Like a nonfiction autopsy of the economy, rapey Swedish thrillers, or soapy sci-fi romances, a book of poetry either is, or isn't, at the top of one's reading proclivities.
But what if the topic was Hollywood. Strike that. What if the topic was Hollywood actresses who'd committed suicide, been murdered, or simply disappeared into the ether of history without even a Wikipedia entry to their memory? What if every poem had been written by one of their own, albeit living, compatriots? Actress, activist, and poet Amber Tamblyn dives into the dark side with Dark Sparkler, her third book of poetry. Sprinkled with art by the likes of David Lynch, Adrian Tomine, and Marilyn Manson, and finished off with personal email correspondence, lists of internet search histories, and even notes between Tamblyn and her husband, the heart of Tamblyn's book is more than 30 poems inspired by the lives and deaths of actresses. In the first line of the foreword, the reader is rightly warned: "This book will break your heart."
The table of contents dallies with big names: Sharon Tate, Jean Harlow, and Brittany Murphy, but there are plenty of mysteries that will send readers to Google to untangle Tamblyn's haunting inspirations.
"The research was awful. That was the part of it I hated. I hated having to learn about these women and their deaths and how lonesome they were, a lot of them. Plus women having been murdered by stalkers or ex-husbands or boyfriends or fathers even. It was just hard," says Tamblyn. "To find a new way of telling these deaths was very challenging but ultimately extremely rewarding, because I was able to tell a story that you otherwise really wouldn't think about their deaths that way. You just see them as this immortalized object for which you would go, 'Oh yeah, that's not a person. That was just a celebrity that died once.'"
When there were fewer facts for Tamblyn to incorporate, things actually got easier as they got weirder. Take Quentin Dean for instance – the internet has quite a cold trail on the one-time Golden Globe-nominee. "There's so little information about her," says Tamblyn, "She was a rising star, and she literally disappeared. There were rumors that she had quit acting altogether and moved up to northern California and became a schoolteacher and wanted nothing to do with the business anymore. There were also rumors that she had died."
But the lapse of information around Dean's life sent Tamblyn off on a poetic tangent, wherein she imagines all the things that might have happened to Dean. "It was just so fun to go onto IMDB and see and there were people going, 'I have obtained a copy of her death certificate. I know she's dead.' And then somebody else going, 'She actually was in my hometown.' All of these people had different stories of this woman and I thought, 'What a cool perspective.'"
In that case, lending a narrative to Dean highlighted the split between the spotlight and private shadows of life. "I think about those things like, 'Where are they now?' This idea if an actor is not acting anymore, they don't exist, they can't possibly be alive, they can't possibly be doing anything with their lives."
That despondent perspective comes from someone who knows. Having worked as an actress since age 10, Tamblyn's small-screen roles run the gamut from House, Two and a Half Men, the title role in Joan of Arcadia, and recently, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. On film, she's been in The Ring, Stephanie Daley, and 127 Hours. She also starred in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants alongside co-stars America Ferrera, Blake Lively, and Alexis Bledel.
Since the filming of the flick in 2005, the four stars have remained close, a feat of friendship that defies their industry. "It's pretty wild, because especially in this business. You're dealing with a lot of egos and competition between women. I think because I can be very disarming with women – I know what triggers them, especially actresses, and I'll never engage with that kind of thing with them, because I understand," says Tamblyn.
The fascination with the off-camera sisterhood is amusing to the foursome as well. "None of it is forced. None of us feel like we have to stay friends. It just is what it is," says Tamblyn. "It's so funny, because for as much of the stuff that we post on Instagram or whatever that goes viral insane — which always kind of makes me laugh — you're only seeing one-fifth of how much we hang out. It's pretty pathetic. We joke that we don't have any friends but each other."
Friendships are just one of the things that keep Tamblyn grounded in the midst of researching her own industry's tendency to swallow up young starlets. Though she says reading lighter novels and meditation were necessary during the writing process, she also leaned into the tragedy: "I think it's important not to snap out of anything when you're in the middle of it. I believe very deeply that it's important to find out what the darkest reaches of your mind is capable of. That's where great art and great writing comes from, is not to shy away from it," she says. "Certainly it's hard, because you're researching these deaths, people who were your peers, who do the same thing that you do for a living. It can be isolating, but ultimately the entire experience was revolutionary for me and very freeing."
Hollywood's dark moments were also brightened, says Tamblyn, by her "awesome husband," the comedian David Cross, "who is very supportive." Her reading tour coincides with Cross' stand-up tour of North America, and while he's at the Gaillard on February 25, Tamblyn will be sharing Dark Sparkler and (if the crowd is lucky) new writing at Blue Bicycle Books on King Street.
Meanwhile, Tamblyn's steady evolution goes on. "The world is hard to be yourself in front of. I'm a great shining example of that — spending years doing things I love, being a part of a world that I love in the business and in writing, but not ultimately finding my voice or who I wanted to be in a larger way until my late 20s, a couple of years ago. I'm still figuring that shit out, you know? I'll be figuring it out forever."