BY TRISTA EDWARDS
Many may first recognize Amber Tamblyn as the actress from such horror flicks and thrillers as The Ring or The Grudge films. Perhaps many also remember her as young filmmaker “Tibby Rollins” from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or, more recently, as part of the Inside Amy Schumer cohort of comediennes from numerous sketches such as the riotous “80s Ladies.” What many may not know, however, is Tamblyn is an accomplished poet with two chapbooks, Of the Dawn and Plenty of Ships and three collections of poems including Free Stallion (2005) and Bang Ditto (2009).
Tamblyn also co-founded the non-profit Write Now Poetry Society in 2007. The organization’s mission is to “increase the audience for great poetry through performance, education, publishing and grant-making” and “believes the intertwining arts of writing, reading and performing poetry are fundamental vehicles for personal and societal transformation and are keys to greater literacy, eco-awareness, self-actualization and socio-economic transcendence.” The organization hosts many events at The Getty Center and around the Los Angles area to promote a range of poetic performances.
Tamblyn’s most recent and haunting collection, Dark Sparkler, (2015, Harper Perennial) explores the lives and deaths of more than 25 child star actresses and is interspersed with the ghostly artwork of film director David Lynch, musician Marilyn Manson, Tamblyn’s father, actor Russ Tamblyn, and many others.
The book took over six years for Tamblyn to complete and investigates the subject of fallen actresses in an entirely new light, such as Tamblyn’s poem titled “Sharon Tate” in which the speaker is Tate’s unborn child experiencing the death of the mother’s body.
Or the oft-discussed poem “Lindsey Lohan” in which many readers debate the meaning and intent behind the black page following the title.
Tamblyn, who earlier this year gave a reading at the Masonic Lodge of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to the accompaniment of indie rock band Yo La Tango, is now on the Sexcellance 5.0 tour with fellow poet and founder of Write Bloody Publishing, Derrick Brown.
TE: Dark Sparkler remains to be fascinating in a plethora of ways. I was really drawn towards your transparency of process. The epilogue is refreshing because we often don’t get to see the poet’s candid “brainwork” in collections. I have heard you report in the past that writing this section served to be particularly cathartic for you in regards to balancing out the collection’s heavy subject matter. I was wondering, however, in what other ways do you see the epilogue in conversation with its preceding poems? What do you hope it will reveal or highlight in the earlier pieces?
AT: Good question. I think they both inform each other. They are both about the deaths of an actress. The Epilogue in its own way was an examination of my own death. Not a literal one, but one that represented a new me. A new way of living and interacting in the world. I hope that readers will see the humility in both. That underneath anyone’s life, is the same suffering and pain, and the same need to be seen and to grow.
The stories and lives of the women, both real and fictional, in this collection are remarkable yet tragic. I have read various reviews that tout Dark Sparkler as “the dead actress book.” It seems this label does a disservice to vital poetic work you’ve done and aims to undercut the whole objective of the book. In a society where women are continually (still!) reduced to objects devoid and disassociated from being real, individual human beings, do you feel that despite the platform you’ve created to honor their lives that you still must labor to stave off this reduction? Not only for the subjects within but for the collection itself and for yourself as a female poet?
Yes. It’s a dissatisfaction I will live with the rest of my life. Knowing I will always have to prove myself in a different way, because of my gender. I just have a different relationship with the fight now. Before, fighting for myself and what I believed in and what I wanted to write and what I wanted to do creatively felt like something I would lose. I don’t see my work and my process like that anymore. Now I am not simply IN the fight, I am the fighter. I didn’t always feel that way. My existence belongs to me, and my outcome. I get to decide. And I don’t mind if I have to wear red lipstick to get there.
For me, perhaps the most haunting poem of the collection is “Sharon Tate.” This poem is particularly fascinating because it is not in the voice of the actress but that of her unborn child—truly the epitome of the voiceless. What drew you to writing from the child’s perspective rather than Tate’s? What is the story that death can tell that life cannot? In other words, what does the story of death provide for these poems?
