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Friday, August 20, 2010

George Held's Review for BANG DITTO on RAINTAXI

Bang Ditto

Amber Tamblyn

Manic D Press ($16)

by George Held

This is the second book of poetry by Amber Tamblyn, who is better known as an Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actress. Its title probably alludes to Pauline Kael’s collection of film reviews Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, shorthand for those Hollywood staples romance and crime. Tamblyn’s poems contain plenty of sex, but the violence is mostly emotional.

In “My Face,” a poem that wryly comments on her celebrity, Tamblyn also admits to having “no self esteem,” a plausible reason for the failure of her love affairs. One of her fine longer poems, “Strange,” recounts a romance that began in Los Angeles and extended to Denver, London, New England, New York City, the Catskills, and Japan before it fell apart due to her lover’s infidelity. Tamblyn’s figurative language makes her youthful love story exceptional: “we camped out in each other’s hair,” “out of my slip and into / my slit you slid,” “your shoulders began to close like hardcovers. / I could only read your spine.”

At its best, a Tamblyn poem combines elements of personal discovery and word play. In “Face Off,” for example, she creates a bedroom scene as though it’s a rehearsal, with a script lying on the bed to provide lines for the speaker and her boyfriend. They “face off” over their relationship while she takes her actor’s face off for a moment of potential intimacy. Admitting that she has played this role and read this script before, she says, “I know what comes next.”

Tamblyn can sound like a tough cookie on the one hand and a wounded woman-child on the other. Aware she’s both Hollywood royalty (her father is Russ Tamblyn and her godfathers include Dennis Hopper and Neil Young) and a poet with street experience, she treats herself with either irony or a compelling sincerity as the moment demands.

Bang Ditto ends with the prose piece “How My Papa Saved Christmas.” Here Tamblyn tells us that after she’d gotten a Tinkerbell tattoo at seventeen, a year after she had her nipples pierced, her mother, a self-proclaimed “woman of ‘Christian values,’” saw the “great Tinkerbellian monster she had created.” This sort of “Oxycontin oxymoron” shows Tamblyn on the edge between narcotic rebellion and linguistic flair. As long as she walks the high wire of a balancing act between victim and heroine, monster and fairy, her fans and readers will remain eager for more of her thrilling work.

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