Rogue Agent asked, and writers responded with photographs of the tattoos that celebrate, commemorate, or otherwise converge with their writing lives.

NAME: Sonya Vatomsky
GENRES: poetry, essays

Here's a photo of my aspic tattoo, which I had to celebrate my chapbook My Heart in Aspic.

Sonya tweets @coolniceghost. Visit her on the web at


NAME: Sally Deskins
GENRE: arts writing

This quote is from French feminist writer/philosopher Helen Cixous’ The Laugh of the Medusa (1975): “Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time,” (the full quote ends: “Write yourself. Your body must be heard”).  It is hard to describe the many levels of importance these words have to me in so little words; my artwork and interest in writing about women in all forms of art is around the body and its significance in life, society and social justice. So, her words have broad feminist intent with regards to the body, as well as telling of the power and the necessity of women (and men) expressing themselves.  Also, it's fun because it is literally body as text; I’m writing on my body a quote about writing for the body to be heard. 

Sally is the founding curator of Les Femmes Folles. Photo credit: Larry Ferguson

NAME: Michele McDannold
GENRE: poetry

Oakland Beast Crawl, July 2012. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." -- Janis Joplin. When the poets gather, seeds are planted. The "Nothing to Lose" tattoo was born of that. Tattooed February 2014. Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher, taken at the "This Is Poetry" reading, BOOKSHOW, Los Angeles, CA, April 11, 2015.

Visit Michele on the web at

NAME: Josh Olsen
GENRES: flash fiction/nonfiction

I have two tattoos, and both of them are bad. I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday (of course), and it is my childhood nickname (of course), in Old English script (of course), on my left shoulder. My other tattoo is this tribal dragon, which I got when I was 23, and still an undergraduate English major at Viterbo University, in my hometown of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. This was not long after I first got really obsessed with writing, bad confessional poetry mostly, and I was very self-serious and somehow felt that this tribal dragon tattoo had some sort of deep philosophical or spiritual meaning, but now I just see it as a cliched product of the time and my place within it. My writing now, over ten years removed, is pretty self-deprecating, and I can safely make fun of myself and my surroundings, and I feel that this tribal dragon tattoo, which is occasionally mistaken for a squirrel, somehow represents that.      

View some of Josh's work here.



NAME: Mark Blickley
GENRE: fiction, drama

I got this tattoo at age 50 because my teen-aged daughter, Deirdre, broke down my fierce resistance to one and I impulsively had it drawn on my leg while at a tattoo parlor where a friend was getting a new tattoo.  I chose a frog with a beret with its name Broc stenciled below because he was a protagonist in my work-in-progress novel, Danger: Falling Rocks. I finally agreed to the tattoo because I decided to use it as a motivational tool to complete the book, as my sworn goal was when I die, people who see this tattoo would understand who Broc is based on the published book.  Unfortunately, years later it remains unfinished and time is running out.   I ended up hating it because it looks more like a damned Ninja turtle than a frog in a beret. 

Among Mark's current work is Dream Streams, a collaboration with artist Amy Bassin, recently featured at the NYC Poetry Festival. View it here.


NAME: Maggie Bara
GENRE: dark fantasy

This piece is a tattoo of Die Lorelei, a modern German myth. The poem was written by Heinrich Heine, and is about a woman that lives along the Rhine, singing and leading sailors to their deaths. I got it in honor of my love mythology, poetry, and my Oma (German grandmother). She hates tattoos but she swears she loves this one!

Visit Maggie on Facebook.


NAME: Khairani Barokka
GENRES: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, for the stage, and interdisciplinary artworks

This picture shows the process of inking the tattoo on my back, a diptych. "X/12" represents a Jakarta home my grandparents once had, which reminds me of family and geographical roots, and of how I come from people who rebuilt home and safety from nothing, in the face of extreme challenges--of how I can do the same. Inked skin in general is a nod to escaping violent histories: tattooed Jakartans were accused of being thugs, targeted and murdered by authorities in the 1980s, when I was born. Below that is a haiku in Italian with a personal meaning, reminder of a memory of moon, of strength, of community, and to be mindful and in the moment. Haiku is one of my favorite poetic forms; good thing my landlady in Italy at the time this was made was a literary translator, and was a great help in checking my verse!

