by Suzanne Carroll-La Follette
Amber Tamblyn knows exactly what it's like to be in front of a camera. She starred on General Hospital for six years, as well as a long list of films including the Sisterhood of the Travel Pants I and II. More recently, she's appeared in Portlandia, Inside Amy Shumer, Community and more. She comes from a family of performers and lives the life that many of us have dreamed about. Even better, she writes poetry with stunning imagery, sharing with us a slice of movie star life.
In her book Dark Sparkler Tamblyn approaches the matter of fame through a very dark lens: the death of young actresses. The titles of her poems are the names of these actresses, who left this world all too early. This poem, "Brittany Murphy" focuses on Brittany Murphy's death, "Her body dies like a spider's. In the shower, the blooming flower seeds a cemetery." Within the first four lines we are in the shower with Brittany Murphy on the day that she died, "like a spider." Although Brittany Murphy is already gone in the beginning of the poem her body is, "the blooming flower (that) seeds a cemetery." Tamblyn juxtaposes life and death in the same line, highlighting the grotesque loss of blooming youth. She continues, taking the details of Brittany Murphy's death and braiding them into the most beautiful images.
It may help to fill in the gaps by explaining how you know Brittany Murphy. You know Brittany Murphy from Clueless, 8 Mile, Riding in Cars With Boys, or as the voice of Luanne Platter on King of the Hill. She died at the age of thirty-two. She was found in her bathroom. Some say that she died of pneumonia and the medications she took for her illness. The more you read about it, the more mysterious her death becomes. Tamblyn creates a vivid scene, even if you've never seen a Brittany Murphy movie, you still see the bathroom where she died.
Tamblyn refers to the pills she took that could have caused her death, "A pill lodges in the inner pocket of her flesh coat." This image seems nearly impossible to visualize but all too real at the same time. The term "flesh coat" is used in the making of dolls, as they apply the skin. "The inner pocket of her flesh coat," stands out as some secret pocket inside her body that Tamblyn has opened up for the reader to take a peak inside. This mirrors the exposed life of an actress, as we gaze upon her insides.
Then, "Her breasts were the gifts of ghosts, dark tarps of success. "Here, the reader finds the gem at the heart of this poem. She mentions her breasts as gifts, as if they were gifts to us all on screen, like so many actresses sharing their bodies with the audience. She then refers to them as, "dark tarps of success," as if the breasts themselves were her demise. The same gift that she gave the world covered her body in the end.
I could continue, with every line of detailed imagery, as Tamblyn focuses so closely on this scene for the first half of the poem. Then, like a skilled director, Tamblyn widens the focus from the scene of the bathroom to the tabloids, "The country says good things about the body." She could have stayed focused on the bathroom scene for the entirety of the poem, but the turn widens the lens to a national perspective. "They print the best photos..." Much like the life of an actress from scene to tabloid, from tragedy to grocery-store-line-browsing, the poem follows the very same path. Where would a poem like that end? Like this, of course, "How bold her eyes were, bigger than Hepburn's. The way she could turn in to her camera close-up like life depended on her." The gravity of the role of an actress in our society weighs heavily here. These people that we watch, take for granted, love and hate, pick apart and hope for scandal couldn't be more visceral and vulnerable than in this poem.