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Amber Tamblyn celebrates poetic license

The 'Joan of Arcadia' star flexes some literary muscles that she wants to keep in shape while in the TV spotlight.

February 10, 2004|Carolyn Patricia Scott | Times Staff Writer

TV writers may have scripted spiritual conversations between God and the alter ego of "Joan of Arcadia" star Amber Tamblyn, but it turns out the young actress is pretty good at delivering spirited lines of her own -- in the form of poetry.

Tamblyn, the protege of longtime family friend and poet Jack Hirschman, had her first poem published at age 10, and has self-published two volumes of her work. But Saturday marked the 20-year-old's poetry performance debut when she and Hirschman read their work at "A Weekend Special of American Poets" at the Beyond Baroque bookstore and performance space in Venice.

The event was something of a family affair; her father, actor Russ Tamblyn ("West Side Story," TV's "Twin Peaks"), opened the evening with a stand-up comedy act and her mother, Bonnie, played guitar and introduced Amber. The crowd -- young and old, poets and actors, folkies and activists, friends and family -- was clearly supportive, and Amber, a small brunette dressed demurely in a black top over a long, slim skirt, gently but confidently wiped away any illusion that she was an indulged TV actress sprouting hearts and flowers.

The poems, heartfelt and self-aware, reflect her experiences coming of age in an industry that doesn't allow for imperfections. Now the center of a surprise CBS hit, Tamblyn doesn't want to be another young star playing on her moment of celebrity; like her family she wants to combine her Hollywood accomplishments with her artistic pursuits.

Tamblyn read one of her poems written when she first started acting -- when, as she said, "I was having a problem being told how to stand, how to stick my [rear] out." She recited these lines:

"I'm feeling as awkward as a prime number, standing out amongst the lights/

It's me against the white wall, that I see reflecting in their eyes -- my audience

Each one serves a purpose to boost my self esteem, to erase the marks on my arms

As I stare down an empty hole, staring me in the face."

The pace of her delivery quickened and her emotions came to the fore as she continued reading:

I realize what it is like to be . . . fake/

This hole taking snapshots of my vulnerabilities and innocence/

Is not only looking at my every motion, but perhaps the photographer behind the lens

Is scraping out what's left of my confidences and memories

He shrieks out with glee how beautiful I am

How much they're going to love me

Now she is shouting as she imitates the photographers' instructions:

That's perfect, Amber! Reach down. Touch your stomach! Hug your waist/

Show those ghostly females out there your soul -- give them just a taste

Amber pauses . . . Enough to wrap their hair around toilet seats,

and fun-loving diets, this is how it was not supposed to be.

I stare down into the hole trying to make eye contact with someone"

The crowd reacted with shouts and loud applause to Tamblyn's emotionally charged work. Hirschman, an editor, translator and author of several books of poetry, including "Endless Threshold," closed out the session with a set of poems that reflected his roots in the San Francisco poetry community.

Afterward, the crowd poured out into the lobby of the performance place for a reception where Tamblyn, wrapped up tight in a coat, graciously accepted praise from those who knew her only as a fledgling TV star. "I didn't know," several told her. "You're, you're so, so . . . ," they stammered. Tamblyn just blushed, a budding actress and poet still trying to find her voice.

What's next? Tamblyn said her father and some of his friends have a band "so I'm going to tour with them for a little while ... and help out my dad with some movements."

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