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Poet Amber Tamblyn’s dead actresses society

Amber Tamblyn
Amber Tamblyn

“I’m trying to write your poem, Martha Mansfield. But I can’t memorize your lines. You are the last on my list of actresses.”

“It just was my own exhaustion,” says Amber Tamblyn of her prose piece about her inability to write a poem for Mansfield, a silent film star who died in 1923 of burns she received on a movie set. The piece is part of the epilogue in Tamblyn’s Dark Sparkler (Harper Perennial, $17.99), a collection of poems about the lives and often tragic deaths of 37 actresses. Tamblyn will be at Books & Books Coral Gables at 6:30 p.m. Saturday to read from her work.

Tamblyn, 32, is more than familiar with the pressures of being a young woman on screen. The daughter of actor Russ Tamblyn, she first started appearing in films and TV at the age of 12. She is best known for 2005’s The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and recurring roles on TV’s House M.D. and Two and a Half Men.

Tamblyn’s first full book of poetry, Free Stallion, was published in 2005. She continues to act, and the first film she’s directed, Paint It Black, is slated for release next year. But she has become increasingly known for her poetic works. “It’s not a hobby for me,” she says. “It’s very much endemic to who I am.”

In 2007 she co-founded the nonprofit Write Now Poetry Society, which produces live showcases of poets and other talents: “My mission was to get people to see the kind of poetry that I love.”

Tamblyn has watched the popularity of live poetry grow throughout her career. “Poetry is having a really large resurgence right now,” she says. Still, she sees a role for celebrities to bring attention to the medium. “You bring Amy Poehler in . . . and you’re suddenly bringing in new fans who would never have gone to a poetry show except they saw Poehler in the lineup.”

Dark Sparkler took Tamblyn more than six years of research and editing to complete. She says a major theme was to build an intimacy between the reader and the women she writes about. “There’s a reason that actors often don’t say what they really feel,” says Tamblyn. “Look at these women away from what you remember of them — the things you thought they were — to give them a sense of humanity.”

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