I was recently listening to an episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. His guest was Amber Tamblyn. I have been a fan of Tamblyn since her days as the title character in Joan of Arcadia, and I enjoy the Poetry Corner she writes for Bust magazine. On Maron’s podcast, she talked about Dark Sparkler, her new book of poems. Tamblyn spent several years searching through information on the lives and deaths of young actresses. What makes Tamblyn’s collection of poems about these women so compelling is her own connection to the subject. Tamblyn grew up in Hollywood, so in some ways it seems that her exploration of these women’s lives is a way to contemplate her own trajectory.
In my last post, I discussed Kathleen B. Jones’s journey through Hannah Arendt’s life. I think it is important to bring up Jones’s book here because, like Tamblyn, she uses her subject(s) as a gateway to explore and ask questions of her own life. I want to go back to something Jones wrote because I think it applies to Dark Sparkler:
And because, before and behind me, across thousands of miles and eons of time, someone collected souvenirs of her origins and exile, I can touch, in those layers of life’s comings and goings, ages of beginnings and endings so that, in whatever time I have left on this earth, I might tell a story, a tale that could survive this ever-changing movement of life” (193-194).
This sentiment exists in the raw beauty of Tamblyn’s poetry. Each poem is really her pouring out words as she sifts through the artifacts of lives ended much too soon. Each poem itself then becomes a souvenir of that life–something which the reader can then pick up, hold and examine.
I read most of Dark Sparkler in one sitting, yet it is a book I will keep going back to. In the forward, Diane di Prima writes:
At some point you will begin to get curious. Something will start to tug at the edge of your mind/heart. At that point, go to the library or search the Internet for information about any girl/woman you find yourself thinking about. Look up Peg Entwistle, Bridgette Andersen, Samantha Smith. Read their (often sadly short) stories. Let your imagination fill in what book and computer don’t say.
I will keep going back to this book because, just as searching out information on each of these women became Tamblyn’s gateway to a meditation on their lives and deaths, these poems are a gateway and an invitation for the reader to do more. In choosing your path to delve deeper into some of these lives, you may uncover your own truths and your own story. When you flip through Dark Sparkler, you will see familiar names like Sharon Tate, Marilyn Monroe and Dana Plato, but there are quite a few people whose names who you won’t recognize. Tamblyn’s poems make the reader want to learn more about these women–the stories beyond the glamor and sensationalized trauma.
Memoir writing is an exercise in taking up the self at a particular moment in order to gain deeper meaning. By putting such an exploration out in the world in written form, we are inviting others into the conversation. In Dark Sparkler, Tamblyn does this by first taking up the lives of her subjects and then by taking herself up as subject in the epilogue. In doing so, Tamblyn is putting her own life in conversation with her subjects.
In the end, I think that is the success of this book. Tamblyn did not set out to report the facts surrounding the lives and deaths of these actresses. If you want such information, look online or pick up a biography. What she did was set up the conversation so that we may get to know these stories beyond the typical version offered up for greedy consumption.
For more on Tamblyn’s writing, check out her website.
Jones, Kathleen B. Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. San Diego: Thinking Women Books, 2013. Print.
Tamblyn, Amber. Dark Sparkler. New York: Harper Perennial, 2015. Print.