Cliché Without the Cliché: A Review of Lang Leav’s “Memories”

         Lang Leav has become a best-selling poet in the three years she’s been professionally writing. Since 2014 she has published three books of poetry and aside from the occasional book signing, has managed to keep her private life private. She runs a small blog on poetry and the release dates of upcoming books and begins each book with a small letter of introduction. Not much else can be said on Lang Leav; she spends her time jotting down real poems in her New Zealand home with her partner, and fellow poet, Michael Faudet.

The Lang Leav collection I chose to review is titled: Memories. Published in 2015 this collection of poetry is Leav’s third publication and includes pieces from her other two books as well as a few that are new. Her style can be described as personal, right down to the letter of introduction in the beginning. Her poetry centers around the themes of love and loss; both very heavy topics and topics close to the hearts of many people in this world. The danger in writing on love and loss is that it could wind up being a cliché sing-song piece of poetry. It could end up being page after page of the same old thing. Leav has a way of shaking up this worn out concept in the way she structures her poems and the images she uses to create a feeling. The poems in this collection shift back and forth between strictly structured pieces and pieces that flow as if they were prose. I chose the poetry of Lang Leav to review for the originality, how relatable, and the pure talent in her poetry.

Leav has a way of making a paragraph sound poetic. For example page 19 of Memories is where you find the collection’s namesake. The poem, entitled “Memories”, looks at first glance to be a simple paragraph; not poetry at all. But, reading the lines we can see inlaid rhyme such as “…Your mind pulls him to the foreground like a snapped rubber band. And you think of the line he drew in the sand, the one you can’t seem to put a foot past.” (19). While the lines are presented within a paragraph they, like many of the others, set a smooth poetic tone to the piece; giving it the structural form of poetry. This poem is about loss, a simple idea that we have all felt at one moment or another. We know what it feels like to lose somebody but it isn’t a feeling most can put into words. At least, not original words but metaphors handed down to us. We can’t fully express what we feel, yet, in a simple paragraph looking poem its as if Leav has reached into the lives of each of us. “Memories” is the aftermath of loss and the ending sums up what it feels like to remember: ” And the world falls away and you’re exactly where you were on the last night you saw him, when he had his hands in your hair and his mouth on your neck and he never said a word about leaving.” (19). Leav is not afraid of the ideas of intimacy even in it’s most personal form. The ending of this poem gives me goose bumps and makes my voice shake, because that is the feeling. It isn’t a cliché metaphor but a real and powerful image of a memory.

Leav’s poetry is not all about loss. On page 123 there is a poem entitled “Us” that I will talk about briefly for its uniquely real and honest image of what love is. The images are domestic and natural. Things like napping, common forgetfulness and playful arguments over something as mundane as who puts in the DVD. This poem doesn’t showcase the flowers and chocolates and unending adoration that you see in romance movies. Instead, it embraces the normalcy and the love that comes with it. A true relationship that is complete with love. The lines that really captures this attitude come near the end:

“We argue over whose turn it is to put the DVD in the player. / Sometimes no one wins and we end up watching bad TV. / Which is never really a bad thing.” (123).

This line is what sums up Leav’s ability to truly relate to an audience and her unique way of portraying love in a way that is not cliché and embraces the hearts of readers.

While “Us” did have a more poetic form, with line breaks rather than a paragraph, Leav takes us to another format. One much more standard. “Wounded” on page 221 is composed of three four line stanzas with a syllable count of 5,4,4,4. The reason the sudden switches in format: from poetic prose, to free form, to strict structure, are so important is that they show the range of Leav’s grasp of poetic language. Such things combined with her ability to pull emotion from simple, real images and stay away from clichés though her subject matter begs for it, that’s what makes her poetry good.

As a lover of poetry I do read many poems. Most of them are long and complicated or short and seem nonsensical. Lang Leav’s poetry is neither. Her poetry is that which is meant to be read out loud either by yourself or with someone who wants to hear nothing but your voice. Memories fully captures what it is to both love and lose and many of my favorite poems can be found right in this book. I recommend this book for anyone who feels like they just don’t understand what they’re feeling; because maybe, just maybe, they’ll find an answer that isn’t a clichéd metaphor.

 

Memories

Lang Leav

243 pages, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99

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