever you are Jim, I hope you've got a good looking woman and your bike is riding smooth. Thanks Brother.
From what I can tell from the shop site and their MySpace page, Jim is still going strong.

Please head over to BillyBlog to check out one of Rob's poems here.

Rob Talbert is a native Texan and currently pursuing his MFA at Virginia Tech. His poetry has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, The American Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Southern Poetry Review. He was selected for 2009 Best of the Net and nominated for 2009 and 2010 Best New Poets.

Thanks to Rob for sharing his tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Jackie Sheeler

Today's tattooed poet is no stranger to us here on Tattoosday. Jackie Sheeler appeared last year on the Tattooed Poets Project and came back to share some more. Be sure to look at last year's contribution here, to get a little perspective about Jackie and her ink.

This new piece is on her outer right thigh:

Jackie says she doesn't "have a long story about this tattoo the way [she] did about [her] others!". Nonetheless, it's lovely work and no less worthy of sharing, story or not.

Jackie credits this piece to “Triple X Jess,” who works out of The Kingdom Tattoo & Body Piercing in Manhattan.

Be sure to head over to BillyBlog to check out a new poem from Jackie here.

Jackie Sheeler is a poet, musician, and performance artist in New York City. You can also read her blog, Get Angry With Me, here, or visit her band, Talk Engine, on MySpace Music here. Her other site is being redesigned and the new site is launching later this week.

Thanks again to Jackie for sharing her tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Lea Banks

Today's tattooed poet is Lea Banks.

Lea sent along several photos of her work, so let's not waste any time checking out her ink.

Descriptions from Lea follow each photo.

"Vita Nuova" was the first tattoo celebrating my divorce, my new life. I was deep into Dante, especially the Purgatorio. I had read three translations and was taking a break when someone gave me La Vita Nuova. The thirty poems fascinated me --- they were so personal, an autobiographical narrative in which Dante wove a web of romance and emotion. Such spiritual inspiration was integral at that time! I was interspersing Dante with Emily Dickinson then and I had the same artist at Mom’s Tattoo Studio in Keene, NH do the tattoo on my right shoulder. You know … “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” I still felt I was contained lightning from the wreckage of my marriage; wanting to tell the truth in my poetry but having a hard time with it. So this was the design I came up with. I’m actually thinking of having the lightning go outside the circle … I am NOT contained anymore!

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant

Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

...Done in 2004, [this tattoo] was my version of a design from the Book of Kells, an Irish manuscript containing the Four Gospels. My daughter and I were visiting England and were staying at a B&B in Glastonbury. One day, she decided to climb the green hill of the Tor, crowned with the tower dominating the town and the surrounding landscape. I had to sit it out because my foot was giving me trouble. My foot at that time had undergone four surgeries. I picked up a book showing illustrations from the Book of Kells. I dreamt of this dragonfly tattoo on the plane ride back and took my vision to a tattoo artist at Blackbear Tattoo & Jewelery Company in Brattleboro, VT. I was very pleased with the result: three dragonflies facing different directions signifying healing movement for my foot. Although I had a fifth surgery, I started walking again and even running. I promised Sarah that we’d return and climb the Tor together.

And my personal favorite...

The fourth tattoo on my left bicep, done by Pygmalion’s Tattoo in Greenfield, MA, is a quote by William Carlos Williams, “Nothing whips my blood like verse.” I had it done right before the AWP conference in Chicago and bore it proudly. The whip that winds throughout the quote was a flourish done by the artist. I ran into a friend who was a W.C. Williams scholar and he said he had never heard it attributed it to Williams! I swear it was in a book or on the web and if anyone can tell me different, please do.
Good news, Lea, I found reference to it in The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (1957).

Please be sure to check out one of Lea's poems over on BillyBlog here.

Lea Banks lives in Western Massachusetts. She is the author of the chapbook All of Me, (Booksmyth Press, 2008). She was a finalist for The Pavel Srut Fellowship in Prague and had two poems nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Banks is the founder of the nationally-known Collected Poets Series in Shelburne Falls, MA and editor of Oscillation: Poetry in Motion. She was the former poetry editor of The Equinox and editorial assistant for the Marlboro Review. She attended New England College’s MFA program, facilitated stroke survivors’ writing workshops, and is a full-time poet, community organizer, freelance editor and writer. Banks has published in several journals including Poetry Northwest, Slipstream, Diner, and American Poetry Journal. See more here:

Thanks again to Lea for sharing her tattoos with us here on Tattoosday!