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Festival author Amber Tamblyn

Actor Amber Tamblyn puts her heart into her poetry

Amber Tamblyn knows what you're thinking: An actor stars in the CBS drama Joan of Arcadia and the teen blockbuster The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and suddenly she thinks she can write a book.

"I've found that obviously reviewers and the general world will not base you solely on what you write but also on your celebrity, and you can't help that, which is unfortunate," Tamblyn said by phone from San Francisco.

Tamblyn, 26, knows what you're thinking, but she doesn't care. She produces the annual Los Angeles poetry event the Drums Inside Your Chest. Besides, she has been writing poetry for as long as she has been acting.

Tamblyn grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., surrounded by the friends of her artsy parents, actor Russ Tamblyn and Bonnie Tamblyn, a teacher and musician. When she was 12, her parents' buddy Jack Hirschman, who would eventually become San Francisco's poet laureate, had Tamblyn's poem Kill Me So Much published in a local magazine.

Though by then Tamblyn had a recurring role on General Hospital, the girl was thrilled to see her name in print. She started carrying a notebook on sets and, throughout her teen years, she and her mother made chapbooks of her work at Kinko's. That was as far as Tamblyn's writing career went until Simon & Schuster approached her. Kill Me So Much is the first poem in Tamblyn's 2005 book Free Stallion, a collection of mostly free-verse poems she penned from ages 12 to 21.

"That was a really big step for me and a very scary one, too," Tamblyn said. Because the truth is, she does care what you think. How could she not? As an actor, she gets paid to feel things. She feels it all. And, unlike acting, there is no director or co-star to blame when the finished product faces stinging reviews. Though both Free Stallion and Tamblyn's 2009 sophomore effort, Bang Ditto, were largely critically acclaimed, she let one Free Stallion reviewer particularly affect her.

"I still remember his name: Jason Quackenbush," she said. "He said that he refused to read celebrity trash like this. So he gave away the fact that he hadn't even read it, but he was already going to post up a review on Amazon about how bad it was. Obviously, most people would not take that to heart, but when you're used to thinking and feeling from your heart all the time and that's what you do for a living, I'd be a liar if I didn't say some of that stuff affected me."

Then again, the things that irk Tamblyn become creative fodder. She jokes that Quackenbush was the inspiration for Hate, A Love Poem, a biting kissoff to an unnamed lover:

Your sex is a broken slot machine that will never change. It's as intimate as a business card. . . . I sit in fast food bathrooms, just to remember your smell.

Hate, A Love Poem is a crowd favorite at Tamblyn's public lectures. For her appearance at Saturday's St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading, her mother will provide musical accompaniment.

Because Tamblyn takes everything personally, nothing seems too personal to share with the masses. One of Bang Ditto's most stirring poems is Barbie, in which Tamblyn describes playing with dolls as she longed for a sister, only to learn that she had an older half-sister, China Tamblyn, whom Russ had unknowingly fathered in the '60s:

Before we moved into the same 'hood (your adult and my child) I kept some form of you as a Barbie. I'd act out sibling moments we never had, lost by 17 years of our clueless dad, 17 years of your silent mother.

After birthing poems on stinky ex-boyfriends, surprise half-sisters, life in Hollywood and more, Tamblyn is taking a break, "letting the muse rest."

For now, she's a writer who isn't writing. And she doesn't care what you think about that. Except, she does.

Dalia Colon can be reached at

Bang Ditto

By Amber


Manic D

Press, 128 pages, $16

Actor Amber Tamblyn puts her heart into her poetry 10/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 4:30am]
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