Boulder Tattoo Project: Ink for all

Boulder Tattoo Project seeks to turn locals into a human canvas

Chelsea Pohl
Photo by Susan France

Not surprisingly for someone who co-owns and manages a tattoo parlor, Chelsea Pohl of Claw and Talon Tattoo in Boulder has some pretty significant ink running from her left shoulder down to her elbow. But it’s the two tattoos on the back of her ankles, the words “deep” and “roots,” surrounded by dots of different sizes and colors, that connect her to a community on the opposite side of the country.

The words are part of poem written by poet Bianca Spriggs about Pohl’s hometown of Lexington, Ky. Pohl was one of 253 people to get part of the poem tattooed onto themselves as part of the Lexington Tattoo Project, and Pohl, who graduated from Naropa University in 2005, is starting a similar project in Boulder.

The Boulder Tattoo Project seeks to foster conversation and a sense of community by celebrating the city of Boulder. Pohl commissioned poet Anne Waldman, a Naropa professor, to write an ode to the People’s Republic. The poem was released Aug. 1, and even before that, Pohl says many people had expressed interest in the project.

“It invites conversations, and it invites connections,” Pohl says. “It’s all about the love of the city and the community.”

The project started with The Lexington Tattoo Project in Kentucky, and after some national press coverage, other cities, including Miami and Cincinnati in addition to Boulder, wanted to start similar projects.

Each participant gets a word or phrase on their body surrounded by a design of dots that, when combined with all the rest of the tattoos, will form a secret image. Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, who started the Lexington project, will design the tattoos. Words and phrases will be assigned in the next few weeks, and the tattooing will start later this year, Pohl says. Alongside the tattoos, Pohl wants to create a film of Waldman reading the poem to music played by (she hopes) local singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov, set to a montage of tattoos. The Knight Foundation, which has funded Pohl’s project to the tune of $20,000, wants to make a full-on documentary of the various cities tackling the project.

You’d think there might be a mad rush for certain phrases from the poem, but in Kentucky, only 15 or 20 people had to re-choose their tattoo. People gravitated towards unusual words and phrases, Pohl says. Someone even wanted just a comma.

Waldman receives the occasional commission for a poem, for birthdays, weddings, convocations and the like, but she says she has never written a poem expressly for a human canvas. A Boulder resident since 1976, Waldman the knew the poem should be an ode to the city, and the final poem, “Boulder Zodiac,” contains 12 five-line stanzas, each tailored to the essence of the city and inspired by the astrological signs.

“It just seemed to clarify it a little more, just give it a little more substance and feasibility to specific choices people might have, rather than a poem and then you say, ‘OK, I like these two lines,’” Waldman says. “It just seemed to have more formal interest to me. It wouldn’t just be seen as an excerpt.”

The poem is filled with images of nature and invokes the natural beauty of Boulder as well as its history and future. Local images abound, from mountain lions to the Pearl Street Mall to “slow growth ethos” to Walden Ponds. The final lines of the poem, “spiritual Boulder! aspirational Boulder! inspiring / with new age awareness slow growth ethos, reinventing / herself as the Scorpion does, grows back her tail in intricate / iteration, will not sting but seductively beckon….” imbue the city with a powerful attracting force, striking at the essence of the city that attracts so many people to the Foothills.

“The ending, I wanted the ending to kind of be sustained and strong and also be a paean to Boulder,” Waldman says. “Ending with the scorpion, rather than having the scorpion be this ominous figure. It’s able to grow back her tail, the ability these creatures have, and it’s seductive, beckoning you.”

To sign up for the Boulder Tattoo Project, you must be 18 years old, “consider Boulder home,” “love Boulder,” and be willing to be photographed and filmed as part of the project.

Visit for more information.

To sign up, email Chelsea Pohl at


Anne Waldman | Photo by Greg Fuchs

Boulder Zodiac
by Anne Waldman

light, coyote yips
full Sagittarian moon’s clear shadow
you might spook
yourself, seething centaur
drawing up the Boulder dawn into your chest

your lungs, take aim, it’s your own heart

city of choice, of modernity,
of ancient creeks
a few miles from Continents’ Divide
and Arapahoe
mystic native lore,
great-horned Capricious ones party here,
Rockies crash Great Plains

granite meets bone and Aquarius sheds
his water semi-arid land thirsts
let it come down, sweet, dramatic, sudden
let it gather and snow
melt lift the Great Platte
river is your life, your guardian

bass got lucky, and then not so
stocked out by Walden Pond, silvery,
the Piscean transmigratory life,
the way we see through water miles from
land-locked, but look up at primordial Flatirons,

feel irony of
topological wrench, of negative ions’
clarity, your mind stays high and
leads the pack, you are Aries
the “agrarian worker” and you
settled here
to see the future ride the terrifying Dark Age

in humility where poetry
thrives, where a warm chinook carries
tread of the inscrutable bull down from Heaven,
a Buddha, who stops and
sits, Taurus mind
of “negative capability,”

in doubt, in curiosity, study of
place, flora, fauna, every columbine
Indian Paintbrush, cottonwood tree, Stellar’s Jay
mind doubles,
being Gemini sees “both both” mirrored
in struggle, flames licking at
canyon mouth, flood warning

at the gate! move to higher ground, rescue
meteorological archive of
topological shift, note coming
hard times, scarcity of water on
diffident Crab whose job is to scuttle
over surface, dig in, soul mate
to the prairie dog perhaps who
surveys the environs with keen eye, raise
a ruckus!

mountain lion also, be sure to go asymmetrical
not turn your body, make
loud noise, back away
honor his kinghood in these parts, roaming
Mountain, O hungry Leo, lokapala of this berg
citizens, guard your house pets, do not be careless

the great open space, honor semblance of wilderness
Virgin wildflower,
first bud of spring, close to tundra
once ocean and you feel pull of
another equinoctial moon over the downtown Mall,
Tibet’s magic
shop, bookstore to browse, diverse eateries

the wealth, education, sporting life, don’t mess with
balance of
tolerance, keep Scales aligning, remember habitat is
your ecos- your
house, your hearth- your ecology – your health
tip the scales and you
go down, Libra, stay
wise, proactive, run the marathon, save the planet

from itself, do no harm, transcendent friend!
Boulder! aspirational Boulder! inspiring
with new age awareness slow
growth ethos, reinventing
herself as the Scorpion does, grows back her
tail in intricate
iteration, will not sting but seductively beckon….

Memorial Day 2013
People’s Republic of Boulder,
Copyright 2013 by Anne Waldman