Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Clemens Meyer and the Literary Tattoo

Tattoos are a funny thing, don't you think? When I was a kid there was one tattoo parlour round our way, which was a source of great fear and trepidation. In my childish imagination it was a den of iniquity frequented by sailors, bikers and jailbirds. And now we're surrounded by the things. The nearest tattoo shop to me in Berlin even has a kiddies' corner where the nippers can sit down and draw a nice picture while mummy and daddy get inked up.

And now mare Buchverlag - who do books with a tie-in to the sea - have brought out an anthology of tattoo stories, Das Herz auf der Haut. To make up for that very silly article the other day, Der Freitag has a report by Sebastian Kretz on a Berlin event where the writer Clemens Meyer presented the book, having written the foreword. Disappointingly for me, most of the pieces are translated from English, but it does promise a story by the young German writer Franziska Gerstenberg (who I once heard reading a story about shaving that made me wince, in a good way).

Meyer, of course, is predestined to present a literary anthology about tattoos, seeing as he has many himself. I haven't seen them all but I can testify to there being plenty of them. When he first started out he was marketed as "Germany's first fully tattooed writer" - but nowadays you're more likely to see him in long sleeves. I also know a woman writer with a sun on her back and a publishing person with a Pynchonesque post horn on his arm. Of course there are limits to the number of publishing people I've seen with their clothes off, so maybe literally everybody out there is all covered in tattoos underneath.

I'm imagining Günter Grass with a petite dolphin on his left ankle, Julia Franck with a portrait of her cat on one breast (life-size), Rainald Goetz no doubt has red and back skulls all up the back of both calves, Katja Lange-Müller has A.C.A.B. inside her lower lip, and I bet Martin Walser has a big fat 47 tattooed on his chest. In courier typeface.

I don't have any - I have freckles. But you could go to The Word Made Flesh and look at literary tattoos to bide the time while you're waiting for Meyer's own short stories All the Lights to come out in my translation. There's a tattoo in one of them as well.

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