Poetry Tattoos: Telling Our Stories with Ink

Words are permanent. Even when still wet on the page, they are meant to be remembered.

Many of us use poets’, musicians’, and artists’ words to help us define who we or give meaning to our personal experiences. Not all of us go boldly to a tattoo parlor and ask for these words to be bound to our skin; instead, we carry them in our minds and sometimes in our pockets.

However, with the popularity of tattoos as extensions of our artistic expression, poetry tattoos are on the rise.

For approximately 5,000 years, cultures around the world have scribed everything from history to poetry onto a variety of canvases, including the skin. In ancient Egypt, tattoos served as permanent amulets, each as unique and as necessary as the next.

Art reflects society in a lot of ways, and though the medium of tattooing is an ancient expression, the modern approach to this practice remains virtually the same as it did 5,000 years ago, using ink and skin to tell a story, bridging the gap between tradition and the human experience

Each element of a tattoo, from symbols to complex images, teaches us more about the person wearing the tattoo. If someone bares a poem on their body, reading the poem can give us insight into that person’s story.

Quotes from literature and poems are common tattoos—the simple yet accessible nature of poetry connects with many people, often inspiring beautiful and unique ink.

The popularity of typography, calligraphy, and poetry online makes tattooing the perfect medium to record our stories.

Recently, I met with a  close friend and local Dayton, Ohio poet Breanna McGowan, who has a fresh Hanif Abdurraqib excerpt tattooed to her forearm, that reads:


“I understand that I should

always come

bearing flowers

it is good to hold

a slow funeral

in your palms

it is good to know

when something

will leave.”


Breanna also has two other quote tattoos that she deeply relates to. “They have a deeper meaning to me than just some words,” she said. “All my tattoos kind of tell my story.”

Connecting with an artist’s story is personal, but dedicating yourself to being a permanent space to house someone’s story speaks to a deeper human understanding, one that unites our experiences.