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Actress Amber Tamblyn talks poetry and 'Poetry Out Loud'

Courtesy photo
Amber Tamblyn appears Saturday at Poetry Out Loud in the Culture Center Theater. Best known as the star of the TV show "Joan of Arcadia," the 28-year-old actress is a passionate advocate for poetry and art.

WANT TO GO?

Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: Free

INFO: 304-558-0240

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Poetry is alive and well in West Virginia. This weekend, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the West Virginia Commission on the Arts will host the state's semifinal and final rounds of the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest at the Culture Center Theater.

Twenty-three high school students from around the state will compete in the semifinal round on Friday with the top 10 returning Saturday for the finals, hosted by noted actor and Beckley native Chris Sarandon.

Joining Sarandon this year as a special guest and featured performer is Emmy-nominated actress and poet Amber Tamblyn. The 28-year-old Californian last appeared in Danny Boyles "127 Hours" with James Franco but is probably best known for playing Joan on CBS's "Joan of Arcadia."

"Poetry is something I've loved my whole life," Tamblyn said, "but it's not strange that people don't know that about me."

More than a few actors, she acknowledged, have artistic side projects that sometimes come to the light after they become celebrities. They play the banjo, go to college between movies or play in obscure rock bands to earn what Tamblyn called "extracurricular street cred."

For Tamblyn, her love of poetry didn't start after she got a TV show. She grew up with poetry.

"My parents raised me around a lot of poets, writers and musicians," she said. "People of that world. I just grew up around that culture."

Tamblyn is the daughter of Bonnie Murray Tamblyn, a folk singer, and Russ Tamblyn, an actor best known for his Oscar-nominated performance as Rif in the film version of "West Side Story."

She started writing poetry when she was 9 years old and began publishing while in her teens. She did not make a huge splash on the literary scene, but that was never the point.

"My mom used to take me to Kinkos," she said. "I would publish chapbooks and sell them at school for a dollar."

Better than whatever money she made was holding those books in her hands, Tamblyn said. She loved to see the hard copy of what she'd done.

She eventually did publish two books of poetry. A third, a poetry and painting collaboration with shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, is in the works.

"That might take a year or so," she laughed. "He's off on tour being his fabulous self, wrapped in saran wrap."

The two were introduced a few years ago by a mutual friend.

"He's a phenomenal artist and painter," she said, "and he's just very poetic."

Tamblyn said she doesn't know much about Manson's music. They're friends and artistic co-conspirators.

 Tamblyn has always surrounded herself with artistic and inspiring people. She's had a lot of mentors, including San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman and poet/professor Jeffrey McDaniel, who helped her with her second book, "Bang, Ditto."

She also reads a lot of poetry. Tamblyn can rattle off a half-dozen favorites without even trying. Mindy Nettifee, Anne Sexton, Bob Hickock and Leonard Cohen are just a few.

"Cohen's 'Flowers for Hitler' is such a fantastic book," she said, adding that she's not really into his music.

"Who I like is all over the place, but what I like is poetry that resonates with the author, that means something to the creator. The most important poem is the one that's emotionally connected."

She can't stand poems written as an academic exercise, the kind meant to impress. She said, "I think a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to 'create' a great poem as opposed to intuit a great poem."

Writing poetry, she believes, doesn't have to be so hard. It doesn't have to be about obeying rules and forms.

The answer, to her, is metaphor and finding a way to say something without just saying it outright and, in doing that, saying something that means more than a simple statement of fact. 

"Everybody has got their own technique," she said. "The question is how do you tap into that inner voice that feels like stream of conscious, that feels like it's connected to something deeper than just writing in a journal?"

Tamblyn said she's looking forward to coming to West Virginia and is proud to be part of Poetry Out Loud.

"I like to be where there's a large group who supports poetry and good poetry shows," she said. "That's where the growth is."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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