Visit Khairani on the web at


NAME: Jen Karetnick
GENRES: poetry, nonfiction

"Mango Tree" is one of several writerly tattoos that I have, and one of two mango tattoos. I live on the last acre of a historic mango plantation in Miami, and often write poems, non-fiction and recipes about mangoes. My books about mangoes include the Portlandia Chapbook Award-winning book of poetry, Bud Break at Mango House, and the Les Dames d'Escoffier M.F.K. Fisher Award for Culinary Excellence-winning cookbook, Mango.

Visit Jen on the web at

NAME: Michael Schmeltzer
GENRES: poetry, lyric essay, flash fiction, reviews

I wanted a tattoo for nearly as long as I can remember but couldn't decide on what until my mid-twenties. I designed this simple piece, the open book with kanji, as a way to honor my Japanese heritage. The words themselves ("god" and "poetry") are fluid and shifting concepts I've wrestled with for years, and I imagine I'll wrestle with my entire life. 

Michael tweets @mschmeltzer01. Visit him on the web at



NAME: Amanda Williams
GENRE: poetry

I wanted to get a writerly tattoo a few years ago, but I struggled to come up with a concept. One day, I went up to the 3rd floor of my college library to browse the archived issues of Poetry magazine (we had hard-bound issues back to the 1930's), and when I took one off of the shelf and opened it to the title page, I saw the beautiful insignia of the Press; a quill and parchment. The archaic materials nod to my first poetic love, the Renaissance poets and playwrights, and I knew it was the perfect expression of my passion.


NAME: A.E. Clark
GENRE: poetry

I started getting tattoos as a way to feel closer to my heavily-tattooed father, who died when I was 9.  He was a mechanic by trade, which my uncles have always referred to as “spinning wrenches.”  The first poem I ever wrote (age 11) was about him; a poem I just finished (age 34) is about him.  In my lifetime, he’s been dead more than twice as long as he was alive, so the tattoos, the poems are the only ways I’ve found to feel like I’m still his daughter.

Visit Embry on the web at


NAME; Jennifer Matarese
GENRES: sci-fi, horror, fantasy, YA fiction

I once made a joke that what I should really do is get notebook lines tattooed on my left forearm (as I'm right-handed) so that I never have an excuse not to write. I wasn't serious at the time, but the idea stuck in my head. I thought it would just be a reminder to always be brainstorming, but I do occasionally write a story note or two on my arm when I don't have any paper on hand.

Jennifer tweets @trollprincess.


NAME: Sara Gaines
GENRE: YA fantasy

This tattoo was to celebrate the release of my first book, Noble Falling (part of the Halvarian Ruin series, represented here by the hands of the clock positioned at the hour, minutes, and seconds that correspond with the publish date. Believe it or not, but I had this tattoo before I had the official copy of my book thanks to the fact that I was living in China at the time and, well, receiving mail was a challenge. 

Sara tweets @Sara_D_Gaines. Visit her on the web at


NAME: Mallory Smart
GENRE:  poetry and short fiction

Many call me the “antisocial socialist” and it’s no joke that those two themes are almost all I write about these days. I always found activist writers like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Kathleen Hanna, Naomi Klein, and even Allen Ginsberg to be my greatest influences in life. So one night when I was stumbling back home to my apartment in Wrigleyville, I made a stop to the dingy tattoo parlor under the L and made the hammer & sickle my first tattoo. I guess it was my way of trying to transcend being a tumblr activist and show that I was willing to commit not just my words but my body to an idea. 

Mallory tweets @malsmart. Visit her on the web at


NAME: Karrie Higgins
GENRE: speculative nonfiction

In his Mormon theological text, "Rube Goldberg Machines," Adam S. Miller wrote that because worlds and bodies "bleed" into one another, "to successfully resurrect a body, one would have to resurrect a world." My tattoo magic spell for my grimoire/memoir-in-process seeks to resurrect my brother by pulling off an epigenetic forgery, and my rose is the most potent element because it duplicates my brother's tattoo. My brother, as his friends say, was a "woulda been, coulda been, shoulda been" fast car yahoo, a mechanophiliac, in love with his Pontiac GTO, and I have chosen inks known to be used in industrial applications, such as automobile paints, and identical to those produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, many of which cause epigenetic changes. I am becoming a fast car, object of my brother's desire and his entire world, which given that I cannot drive because of my epilepsy, is also a radical embodiment of the larger world from which I am often excluded.

Karrie tweets @karriehiggins. Visit her blog here and her author website here.