Our love letter in Dutch!

-click here to listen to “Love Letta to de Worl’” in Dutch-

Frank X Walker’s poem was translated in Dutch by Laurent De Maertelaer and Ann Catteeuw. Many thanks to both of them!

Originally from Belgium, Laurent studied English literature in Gent, Belgium and Anglo-Irish literature and drama in Dublin, Ireland. He has worked in the film industry since 2000: first, as the curator of the Musée du cinema in Brussels and then for the Huis van Alijn museum, situated in the historic center of Gent. The core business of the museum is “daily life in the 20th century.” Laurent is currently busy with the unique home movies collection of the museum and with preparing 6 film booths in which the movies will be viewed all over the city.

Ann is also from Belgium. She studied philosophy and communication in Gent, and is currently studying Russian, one of her great passions. She has been a student of Russian language and culture for over 20 years, but is now taking her passion to an academic level.

Ann and Laurent met at the Musée du cinema in Brussels and got married almost exactly 5 years ago: on July 15, 2011. They live in Melle, a small town outside of Gent, together with Ann’s 21-year-old son Nils. They have 3 cats and are both avid readers.



Jessica Gordon’s “inspire”


“I wanted a tattoo for years, something tangible that symbolized where I came from and what I’d accomplished throughout my life. Often I forget that I have come farther than I ever dreamed I would as a child, and I constantly put pressure on myself to do more, go farther, extend beyond the limits, no matter what. There are times, too, when a bout of depression takes hold and it becomes very easy to lose myself. I thought with a tattoo there would be a permanent mark grounding me into my own skin, a tether to find my way out of the dark thoughts in my mind and back home.

When I saw the word ‘inspire’ in Love Letter To the World, I knew that word and those star shapes would go somewhere on my body. Inspiration has kept me alive. I’m inspired by novels, music, my teachers, the people I love, and the world I live in, every day. To have my tattoo be a part of that world, a part of something bigger than myself … I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise.

However, I wanted to add my own symbols, to show what inspired me personally. Dogwood flowers, a treasured part of spring in Kentucky, brought me such joy every year when they blossomed. By association, I tie them in with all that is Kentucky, including the family and friends I left behind when I moved to Japan. Since I live in Japan, I decided to also include sakura (cherry blossoms), as they parallel dogwood flowers in that both bloom in spring. I consider sakura a representation of my new life, with new friends and new adventures on this side of the world. Finally, I researched very hard to find a perfect translation for ‘inspire’ into Japanese kanji. This part was a bit tricky, as some Japanese kanji don’t translate so well into Chinese characters, and vise versa. I ended up going with kobu (鼓舞), for it is considered a ‘classical’ kanji in that it hasn’t changed from the Chinese reading.

Japan continues to inspire me, and yet I was warned away from getting a tattoo here in Japan. People are banned from onsens (public hot spring baths), beaches, public swimming pools, gyms, and many other places for having a tattoo. The belief that ‘only criminals have tattoos’ has persisted despite the growing interest in tattoos and more young people getting inked. I was told to get something small, that I would want something smaller anyway as it was my first one.

And then McKay, my tattoo artist, showed me the sketch based on my ideas. I knew I needed that picture on me, on my leg! More determined than ever, I lay down for over four hours and healed over the course of three weeks. Now every time I see my tattoo in the mirror, I feel pride for daring to do it, despite the clash against social norms. I feel that now I have a new goal, to inspire my students the way I’ve been inspired. Another benefit is that even on the weeks when my energy drops to nothing and I cry every afternoon after work, I can just look down and tell myself how I’m stronger than I ever was before, and the proof is right there.

I’m a part of the love letter to the world, the one who inspires and is inspired.”


Rudo, Joydah, a Maori translation, and love in many different languages!



Rudo Greissworth and Joydah Bernardo on their wedding day (photograph courtesy of Rudo and Joydah)

We met Rudo and Joydah in Lexington in the late summer of 2014, just after we launched Love Letter To the World and only a few months before they got married on a beach in New Zealand. We made fast friends—it’s hard not to with them! Before they left Lexington to travel back to New Zealand, Joydah got a Love Letter tattoo: she chose the phrase “love you black.”

Here is the story sweet Rudo just sent us from New Zealand:

“I came to New Zealand with one family contact back in 2006. My dear friend Nikki (now living in Lexington but born in New Zealand) has a sister in Auckland, so when I told Nikki I wanted to visit NZ after I toured Australia, Nikki connected me with her family. Kristi and her husband Graham are the sweetest people, and enveloped me in their arms the minute I arrived. Graham is Maori; he began my lessons in Maori culture and historical significance. He explained to me that his generation really suffered in the schooling system when he was child. He was fluent in Maori as a child, but since speaking in Maori was prohibited in schools, he has never been able to recover his fluency.

