“A large death needed to happen in my life,” said poet and actress Amber Tamblyn when speaking at Montclair State University about what her mindset was like while writing her latest book of poetry, Dark Sparkler. “A large, transformational shift had to happen in order for me to have any bloom or trajectory at all.”
A gravitation toward death, whether figurative or literal, was not just a personal obstacle for Tamblyn to struggle through while she was writing Dark Sparkler, her third book of poetry, but also one of the major topics of this anthology, a collection of poems about the rise and fall of several child actresses throughout the history of Hollywood who burned out before their time, often falling victim to depression and substance abuse.
As an actress who worked from age 11 to 27 with minimal, brief breaks between back-to-back acting jobs, Tamblyn knows what it means to be a child actor and a woman searching for success in Hollywood. Daughter of actor Russ Tamblyn, she explained during her talk that she broke into acting through an audition for a role on General Hospital. After landing the role on the soap, Tamblyn went on to play the title character in the Joan of Arcadia television series and Tibby in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies.
Now 32, Tamblyn has taken time out of her acting career to pursue her lifelong passion for poetry, tackling issues of stardom and what it means to be a young, female actress in her latest work. On Nov. 23, she came to Montclair State to discuss and read from Dark Sparkler at the request of her friend and the book’s editor, professor Michael Robbins.
Speaking to an intimate group of students and professors in a Dickson Hall meeting room, Tamblyn shared that one of her largest inspirations for the collection was the death of Brittany Murphy, an actress and contemporary of hers who died in 2009 under mysterious circumstances.
“[Murphy’s] death and the way in which it happened and the way in which the country memorialized her and glamorized her death was really eye-opening for me and really struck a nerve to something I didn’t even know I had a nerve about yet,” Tamblyn said.
After sharing this initial poem about Murphy with friends and other poets, Tamblyn’s peers encouraged her to pursue the subject as an artistic focus. Tamblyn said, “Someone said to me, ‘This is the book you’re gonna write. You’re gonna write what it’s like to be extremely lost and at the same time to be extremely known by everybody and for everybody to have a perception about you and who you are and how lonely that can feel and how isolating and how hard it is to speak about that, because you’re so privileged in the business that you’re in.’”
Tamblyn read several selections from Dark Sparkler to the group of poetry enthusiasts, student poets and scholars. Many of her poems focused on the lives of women who had died before their time due to the pressures of fame and the industry they were in, while others were about invented actresses which Tamblyn created for the poems, though even these fictional subjects usually reflected and critiqued real aspects of the entertainment business, like racism, sexism and obsession with image, particularly with weight. Some poems read as more humorous than tragic, as Tamblyn said, “Humor is a great gift for us to heal the pain.”
Tamblyn also shared poetry from Dark Sparkler’s epilogue, added to the main collection later in the publication process. This epilogue consists of poetry reflecting how Tamblyn felt while researching these actresses and writing about them, including reflections on her own fame and reputation in the business and transferring some of her unhappy experiences as a young actress into poetry.
In particular, Tamblyn remembered being asked to lose five pounds for her role in The Grudge 2, although she was already extremely thin. Tamblyn followed the director’s request and dieted for three months to lose the weight and admits that now she can laugh at herself for how absurd the beauty standards in the entertainment industry are. Other inclusions in the epilogue were “notes” on poems listed in the main section of the book. These lists looked like research notes of actress’ lives, but in reality, they were also poems.
Tamblyn ended the reading with a poem entitled “Search,” which consists of what she wrote into the search engine as keywords within her research. After her reading, she fielded questions about what editing her collection of poems was like, explained some of the artwork that accompanies the poems and talked about her acting career and the experiences of her father as an actor.
After the official book talk was over, Tamblyn stayed to chat with students who were fans of her poetry and her acting work. She signed books, posed for pictures and candidly gave advice for aspiring actresses.