Poetry Tattoo


The first time I met Allen Ginsberg was around 1991, when I was an undergrad at Carnegie Mellon. We had been studying Howl and he came to read. I was young and awestruck while standing in a small auditorium watching this crazy old guy with a big beard chanting “ohhhh, suck tit, suck tit, suck cock suck cock, suck clit, suck prick but don’t smoke nicotine.” He was dancing around like a loon and banging two sticks together. I remember giggling and thinking, “so THIS is higher education”. Afterwards he signed a book for me. Next time I met him was around 1996, shortly before his death. I was at 30 Rockefeller Center on the eighth floor, where I was working as a cue card guy for Saturday Night Live (my on again/ off again job for 15 years). I was in a cramped, unventilated hallway printing away with toxic ink when my co-worker whispered, “look to your left.” I did, and there, a few feet away, stood Allen Ginsberg and David Bowie. My co-worker, a college buddy at ease with this sort of sighting, introduced himself and asked the pair if they would say hello to his girlfriend on the telephone. They happily agreed and chatted with a stranger for maybe five minutes. Afterward, I told Allen Ginsberg that I was a big fan and mentioned the reading at CMU five years earlier. I asked him if he recalled dancing and banging sticks together while singing “don’t smoke, suck cock.” He smiled the kindest smile and said, “I can’t say I recall that, but it sounds about right.” I shook his hand and that was it. So, about a year ago I was rereading America and was just blown away by it. I just found it much more beautiful than I remembered. So, I got the first and last lines tattooed on my inner arm.”

The back story to the above tattoo was recently posted on The Word Made Flesh blog. “The first time I met Allen Ginsberg..”

One comment

  1. My story is better. I heard Ginsberg read at the Paterson, NJ public library when I was 16 or so. I sat, literally, at his feet. Did I meet him, well, yes, sort of. He took an intermission and we went out in the hall to smoke cigarettes, this was 1969 I think and everyone smoked and you could smoke in the library even. I was hurrying down the hall to get back to the reading and bumped into Allen. We looked at each other and said, "excuse me". My first meeting with a famous poet.
    Many years later I had the words "Nolite conformari huic a seculo" tattooed on the inside of my right forearm. (Romans, 12:2 Be not conformed to this world). I never regretted that tattoo, but sometimes it seemed to lack heart and deny life. I needed balance. I got together with my tattooer friend and we took a photocopy of the words "Holy! holy! the world is holy!" from the annotated "Howl". The photocopy was of the original text as it came from Allen's typewriter. We blew it up, made a stencil, which was place on my arm, and the artist inked it into my skin. It's on the inside of the other forearm in the same place as the quote from Romans.

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