Friday, April 30, 2010

The Tattooed Poets Project: Cody Todd

We are extending the Tattooed Poets Project through the weekend, giving those who have been enjoying the poetic ink, a little bit more to tide them over until next year.

Today we are being visited by an old friend, Cody Todd, whose tattoos appeared here last year.

This is his latest tattoo, four weeks old, inked at Purple Panther Tattoos off of Sunset in Los Angeles:

Cody provided this explanation:

Not too much of a story behind this. It is Marv and Goldie from the "The Hard Goodbye" of Frank Miller's Sin City. The artist who did this is from Tokyo, and her name is Koko Ainai. I admire the precision of her work in copying Miller's extremely elaborate sketching. As Marv and Goldie embrace, he is holding a gun he apparently took away from her and a bullet hole is smoldering in his right shoulder as he lifts her off the ground. That tattoo is the first of what is going to be a kind of sleeve in parts in which I take different scenes from noir films or works and decorate my whole left arm with. Upon seeing Farewell My Lovely with my girlfriend last week, I decided to get the front end of a 1934 or 1936 Buick as my next tattoo.

...I am doing my critical work for my PhD at USC on the "western noir," which is a term I sort of coined for a specific genre of film and literature concerned with elements that typically comprise classical film noir, except they take place in cities in the western part of the United States. As we see in the film, Sin City, it has a "Gothic City" feel to it, but it is most certainly somewhere out in western Nevada, or California. I think the motifs of lawlessness, street and vigilante justice, and the disillusionment with the American Dream are all at work in this kind of genre, and that it also borrows many elements from the Western as a genre as well. If anyone wants to read good literary western noir, I would direct them, promptly, to read Daniel Woodrell, who takes the noir theme and brings it to the Ozarks and southwest Missouri. If Chandler and Faulkner had a love-child, it most certainly would be Woodrell.

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

Cody Todd is the author of the chapbook, To Frankenstein, My Father (2007, Proem Press). His poems have appeared in Hunger Mountain, Salt Hill and are forthcoming in Lake Effect, The Pinch, Specs Journal and Denver Quarterly. He received an MFA from Western Michigan University and is currently a Virginia Middleton Fellow in the PhD program in English-Literature/Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. He is the Managing Editor and co-creator of the poetry journal, The Offending Adam (

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!

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!

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!

Sunday, April 25, 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.

Saturday, April 24, 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

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.

Total Pageviews