Monday, April 20, 2015

Tara Betts Shines with a Lucille Clifton Tattoo (The Tattooed Poets Project)

I first reached out to poet Tara Betts in January 2014, when she was un-inked. A few months later, she was taking pictures of tattooed poets at AWP, and sending them my way. Michael Mlekoday, one of those poets, appeared earlier this month here.

But, lo and behold, between last year's AWP and this year's installment of the Tattooed Poets Project, Tara went and got her first tattoo! And she went for big and spectacular! 

Tara went to Christian James at Speakeasy Tattoo Parlor in Chicago (Christian's Instagram is and got an entire poem by the late, great Lucille Clifton inscribed on her arm. Check it out: 

Photo by Lional Freeman
And here is the healed, legible poem:

This is "won't you celebrate with me," one of Clifton's best-loved poems.

Tara told me:
"I chose Ms. Clifton's 'won't you celebrate with me' because she was one of my first poetry teachers, and this poem reminds me of how some days let you know that ensuring your existence is an act of resistance. I told her daughter Alexia that I would get this tattoo, and I am glad that I did. This poem is an affirmation for me."
I first remember hearing Lucille Clifton read this poem on Bill Moyers' Language of Life special in the 1990s. I had the pleasure of hearing her read it on one occasion at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival in the last decade. I still get chills when I hear this poem.
Listen to Ms. Clifton reading it below:

Tara sent us the following poem, "Ink on the Sheets," from her new manuscript "Break the Habit:"

Ink on the Sheets

Forgetting to click the cap over a pen’s tip so close
to your sheets always creates a moment of regret.
After your divorce you get rid of all the bedding
you shared—pillows, fitted and flat sheets, pillow
cases, comforters.  They felt like trying to sleep
on a hardened pea.  You bought pink and burgundy
sheets flush with curlicues of white and pink leaves. 
A mint green comforter with chocolate brown swirls
like antique metal work and trim.  Each chosen
for comfort yet practical for sweat and tangling.

Emissions that you avoid are not sticky, white fertility
bent on a biological race. You avoid wasted fecundity
that seeps from tip into a ruthless pooling of black
that could have curled into words across pages.  Dark
soaks through sheets, pillows, mattress cover, spots
the mattress. It is a harbinger of words waiting, it is

a reminder of you with words only,
on a bed frame, springs, and cotton.

~ ~ ~ 

Tara Betts is the author of Arc & Hue and the chapbook/libretto THE GREATEST!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali. Tara received her Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing at Binghamton University. Her poems has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including POETRYNinth LetterCrab Orchard Review, Gathering GroundBum Rush the PageVillanelles, both Spoken Word Revolution anthologiesThe BreakBeat PoetsOctavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, and GHOST FISHING: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology . She recently completed the manuscript for her second poetry collection "Break the Habit" and is working on other projects.

Thanks to Tara Betts for her amazing contribution and all the support she has lent Tattoosday and the Tattooed Poets Project over the last two years!

This entry is ©2015 Tattoosday. The poem and tattoo are reprinted with the poet's permission.

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