Leave them wanting more. That’s a formula for success in everything from the arts to dating.
Poetic in its simplicity, it’s the driving principle behind The Drums Inside Your Chest Series, a performance poetry project launched six years ago by writers Amber Tamblyn and Mindy Nettifee. It’s coming to Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival at 7 p.m. April 7 at the Englert Theatre.
An award-winning poet, Tamblyn, 29, a California native who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., is perhaps better known for her lead role in television’s “Joan of Arcadia,” young Emily Quartermaine on “General Hospital,” 15 episodes of “House” and in cinema’s “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and its sequel, as well as “127 Hours.”
She’s been acting since age 9, but discovered another voice through poetry at age 12.
She came to Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City in 2009 to read from her critically acclaimed collection, “Bang Ditto.” There, she heard about the Mission Creek Festival. Intrigued, she attended in 2010 and gave a reading at The Mill last year when actor/comedian David Cross, whom she married in October, presented a sold-out Mission Creek show at the Englert.
She loves that so many top artists and writers are gathered in a small space, small festival that feels huge.
“If South by Southwest and AWP (Association of Writers conference) had a baby, it would be that,” she says of Mission Creek, which is centered in various downtown Iowa City venues.
She’s looking forward to turning even more people onto the joys of poetry in her own Englert event, billed as a “shoulder-shaking, heart-charging poetry variety show experience.”
The shows typically blend poetry with art — like her book in progress, a melding of her poetry and Marilyn Manson’s artwork.
- What: Write Now Poetry Society Presents: The Drums Inside Your Chest Series
- Featuring: Amber Tamblyn, Emily Wells, Beau Sia, Patricia Smith, Derrick Brown, Jennifer L. Knox and Rachel McKibbens
- When: 7 p.m. April 7
- Where: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
- Tickets: $10 to $15 general admission, at Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org
- Information: Missionfreak.com
- Artist’s website: amtam.com and Thedrumsinsideyourchest.com
The first “Drums” show, staged in Los Angeles in 2007, brought together top poets from the academic and slam worlds, for crisp, tight 12- to 15-minute vignettes with music or comedy in between to “cleanse the palette.”
“What an amazing, great way to expose people to poetry shows (who) cannot stand poetry, that loathe it,” Tamblyn says by phone from Los Angeles, where she’s shooting an action pilot for CBS, titled “Anatomy of Violence.”
That initial poetry show was so successful that Tamblyn helped establish the nonprofit Write Now Poetry Society to create a new audience for the literary art all over the world.
“Our idea is to create unique poetry programming and to widen the audience for poetry shows physically, which then, by its own merit, will get more poetry fans onboard,” she says.
That concept evolved into a 2011 “Drums” show at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles that blended commissioned poems inspired by 18th and 19th century watercolors, some set to music, all read by the celebrated poets, as well as actress America Ferrara and goth-rocker Manson.
“That’s our idea of what a poetry show is. It’s a large, large landscape,” Tamblyn says. “We’re not interested in open mic. We’re not interested in anything other than a very tight, succinct show in which you leave an audience going, ‘I would love to have heard 15 more minutes of that poet.’ Leave them wanting more. … Tight and short and to the point.”
The Iowa City show will feature a who’s who lineup, including Tamblyn, Nettifee, Patricia Smith, Beau Sia, Rachel McKibbens, Derrick Brown and Jennifer L. Knox, with musician Emily Wells.
Tamblyn’s artisty is a combination of nature and nurture. One grandfather performed in vaudeville, another was a violinist; her father, Russ Tamblyn, is a singer, dancer, actor who played Riff in the 1961 film version of “West Side Story”; and her mother, Bonnie Murray Tamblyn, is a singer and recording artist.
“I was raised around a lot of poets and artists,” Tamblyn says. Family friend, the poet Jack Hirschman, nurtured her interest in writing, encouraging the 12-year-old to read her poetry out loud at the dinner table.
She says she felt and understood the power of poetry at that young age and became “obsessed” with chapbooks, selling her own at school.
“I still have the two that I published that were really beautiful,” she says. “One is called ‘Plenty of Ships’ and the other one is called ‘Of the Dawn.’ … It’s what any kid would do when they’re trying to discover themselves. It’s part of the beautiful thing that is juvenilia. I don’t believe anyone creates anything bad in that time period. … I look at them and I see a young girl who was on a soap opera for seven years, trying to define herself outside that superficiality.
“That’s where it started,” she says of her reflective poetry that blends her career paths. It gave her a way to make sense of the make-believe world of acting.
“I wrote a lot, and it was very important that I wrote a lot,” she says. “I documented so much, so many of these experiences, which has made me the writer that I am today.”
She’s developed an edgy style that’s infused with humor, to strike a balance and perspective between her professional worlds, oftentimes stripping away the celebrity to show the real person beneath the facade.
“I have a poem called ‘Headlock Heart Choke,’ about drinking heavily with Hugh Laurie. It turns into this really dirty, over-sexualized poem, and Hugh loves it,” she says of the “House” star. “He’s a big supporter of my poetry. He gave Mindy and I a huge donation to our poetry nonprofit.”
Tamblyn calls writing “an exorcism and a haunting, at the same time.”
“It’s therapeutic,” she says. “It’s important, because I feel like some of the great writers have something to say, that there is a story about them that is unique. … My hope is to at least let people feel that, ‘Hey, that’s interesting. I learned something from that poem.’ If I did that, then I did my job.”
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