Thursday, April 17, 2014

And? Michael Robins Punctuates the Tattooed Poets Project

Next up in the Tattooed Poets Project is Michael Robins, who sent us his Ampersand tattoo:

Michael shared some thoughts on his tattoo:
"I trace my history with typefaces as others might relationships or the cars they’ve owned: Palatino after one too many pints at the Low Brow Lounge; Garamond keeping me warm through graduate school; my current adoration of Perpetua. Perpetua is what I wear on the days I don’t leave the house. On most days, I know the chance is slim that my published words—the ones I’m typing now—will appear in my chosen typeface. We do not control language for long, if at all.
Yet we try. When I’m writing a poem, I painstakingly gauge the length of each line and adopt the ampersand, which consumes less space than 'a-n-d.' When it comes down to it, the ampersand offers flexibility for the remaining language and punctuation. There’s aesthetic pleasure in the shape of a single poem, and the energy I give to line lengths can reach the point of obsessiveness.

And new obsessions arise. With the birth of my daughter, I feel compelled to celebrate her life in my poems and, eventually, with a tattoo. A large 'Emerson' on an outer forearm? The letter 'E' between the elbow and shoulder? The skyline of Chicago floating over the roman numerals of her birth? Time marches forward as I wait for that perfect image to arrive. As a male living in the United States, this year (2014) marks the statistical midpoint of my life and the beginning—if lucky—of my second act. Hence, in Perpetua, a new tattoo: '& ______'
The ampersand is an acknowledgement, the empty line a challenge. How will I finish the phrase? With what outlook will I navigate each day? What adjective? What noun? Who do I want to be in the next chapter? What type of husband and father? How much an artist?

Less than a week after conceiving the design, I walked through the door of Deluxe Tattoo [in Chicago]. After learning that I teach creative writing, the tattoo artist, Stephanie White, shared how a high school teacher showered her writing with praise, but ultimately gave the failing grade that kept her from graduating. This story, like any in which someone is disheartened by a teacher, upsets me. I believe, however, that the past shapes who we are in the present, and Stephanie seems to love the route she’s travelling. Because our routes have crossed, I also believe that her story is now partially my own: On a cold, February night, a gifted artist inks an ampersand in the middle of my life."
Michael sent us this poem:

from In Memory of Brilliance & Value (Saturnalia Books, 2015); first appeared in Redactions

Songs from the Second Fiddle

Wagons arrived uninvited, introduced
powders & spade to the flora & fauna.

They set up fences, they tested smoke
inside a cage. Praising as well cascaded,

set in a postmodern pattern. My own
plans held in place with glue, balanced

& threaded & droppings like dimples
into middle age. I stood for blindfolds

erasing the bruising story. I led a horse
to a waterboard but couldn't make him

shrink: not a secret plan, no thimbling
where the pianists vanished into grain.

The sky overhead was green, the land
blue, owls flew in a storm approaching.

We felt a cleansing presence on behalf
of pining. My own heart lit & remained.

~ ~ ~

Michael Robins was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of three collections, including Ladies & Gentlemen (Saturnalia Books, 2011) and In Memory of Brilliance & Value (Saturnalia Books, 2015). He is also the author of chapbooks Circus (Flying Guillotine, 2009) and Little Felons (Strange Machine, 2013). He teaches literature and creative writing at Columbia College Chicago and lives in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. For more information, visit

Thanks to Michael for his poem and tattoo, shared with us here on the Tattooed Poets Project!

This entry is ©2014 Tattoosday. The poem and tattoo are reprinted with the poet's permission.

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