Education in Maori culture is part of the curriculum now, so all school children are exposed to basic beginnings of Te reo Māori (Maori language). In fact, all government publications have to be translated into Maori. In a few short generations, the energy has really shifted. All people my age (babies of the 80s and 90s) have been taught Maori nursery rhymes, can say a few things like where they’re from and who their family or tribe is, and have lovely pronunciation!

Bob Marley came to NZ in 1979 and found a strong link between the passion for cultural freedom of expression for the natives of Jamaica and New Zealand. Racial tension is openly talked about here, and politicians do not shy away from the dialogue of Crown vs. Maori law. This is certainly not a typical colonial nation. The Maori people are loud, proud, HEAVILY tattoo’d, and have quite a lot of political clout and land ownership (most would say NOT ENOUGH yet). Almost every town has multiple marae (community and sacred gathering spaces) because there are so many iwi (tribes). Bear in mind these are all my thoughts, and not intended to be a history of New Zealand by any means!!!!

As to Love Letter To the World … in 2014 I came back to Auckland after a lovely Lexington visit and carrying with me a stack of cards and a dream in my heart to bring the beautiful poem to Aotearoa (New Zealand). I first approached my adopted father (of sorts) Graham, who quickly reminded me he was not fluent enough to carry out a good translation. I was working for Auckland Transport, which is part of Council. I had plenty of workmates to ask.

I first approached my friend Shawn because he was studying at Auckland University of Technology to gain his Bachelor of Arts in Māori Development. He had access to lots of people and he began to work on the poem. He took a LONG time, in part because everything in New Zealand takes a long time (we call it Island Time) and in part because he was getting a lot of viewpoints. He enjoyed showing the poem to multiple professors and Maori elders. He told me that they really liked playing with the words and meanings. I never got to meet the group. In the end, I only got about half the poem translated over a year later!

In that year I had met a lovely woman from Christchurch who taught at a Kura Kaupapa Māori (Maori immersion school). She was HAPPY to work on a translation. Our most poignant conversation during her work on the poem was when she asked me if ‘love you black’ was a typo. I was so excited to talk to her about Frank X Walker’s background and oeuvre. Urupikia would love to do more work on translation projects; several of her friends work for Maori TV to translate popular kids’ shows into Te Reo. Urupikia really enjoyed reading and rereading the poem, trying to capture its spirit, not just trade word for word, which she commented had been done on the first translation attempt.

I’ve recently met another woman, Kara, who is half Jamaican and half Maori. She has excitedly agreed to record the audio. She is a poet herself, so I am just thrilled to get the ball rolling on that. Maori is a very oral language and HAS to be heard to appreciate. Though it’s taken me about 2 years, it’s been worth the wait to see how things have unfolded.

In terms of getting tattoo artists on board, well, that’s yet to unfold. I think it’s just around the corner, too. Joydah will definitely be getting her favorite line (‘love you black’) done again, this time in Te Reo, though we’ll have to figure out how to trim it down. I definitely want the title, though I may go with a Shona translation since I was born in Zimbabwe and my name actually MEANS love in the Shona language.

So I guess it’s all still forming, coming out of the mist like a magical kingdom yet far away.”

If you’d like to catch a glimpse of Joydah’s tattoo, watch the video on the artwork website. Keep refreshing and playing it again: it is different and beautiful every single time.


Zannah Reed’s “and we are born of the Universe”

Zannah Reed's "and we are born"

Zannah Reed’s “and we are born” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

“I really wasn’t sure I wanted to participate in the World Tattoo Project, not like the Lexington Tattoo Project where there was no question, I was in. Although, like with LTP, I knew my phrase the first time I read the poem. ‘and we are born’ was perfect. The birth imagery of the piece was so powerful—as a retired midwife, I felt it would honor that period of my life. But I wavered back and forth until I made the appointment with Robert Alleyne for January 21 of this year. A randomly chosen date as the next available Thursday appointment, but it just happened to be three years to the day since I got my first tattoo, ‘of the Universe.’

There was never a thought as to placement, if I was going to join in the fun. The new tattoo would be on my left shoulder and read across to the LTP tattoo on my right shoulder. Not only would ‘and we are born’ read coherently with, but it would also keep the tone of why I chose ‘of the Universe.’

Of course, there was the thing that I would get another tattoo that I couldn’t readily see. And while I liked the design, it didn’t immediately engage me. But mostly I kept coming back to the fact that I really liked the exclusivity of being in the first project, the Original, and another living mural seemed like I was jumping on the band wagon. It is. And I did. And that’s okay.

I love my new tattoo! I find new bits to connect with every time I see it in the mirror or catch a glimpse over my shoulder. It is perfect and so me. I love belonging to these projects and I feel being in one provides balance for the other.”

