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How young actresses shaped Amber Tamblyn's latest poetry collection 'Dark Sparkler'

Portrait of poet and actress Amber Tamblyn.
Portrait of poet and actress Amber Tamblyn.
Katie Jacobs

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April is Poetry Month, so we're kicking it off with a new collection of poems by Amber Tamblyn.

You might know Amber Tamblyn from starring in the TV series "Joan of Arcadia" or the movie "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." But she's also an accomplished poet. Her third book, "Dark Sparkler," will be published April 7.

The poems in "Dark Sparkler" are about, and inspired by, young actresses who met untimely, tragic deaths. When Tamblyn stopped by The Frame recently, host John Horn asked her about the inspiration for the decidedly morbid project, the blank page given to Lindsay Lohan and the consequences of spending six years working on "Dark Sparkler."


How did this collection come about?

This book was a great accident. I started writing it in 2009 and I started with a poem for Brittany Murphy, who was — and is — the only person in this book who was a contemporary of mine. We went on the same auditions, though I never knew her or met her. One time I saw her in passing when we both auditioned for "8 Mile," when she came out of the audition room and I went in.

So I didn't really know her, but she was a peer. And I did see how she had really struggled towards the end of her life, how she was sick and wasn't really getting work any more, and then she died in this very, very mysterious way.

After she died, all these magazines printed these beautiful photos of her. I remember that People magazine put her on the cover in this gorgeous, glamorous dress, and I just thought, No one's really talking about what happened or the experience of being an object for a living. After that poem was written, I sent it to a couple of friends, and someone had published it at a pretty reputable magazine, and two girlfriends of mine who were poets said, You do realize this is the book you're going to write?

One of the poems is called "Untitled Actress," and it's not really about the death of a person so much as it might be about the death of dignity in the Hollywood casting process. Can you read the first paragraph of the poem for us? (Find the full poem below.)

Submission calls for an actress mid-to-late 20s. All ethnicities acceptable. Except Asian-American. Caucasian preferable. Must read teen on-screen. Thin but not gaunt. Lean. Quirky but not unattractive. No brown eyes. Not taller than 5'5". Weight no more than 109. Actress should have great smile. Straight teeth a must. Must be flexible. Small bust a plus. Can do own stunts. Will waive rights to likeness, image, publicity, final cut.

These sound to me like actual phrases from actual casting notices. Did you keep these? Or did they just pop up in your mind?

I've never seen a casting breakdown, so I don't know for sure, but certainly a lot of that is truthful to anything you or I would know even if we weren't in the business. We know that it's a very white business and minorities don't get cast a lot, and there's no market in mainstream Hollywood for Asian-Americans outside of very small circumstances in big-budget action movies. These are things that are common knowledge.

Also, I don't have to tell you or anyone else that there's a major issue with women's weight. I have lots of girlfriends who are actresses and you'd be shocked to think of how often their weight is commented on, or they're told to lose weight for something, and I can say that I've experienced that my entire life. I thought it would be a really cool, interesting way of talking about those things within the body of the poem.

Do you think those concerns, those ideas that are represented in that poem, inform some of the deaths that you write about in other poems?

Oh, 100 percent. Around three years into studying these women, for lack of a better phrase, I started to lose my mind. I had to take a year off from writing them, because it became too personal. It was way too close to home, and I thought that I could study them and feel distant from their experiences. But as you can imagine, it brought up a lot of pain for me and a lot of questions about [whether] I even wanted to act any more. I had been acting since I was 11 years old.

One of your poems is titled "Lindsay Lohan," and it's a blank page. Can you explain what that's about?

What do you think it's about?

I think it's ominous, I think the future is unwritten but it might not end well because this is a collection of actors who have died untimely deaths.

Yeah. It's also a collection about projection and how we project onto other people. For me, that poem is actually not ominous — it's me saying, I'm not going to do what everybody else does to you and project onto you what your ending is going to be. I'm going to put you in the context of this because that's where everybody puts you, but I'm not going to write the poem for you, I'm not going to make it seem as if you're going to die. This is me giving her a blank page and saying, This belongs to you. It doesn't belong to me to write your story.

Then why include her at all?

That's a very good question. In the context of how we see celebrities, how we treat them, and how we're able to define them from an outside existence and say, Your life means this — she is the ultimate of that idea. She's the ultimate media frenzy of everything. The book is about deaths, but it's also about rebirths and it's also about projection and people who are treated like objects for a living. She is the ultimate case of that.

Poetry Excerpts:

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