Art Works Blog

Art Talk with Amber Tamblyn

Washington, DC

Amber Tamblyn. Photo courtesy Ms. Tamblyn.

Amy Poehler's blurb for Amber Tamblyn's 2009 poetry collection Bang Ditto reads, "Amber Tamblyn's writing is funny, thick, mean, strong, vulnerable, trippy and true." Turns out much of the same can be said of Amber Tamblyn herself. While recognizable to many as an Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated actor---Joan of Arcadia, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, House---Tamblyn has also made quite a name for herself as a poet, sharing the stage at poetry and spoken word events with the likes of Patricia Smith, publishing two well-received collections, and penning regular posts for the Poetry Foundation's online community. This year she'll be joining us in DC at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals where she'll help to choose the 2011 National Champion. When we spoke with Tamblyn via e-mail, naturally the conversation turned to all things poetry.

NEA: What’s your version of the artist life?

AMBER TAMBLYN: Wake up in a new city. Whiskey breath. Poetry brain. Actress heart. Email Marilyn Manson: "Do you want to come read a poem at a show I’m doing? Great." Ask  Hugh Laurie: "Do you want to see how many times we can say a line of dialogue in a completely different way, winner buys drinks tonight? Great." No limitations. No boundaries. Everyday is unpredictable. Send a poem to Jeffrey McDaniel. Get a poem from Patricia Smith. Give a reading for young women. Get an inspired letter from one of them. Hang out with my dad. Finger paint haiku with him on an old piano. Read those haiku while my mother plays guitar in the background while dad plays the piano. We all sing together. Harmony or bust. Sleep. Wake up in a new city.

NEA: For you, what’s the relationship between acting and poetry? Do they inform each other? Is one a respite from the other? Are they one and the same?

TAMBLYN: They aren’t one and the same but they are equally important. I could not exist without both of them existing in my life at the same time. I can write about being an actress. Sometimes a scene from a movie or show can inspire a poem. I can run away from the Hollywood world by calling any number of poet friends and putting a little tour together---go read in Seattle or Portland, New York or Chicago, London or Scotland. I can reground myself by diving into a film role and pouring my energy into that for a little while.

NEA: Why do we---the general public---need poetry? Why do you need poetry?

TAMBLYN: Because we are the poem. Poetry is the thing you don't write, it's the thing you feel, it's what you kiss, it's what you sleep in, it's what you smell, the way in which we need each other, the way in which we understand death without having experienced it. It's how we express what we understand even though we may not know how we have come to understand it. And as a sub-conversation to this question: What’s even more important to me these days are good poetry shows, not just good poetry. This is what builds the audience for poetry in general. When you’re in a room with 200 people and you are creating a unique experience for everyone to have---this is holy. Poetry shows will eventually be the death of all organized religion. They will be the only church worth believing in.

NEA: What is your definition of creativity?

TABMLYN: Anything that inspires anyone. My father recalls going over to Dennis Hopper’s house, who was my godfather, and Dennis showed him the new painting he had bought. My father frowned and said to Dennis, “What’s so creative about a painting of a soup can? It’s so boring.” Anything can inspire. Anything can be creative. Anything can be art.

NEA: What do you think is the role of the artist in the community?

TAMBLYN: To give the community art.

NEA: Conversely, what do you think is the responsibility of the community to the artist?

TAMBLYN: To support the artist.

NEA: One of the unique aspects of the Poetry Out Loud competition is that participants are required to recite poems by other writers rather than write their own poems. What do you see as the value of this approach to engaging young people with poetry?

TAMBLYN: I have mixed feelings about this. Negative and positive but at the center of those feelings is intrigue. So many young poets now don’t read poetry of any generation. They write just to slam. Which is why it’s a mixed feeling---I both dearly love and hate slam poetry. I think it’s very important that our next generation of writers is familiar with the greats---whether Diane Di Prima or [Anne] Sexton or [Federico Garcia] Lorca or [Jack] Hirschman or [Christina] Rossetti. So I suppose for this event, it’s a great way to get our next generation of writers enthusiastic about the older generations of writers.

NEA: At the NEA, we say “Art Works.” What does that phrase mean to you?

TAMBLYN: It means the NEA knows how to rock a proper pun.

NEA: Anything you wish I would have asked, and how would you have answered?


NEA: Amber, boxers or briefs?

AMBER: Both. At the same time.

One time only---tune into the live webcast of the Poetry Out Loud National Finals on April 28 and April 29. Visit our News Room to learn more.


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