Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Jordan Windholz and Frank O'Hara on the Tattooed Poets Project

Our next tattooed poet is Jordan Windholz, who shared this photo of his tattoo:

The tattoos reads,
to be born and live as variously as possible."
Jordan told us a little bit about this work:
"I wish I could remember the name of the artist or the shop that did the tattoo. It was a small shop, and it doesn't look to be in business anymore. I remember that the artist was quite skilled. I had asked another shop in town to do it, but they insisted it was impossible, given the font and layout. The artist that did it laughed at that.

The story of the tattoo is this: I was finishing my MFA in literature and creative writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I was becoming, or realizing I was becoming, a poet. Like so many poets, I was taken with the work of Frank O'Hara (I still am). But while I was writing poetry, and interested in contemporary poetry, I found myself turning toward literary scholarship and earlier British literature--to the work of John Donne and John Milton, but also Shakespeare. I was about to head to New York to do my PhD at Fordham, where I would focus on literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I was worried this kind of work, which I loved, would overtake my time to write poetry, which I also loved. I didn't have a lot of models at the time for writers who did both literary scholarship and creative writing (though I did have some, most notably Julie Carr, my MFA advisor).

The tattoo comes from O'Hara's 'In Memory of My Feelings,' and it's also his epitaph.

Because I was at what I felt was a crossroads in my life, I got it to remind me that I should never succumb to the notion that a life should be defined by one thing or one practice, that it's a kind of gift to have a life in which one can pursue various interests against and within a variety of pressures and obligations. The meanings of the tattoo have changed for me as I've grown, moved, had children. It's all grace. It's all variety."
Jordan also shared the following poem, which appeared previously in Boston Review. He offered it "because it's about love, life, grace, and change."

Why Sorrow Is Important

It isn’t about boredom. We have names

for birds, but don’t know what to call
the brown ones flitting by the sill

except here. Even the sky is not so simple. The hot
halo around cumulus
makes blue

a difficult thing to talk about.
Sunlight is not so troubling, but for what

it reveals, and darkness, well,
no one wants to shut their eyes for too long.
Some people think watching others

sleep is romantic and heartfelt,
but remember this is what

corpses look like. To die in sleep is terrifying

for those who try to wake you. But for the sleeper
the dream will end as it always has, except
for the waking part, the panted breathing

in a painted room. And so,

I tell her I love her, and she
tells me she loves me too. 

This is how we say goodnight.
Careful breezes swell the curtains

when we leave the windows open,
the tumble of air says this is season, this is.

The days are long, and we are tired
of them. We are sleeping, and we are
waking, and we are sitting. Today, I wanted
to write an ode
to October because, well, Keats. 

Despite the calendar, the leaves are so surprising.

~ ~ ~

Jordan Windholz is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches Shakespeare and early modern literature. He is the author of Other Psalms, winner of the 2014 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry. You can find him online at

Thanks to Jordan for sharing his tattoo and poem with us here on the Tattooed Poets Project on Tattoosday!

This entry is ©2018 Tattoosday. The poem and tattoo are reprinted with the poet's permission.

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