Kyle Campbell’s “seven different faces”

Kyle Campbell's "seven different faces"

Kyle Campbell’s “seven different faces.” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

“The phrase I have chosen is ‘seven different faces.’ I have chosen this phrase as a representational metaphor of my family. I am one of five children; along with my two parents, there are seven of us. My family is just like the world, and in turn they are my world. Each one of us is as different as night and day, yet we are one. We share the same blood and core. From outside our family, you can see those similarities we have in appearance. We share some similar personality traits, but we are still own individual person.

Growing up, I felt like the black sheep. I was quiet, closed off, and just didn’t feel like I was even related. My twin brother and I are so completely opposite, you wouldn’t believe we are even related. I struggled with this for a while. It wasn’t until I truly realized my own identity as a gay man that I also realized how different my family is from one another. But suddenly, the rest of my family began really discovering who they are. We each have our own identity, yes, but so does everyone else in the world. No two souls are alike.

I felt my connection with my family grow stronger through the years as we got older, as we all began to discover our own identities. Each of us blossomed as a person. We all show pride in ourselves, and we all give much love to each other to show respect and appreciation that we are one family.

Just like our world, each continent needs the others to function and grow. My family is just the same! When I began to drift away from my family, this phrase ‘seven different faces.’ really struck me and helped me grow closer to the realization that my family and I are seven different faces, but still one world.”


Tanzi Merritt’s “and language, and love.”

Tanzi Merritt's "and language, and love"

Tanzi Merritt’s “and language, and love” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)


We photographed Tanzi’s Love Letter tattoo last spring, on a beautiful day in May, when a class of Transylvania University students was graduating. As a Transy alumna and mentor extraordinaire, Tanzi was at the graduation. Because we don’t go anywhere without our cameras, we both had cameras. And so we had a quick and fun improvised photoshoot.

Nearly a year later, Tanzi sent us this story:

“When I first read the poem, I loved both of the phrases ‘and language’ and ‘and love.’ At the time, I had no idea how the artwork would be designed, so I wasn’t sure which I would end up with, if either.

Happily, when the downloads became available, I saw that these two phrases had individual designs, and that I could fit them together perfectly into one single tattoo.

Language and love both hold the greatest power. Both can be misused and taken for granted. Both can wound and both can heal. Both evolve and change, and both can die. Both can exalt and glorify, bring people together, or tear people apart. Both are nearly essential for our survival.

I started this with a more biographical post, but then I stopped. I stopped because, while the phrase does mean something to me specifically, my story isn’t what’s important. What’s important is the universality of these two lines, and how they both separate and connect all of us.”

P.S. If you want to see how all the tattoos create a beautiful whole, watch the video on the artwork website. Keep refreshing and playing it again: it is different every single time.


Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror”

Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror”

Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

“I have so happily put Frank X walker’s words on my skin in permanent ink; however, the words carry meaning to me that is different from what the poet might have imagined.

2015 was a year on fire. I would like to kindly assist it in performing a ‘stop, drop & roll’ over a cliff and gleefully watch it shatter in flames on the rocks below. Without a doubt, it has been the most trying year of my life.

I am a Kentuckian, not by birth or choice. Like so many of the first Kentuckians, I came here by way of Virginia, but Kentucky is my home now. I remember seeing the first tattoo project and being envious of those who participated; it was such a true, permanent bond of people and place, which I loved. But when Love Letter To the World was announced, I was at a crossroads with my family, marriage, career, and the commonwealth I called home.

I am the father of two toddlers. A boy genetically predetermined to make my same mistakes. A girl so sweetly taking after my partner to remind me of why I eagerly entered this union. A union that nearly saw its end, and rightfully so, on more than one occasion in 2015.

I am the partner of the most amazing person. She is flawed, stubborn, and relentless. She is beautiful, passionate and driven.

I am one of the lucky few who do what they love. I consume my work and it consumes me equally. By the start of 2015, I was ready to move on and up, which meant leaving Kentucky, my home. While what I had poured into my career was full, I was also left staring into another pool that was dry and barely offered the kind reflection it once had. I had let my children go without me; on her own, my spouse went without me as well.

I began making the changes necessary to create balance and see the reflection in my family that I desired. My partner and I recommitted. We found our happiness again, in each other, right where we had left it.

When the tattoo designs were released, I was immediately drawn to ‘Love the mirror.’ My family is my mirror. I see only a reflection of what I put in front of it. Each star inside the postage circle of my tattoo is a color of a member of my family’s birth stone; the stars outside of it are mine. My tattoo serves to remind me that my family is my mirror. I have not had an easy 2015, but the tattoo I can only see in a mirror reminds me daily that my family is a reflection of me, and that I must love the mirror.”

detail of Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror”

detail of Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror”