It has been, quite literally, years since I’ve read poetry. When I was young I used to love it. I read and wrote quite a bit (though looking back I don’t think I’d find any of it any good anymore). But as I grew up I gravitated much more towards fiction, where I’ve made my home since. I never became the kind of person so many others do — the kind of person who finds poetry trite and stupid and doesn’t enjoy it. I could always appreciate it. And even after I stopped reading and writing it, for the most part, I went to plenty of open mics and poetry readings and heard some wonderful work (and, of course, some not so wonderful, as is the case with any open forum). But it wasn’t really the place I felt I belonged anymore.
It happens. What was right once might not be right anymore. And that’s okay.
In an odd twist of fate, a week ago I found myself staring at the poetry section in Barnes & Noble. It was completely by accident, to be honest. The shelves were right across from the fiction and I hadn’t even registered that I was looking at a different genre. And as is often the case, a book caught my eye before I knew what was happening.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a real sucker for a well-made book. For me the binding, cover, and overall presentation really has an impact. So it’s no surprise that this one caught my attention. Matte-finished hardcover with a fabric-bound spine, and, as I would later learn, a ribbon bound in (for those of you that don’t know, that’s an increasingly rare feature, a thin strip of fabric bound into the book to mark your place with). The pages are thick and of particularly high-quality paper. It’s just a beautifully presented work.
Most of the poetry I’ve read has been from older poets, the famous ones you always hear about and read in classes. I don’t think, before now, I could have named a single modern poet. So I don’t have a frame of reference, though honestly with poetry I think it would be unfair to compare authors anyway. There’s nothing about poetry that’s objective, and things have different meanings for different people. Poetry is about heart and soul, which is not absent in fiction, but fiction has more structure. There are things in fiction that can arguably be considered objectively good or bad. I point this out so that you know that any opinions expressed in this review are exclusively mine and are not taking other work or authors into consideration.
Ok, I’ve put it off too long at this point. I’m here today to talk about a new book of poetry called Memories, by Lang Leav. Memories is her third book, though it’s actually a sort of “best of” anthology collecting hand-picked pieces from her first two collections, Love & Misadventure and Lullabies, as well as some new poems written for the collection. Aside from her poetry, Leav is a very successful artist; she’s exhibited her work internationally, and also has a fashion line, Akina. A few sentences can’t really do her resume justice, so I’ll direct you instead to her bio on her website.
I defy anyone to tell me that this isn’t an absolutely beautiful book.
But it’s far more than just a pretty face (no pun intended). This is the kind of book you can get to the end of and go straight back to the start. Many of the poems are quite short, but they all have a lot of depth to them. The great majority of them are about love, be it current or past, addressing both the good and the bad. And I suppose that may rub some the wrong way — isn’t love the stereotypical poem topic, after all? But I think I would argue that in some way all poetry comes from love. It might not all be romantic love, but if you’re writing a poem about something, there’s some sort of passion behind it. There’s a reason you’re writing it. Even a poem written in anger is rooted in love; you might create a slam poem in a rage against the government, for instance. But doesn’t that rage come from a love of something else, some belief or value that’s being obstructed, an obstruction which causes your anger?
At any rate, love is a big thing here, but it never feels trite or anything like that. The thing is, Leav gets it. She understands love in all its forms, and she just nails down the experience in so many different ways, ways that often shed light on and describe things that you might never have even realized were there. Anyone who’s ever been in love can relate to these poems. And that’s, I think, what makes them so very powerful. It’s what makes any poem powerful. When you can relate to it, when it makes you feel something, that’s when it’s worked. And not every poem is going to do that for everyone, of course. Poe’s “The Raven” has always been a personal favorite of mine, for reasons honestly unknown to me, but I’ve known people who swear that “Annabel Lee” is the superior poem (it’s not). That doesn’t mean they’re wrong (they are), it just means that the poems resonated differently to them (wrongly).
Let’s talk about style. Some poets stray towards having one style — be it free verse (with or without rhyme), prose poems (which read more like stories than poems), metered poems, poems with specific rhyme schemes, etc. Leav, unusually, has a little bit of everything (well, I can’t speak to whether or not any of her work is metered, I was never good at figuring out meters). One poem might have a rhyme pattern, the next might be free verse, and the next might be more prose-like. It’s quite interesting, actually, because you never know what to expect next. And having the different styles mixed together rather than separated and ordered — all rhyming, all free verse, etc. — means you don’t get tired or stuck. The rhyming poems never quite have that Hallmark-card feeling you often get with rhyme. Certainly this is a testament to Leav’s writing, but I also think it’s related to the way the book is organized. If they were all together you might start to feel like you were reading an endless stream of greeting cards or children’s poetry, such as Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein. Luckily, though, that effect is not present here.
See, it doesn’t feel like a cheesy greeting card rhyme, now does it?
Like I said before, it’s been a really long time since I’ve read poetry, and honestly, I don’t remember any of what I did read having the effect Leav’s poems have had on me. Maybe it’s just a case of the right book coming along at the right time, but there’s so much I can identify with contained in these pages. It’s definitely a book I’ll be revisiting often. If you like poetry, you should definitely get your hands on this book. And if you haven’t really tried poetry, you should consider checking this one out. Leav is quite the rare talent, and given that Memories is a sort of “greatest hits,” I think it’s a good jumping on point. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get hooked and want to pick up her first two collections as well.
I’ll end with a few notes. First, I should note that while I wrote this review, I haven’t actually finished reading the book yet. I still have less than forty poems left to read. Which isn’t that much, actually, there are a lot of poems in the book. But I felt the drive to write this post despite having not finished the whole book yet. That should tell you how good it is.
Second, I’d like to dedicate this post to two good friends; one who through her interest in the genre sort of reminded me that poetry was a thing and subconsciously put it in my head that I should look at it again, and one who works at Barnes & Noble and rang me up when I bought the book. Hopefully if you’re reading this you guys know who you are — I’d like to think I was clear enough that you do. Thank you, this one’s for you.
Last, here’s one of the poems from the book — it’s on page 13, in case you’re wondering, but the image is from Leav’s Instagram.
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