I Go Back to May 1937

Literary Tattoos: Sharon Olds I Go Back to May 1937

This awesome tattoo belongs to Molly:

This tattoo was inspired by a trip to Bread Loaf this summer, where I studied poetry with Ellen Bryant Voigt.  I have always admired the ways we can re-imagine poems outside of typical lineation, how poems can become sculptures and books can be objects of art with textures and breath.  A bit of fortune converged with my desire:  I have a dear friend in my MFA program whose husband happens to be a tattoo artist, and that husband just so wanted to spend some time on a letterpress, and I had just acquired a Kelsey platen press.  A trade was proposed, and Shawn designed the whole thing with wings in mind, something that would also resemble lungs and breathing and the lift of freedom at the end of Sharon Olds‘ oft-studied “I Go Back to May 1937.” The poem is there, on my arm, in its entirety.  Olds is my most beloved living poet, and this poem speaks to me with my own work–taking life experiences and professing:  “Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.”  Olds once said that poetry comes out of her lungs, and now I have this reminder, this collection of gorgeous language, that tells me again and again:  don’t forget to breathe, don’t forget who you are.

You can view Molly’s Flickr set for more pictures of the tattoo’s progress.

The tattoo was done by Shawn Hebrank of Identity Tattoo in Maplewood, Minnesota.


  1. D says

    I can't help but wonder how it'll age with time, but that certainly seems appropriate, considering the poem. Regardless, it's staggeringly lovely.

  2. TW says

    It's amazing how everything can be interpreted. Much like poems and words.

    I didn't see the wings until I looked at the Flickr set, but instead saw fire. I think they're both very fitting.

  3. says

    Sharon Olds is an amazing person. I've had her as a professor; she gave us copies of a poem she was working on. She's really lived. I love this tattoo!

  4. says

    If you click on the flickr photos everything is clearer. It's a very unique idea and gorgeous tattoo and even if the words do run together it will still be in a nice wing shape and you will always know what it says. beautifully done, I've never seen anything like it!

  5. says

    Update this site, gosh. This may not be important to you but a lot of people like to share and interact with people of the same interests (i.e. literary tattoos.) Make a commitment and stick to it! It makes me angry how this site is updated only once a month, there have to be more literary tattoos than that. I have 4 so contact me if you're having trouble finding people. :/

  6. cait says

    to anon 1 – that's awesome you have 4 literary tattoos! can't wait to see them (at some point, i guess?). i want to ask what they are but that'll spoil the actual photos…

    anon 2 + 3 – i agree w/ this too

  7. xin says

    come on, everyone. take a chill pill and give jen a break. i'm sure she does her best to keep up with the site, but she does have a life of her own and other important things to attend to. as much as you and i would like to see the site updated, the fact remains that jen isn't doing it for profit or any other banal reasons like that. contrariwise is a labour of love and a hobby. jen isn't obliged to post tattoos just for our daily/ weekly entertainment if she has other more crucial things she needs to do.

    that said, i am looking forward to when the updates do resume. come back soon, jen!

  8. says

    It's not an obligation, but it seems like it feels like it to Jen, since she rarely posts. She should maybe think about collaborating with one or two others so the site could be a much more enjoyable place for people who share her "love and hobby" as you say. It'd be beneficial to everyone, I think. (=

  9. says

    I miss the literary tattoo updates too! Here's something to hold everybody over: the poetry podcast I co-edit has some tattoo related poems this week and a conversation with a tattoo artist while he was tattooing my ankle. Here's the link – http://www.redlionsq.com.

  10. Anon says

    I agree that if Jen finds this too much of an obligation, it would make a lot of sense to ask one or two people to co-moderate. Otherwise it is tempting to try and start up a different blog just for some regular content. I love this blog's theme dearly but it's sad that long breaks happen completely unannounced.

  11. C says

    I have emailed Jen several times and get completely ignored, its quite shoddy the way she treats fans of her site.

    If she can't cope she should get help as others have already said.

  12. Anon says

    The site is dead people.

    The admin doesn't reply to emails.. and it hasn't been updated in months. And even if it is, there's months between posts.

  13. says

    Hey all,

    I started a new website of sorts, exactly like this one.

    Submission info is in the first post, so feel free to check it out.

    Hopefully you all email me, because I don't have anything to put up yet :-P

  14. kateykins says

    How lame – I love this site, and it's rude of Jen to just let it slip away… especially with so many loyal fans! Please bequeath it to someone who'll keep it regular!!!

  15. says

    Very upsetting that this site isn't frequently updated. I love looking at all these great tattoos!

    In any case, first I want to say that this "I Go Back to May 1937" tattoo is GORGEOUS and Sharon Olds is my absolute favorite poet. (I am actually getting the last line tattooed on my shoulder in a few weeks)

    I also want to mention that on my blog, oneyear100books.com, I am trying to read 100 books in a year. BUT because I love tattoos so much, if anyone reads the blog and happens to have a tattoo that relates in any way to the books I'm reading (even if it's not directly related to the book), please send me over a picture so I can post it on the blog! My email is [email protected]

  16. Victor Galarraga-Oro says

    Wow! This is incredible—I mean, finding this blog. I have several tattoos that I have borne throughout the the years, most of which are, I guess we could say, literary. I never thought about them differently from what I thought about the world. I am, after all, a literary person. The ow or three times I've attempted to make sense about the "writerly" style of my tattoos (in three or four languages) I have come with the answer of understanding the body as a soft and sensible surface where things are inscribed (gender, nationality, race, etc.) but things could also be, literally speaking, written.

  17. says

    I have never been a big fan of tattoos but I came across this site and I am…beyond words. I am so taken with many of them and the stories behind them. This is material for an amazing exhibit.

  18. Hannah says

    LOVE this tattoo. Been looking for some inspiration and this has just sent me off in a completely different direction (promise not to steal it!!)

    Jen, hope you're not dead and that you enjoyed Scotland, if you're still paying for hosting but can't be bothered to update, so what, cheers for hosting this space in the first place, otherwise I'd have never seen the tattoos that are already on here! Everyone with their knickers in a twist who thinks they're being helpful whilst also being moaning minnies, shhhh.


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