Discover more from Listening in the Dark with Amber Tamblyn
Hitting the Road in the Name of Poetry
A motorcycle poetry tour to commemorate a long friendship.
Alright friends, I have some exciting news to share with you.
To kick off National Poetry Month, I’m announcing a summer literary tour which starts on May 16th in Nashville, TN. I’m hitting the road via motorcycle (you heard me) with my dear friend and tour partner of two decades, Derrick C. Brown, for a brand new poetry show called PRETEND IT’S A BOAT. You can find tickets and more information here. If you can’t make it to any of these dates, never fear: we’ll be sharing exclusive behind-the-scenes moments from the road, right here on Substack.
Derrick and I met in 2004 in Southern California at Ugly Mug Café's beloved poetry night, which still takes place today. We quickly bonded over our shared love of poetry, but even more so, our love of performing poetry and the potential of those performances to change the way a person thinks about the genre. When we started doing shows together, we kept this goal in mind to create an unconventional poetry experience aimed at disarming audiences of any preconceived notions that a poetry show is stuffy, boring, and inaccessible. Our shows are hybrids that mix poetry, comedy, and performance art into one ruckus-filled, heart-wrenching, gut-busting evening where anything and everything can—and usually will—happen. People are brought on stage, dance parties break out, sketches are performed, all in the name of having fun and feeling alive—all in the name of poetry.
Doing these tours with Derrick over the last two decades have been some of the most wild and rewarding experiences of my life—reading at venues all over the country, crashing on people’s couches, riding through hail storms on the back of Derrick’s Harley (not advisable), and so much more. Not all of our tours together have been via motorcycle, but the ones that were have been something truly special. There’s something freeing about the experience, like what I imagine time travel would feel like. When you’re on a motorcycle, there’s no sense of time, no real conversation taking place with your bike-mate, no scrolling through social media on your phone. It’s a time to reflect, empty out your head, take in the wilderness around you—wilderness that you feel a part of—instead of looking through a closed windshield at it. There’s a new appreciation for the fresh air and the absolute silence, save for the sound of the bike’s rumbling engine and the wind. Most people would say that being in an airplane is as close as you can get to feeling like a bird, but I think riding on a motorcycle is. You feel completely free, like you’re lifting up off the ground and into the sky.
Big shoutout and thank you to Matt Wignall for joining us on some of these tours and taking most of the photos below.
I wanted to embark on another tour with Derrick this year for many reasons. I’m turning forty next month, and like so many of you, I’ve felt like I gave several important years away to the pandemic. I don’t know what the end of my thirties would’ve felt like without the shadow of a worldwide pandemic, mass death, and the political unrest and uprisings that have taken place, and I’ll never get to know. So instead of feeling stuck about the past, I’m looking to the future. It’s not that I want to get those years back, it’s that I want to remember what it feels like to live again, to do something unpredictable and joyous, and to make a real journey out of all of it. During the last several years, I was consumed with very real fear, numbness, and sadness about what life on the other side of all this might look like. Who would I be? What would joy look like or feel like? As it turns out, sometimes joy looks and feels like returning to some of the things that brought you joy in the past, to revisit them with new bodies that carry even newer stories.
Recently, at a variety show in New York called Cabinet of Wonders, I read a poem that I had written for Listening in the Dark. The poem is titled “Letter to Our Childhood Dreams,” and I performed it with the accompaniment of a wonderful electric guitarist, David Nagler. I’ve done this my entire adult life: performing and collaborating with musicians like Bonnie Tamblyn (my mom) and the brilliant Emily Wells. I stepped off the stage at Cabinet of Wonders that night with a profound revelation: to return to myself, I needed to return to live performance, to creative partnership and these specific kinds of spontaneous collaborations with other artists and musicians. I needed to return to performing in the way I have always loved most: a writer, on the road, ready for adventure.
In recent years, I had stepped back from these wild and wonderful poetry tours; there was the pandemic, yes, but before that, there was the election of Donald Trump, the unexpected but powerful #MeToo movement, and the creation of Time’s Up. All of these mega events changed the world, and they changed me too. I put away the carefree book tours because I had to; because fighting against fascism, workplace harassment, and the abuse of power matters, and like many of you, I was propelled into action to do my part. These issues still matter, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned from personal experience and from the wisdom of other activists and organizers who paved the way, that it is nearly impossible to sustain meaningful political activist work from a spiritual deficit. Self-care is about mental and physical health, yes, but it’s also about creative and spiritual health—about expressing joy and fun in any way we can while still doing the work, like my friends at Joy to the Polls know how to do so well. Poetry—the celebration of artistic collaboration and being in community with an audience, face to face and in person—is that self-care for me.
So, I’m hitting the road again. I’ve got my Doc Martens. My helmet. My heavy windbreaker. (It’s cold on a motorcycle! Even in May!) And I’ll be sharing exclusive writing with you from the road here on Substack, as well as many special surprises for our LITD community along the way.
And now, here are some pictures of me and Derrick on tour together over the years to wet your whistle, as they say. Get ready. It’s going to be a spectacular summer.
Question o’ the Day: Tell me about the craziest, wildest road trip adventure you’ve ever been on. Who were you with? Where were you going? What happened?
Extra points: What is your favorite road trip snack? (Mine is Chili Cheese Fritos, a deeply nostalgic choice as they are my dad’s favorite chips and they remind me of family road trips together with him when I was young.)