You are one of the rare people to ask me about this poem. Thanks for doing so. I think it scares some people off. For me, I was trying to find a way to approach this woman and her story without it being taboo. Then it hit me… I’ve been writing about the internal emotional lives of these women, what if I just wrote about the literal internal life of this one woman? It’s certainly an intense and upsetting approach, but at the same time, the irony is, it’s actually the least violent way to re-approach the story, ya know? I mean, outside of Tate’s body there was awful violence happening. Inside, well, I imagine it was a kind of calmness, if that makes sense.
Conversations of appropriation and questions about the poet’s responsibility to the real-life subjects they may embody seem to arise regularly in poetry. I feel the weight of this discussion often seems unbalanced and it is, no doubt, a delicate subject. It seems all too often we tend to not regard other artistic approaches to creative embodiment with as much criticism. You’ve mentioned in the past, as an actress it is natural and customary for you to embody the mind of another person/character in service to the role. For many, it appears more acceptable for an actress to play Marilyn Monroe in a film yet when the poet acts as voice for Monroe in a poem, dialogue arises about the “right” and “responsibility” of the writer. Why do you feel there is a disconnect between the two mediums in particular instance? Do you think it is a fair pressure to place on a poet?
Simply, because actors are not dangerous. Writers are incredibly dangerous. Acting is an interpretation. But the writer is the spark. The one who can create and do and say and show something in the way that no one else can.
There are so many mesmerizing pieces of art that accompany your equally mesmerizing poems. How did the decisions fall on which piece should pair with its respective poem? Was it a strictly innate and organic feeling as to their couplings or was there a method to the arrangement?
I basically pulled the poems I thought would speak directly to each artist. The Sharon Tate piece I originally gave to David Lynch, but he found the piece very upsetting, so I gave him the Laurel Gene poem instead. Of course, naturally, Marilyn Manson loved the Tate piece, so his painting is of a melting Sharon Tate holding two melting ice cream cones.
To return to the questions of process—no doubt through your research you learned of the lives of many women who may have not made it into the collection for any variety of reasons. Are there any actresses that still have yet to make a poem but are there in your mind? Anybody who you still feel needs her rendering on the page?
No, because they are all in Dark Sparkler. Every actress recorded throughout history that died under the age of 40 is in this book. You’d be hard pressed to disprove that. Trust me. It took me 6 years to write and research this. It was important to me that all of these women had their names in here. I will say that since the book has come out, a few young rather unknown actresses have passed away, and I feel a pang in my chest every time I hear their names. Like I want to open my book and hand write them in there. Like I can never let this go. Which, how could I? Let it go, I mean. This project will stay with me forever.
Finally, I am always interested in the role of poet and performer. The reading of a poem on the page versus hearing that same poem recited typically yields different experiences. Here, another conversation seems to arise between those poets who embrace the reading as performance space and those who strive to resist it, claiming the poems must stand alone without frill, show, commentary or banter—or that poems are only meant to be read on the page. It feels to me that your poems are meant to be experienced aloud in order to symbolically counteract the call for the non-speaking role advertised in “Untitled Actress.” What is your take on the poetry reading? How does your role as actress-performer inform or complicate your role as poet-performer? Do you write with performance in mind?
Oh lord, this is a question that deserves an entire thesis paper. I’ll keep it short by quoting a short Diane Di Prima poem: “On the page, let the hand shake. The line is a living thing.” Nothing could be more true. Poetry is a living, breathing thing and must be performed as so.
(Featured Image from Amber Tamblyn’s Facebook)
Trista Edwards is a poet, traveller, crafter, creator, mermaid, and an old soul. She currently serves as Co-Director of Kraken, an independent poetry reading series in Denton, Texas. Her poems and reviews are published or forthcoming in The Journal, Mid-American Review, 32 Poems, American Literary Review, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Rumpus, Sout’wester, Moon City Review, and more. She recently edited an anthology, Till the Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry (2015).