Love and lullabies: The poetry of Lang Leav

Lang’s first book of poetry, Love & Misadventure (left). Lullabies, Lang’s latest book, is now out in bookstores (right)
Lang’s first book of poetry, Love & Misadventure (left). Lullabies, Lang’s latest book, is now out in bookstores (right)

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 9 — Who reads poetry these days? Like the art of letter writing, penning verses seems to be a practice left to the past. Well, not anymore.

Multi-disciplinary artist Lang Leav, a Qantas Spirit of Youth Award recipient who has exhibited internationally, is more known today for her two books of whimsical poetry, Love & Misadventure, and her latest, Lullabies. Both titles were bestsellers and the young poet is a savvy social media user with a strong international fan following.

Thirty-something Lang was born in a Thai refugee camp, before moving to Melbourne when she was five years old. She says, “Shortly after my parents had fled the Cambodian civil war, we migrated to Australia and settled down in the small town of Cabramatta. It was a troubled area, particularly during the 90s when I was growing up. Luckily for me, I spent much of my childhood living through books. It was the only way I could see beyond the bleakness of my environment. Books were like a bright and shiny beacon for me; they taught me anything was possible.”

Lang was born in a Thai refugee camp, before moving to Melbourne when she was five years old — Pictures courtesy of Lang Leav
Lang was born in a Thai refugee camp, before moving to Melbourne when she was five years old — Pictures courtesy of Lang Leav

After finishing school, Lang studied art at the University of New South Wales, in the College of Fine Arts. She recalls, “It was such a wonderful time for me creatively. I had grown up in a rigid and conservative society, where job security was held in the highest regard. A career in the arts was frowned upon. However, I was taken out of that environment and placed into one where the possibilities were endless. I really began to flourish from that point onwards.”

The contemporary artist’s work has a romantic yet dark vibrancy to it, not unlike the grimmest fairy tales of yore. “Artistically, I am inspired by stories,” she says. “I am fascinated with the fine line dividing realism and the fantastical. There is a dark undercurrent that permeates all my work and I think this may be due to my upbringing. I spent much of my formative years, surrounded by immigrants from war-torn countries, unconsciously absorbing their stories and their sadness.”

Prior to self-publishing her own poetry, Lang was involved in various artistic projects ranging from painting to fashion. “In my early twenties, I was making headway in the creative industry through my illustration-based fashion label, Akina. The right boutiques began stocking my work and doors were opening for me. Soon after, I ventured into art and before I knew it, my paintings were hung in galleries around the world and I was hand-picked to exhibit in the landmark ‘Playboy Redux’ curated by The Warhol Museum and Playboy Enterprises.”

Technique-wise, Lang is a versatile artist, switching between different styles easily. She says, “I use whatever I can get my hands on. I love trying new media and techniques. Recently, I have begun experimenting with digital art and am now just as comfortable with my Wacom [stylus and tablet] as I am with my pencils and brushes.”

However, writing had always been Lang’s first love and her unique background in art informs her poetry in refreshing ways. She explains, “Although I create using several disciplines, storytelling is at the heart of all my work. My garments and artwork are commonly threaded with a narrative. This is the most distinguishing factor of my work and the reason why I can switch from art to poetry to fashion quite seamlessly.”

Lang’s poems have a succinct and “heart on your sleeves” quality to them that appeals to many millennials. Her verses seem designed for those in their 20s and early 30s; accessible poetry for the social media generation.

“There is a common misconception that literature has to be esoteric in order to have merit. Many great classic poets such as Yeats, Dickinson, and Frost wrote poetry that was unpretentious yet deeply profound. Personally, I find it easier to understand emotions when they are written down in a way that is to the point. The fact my words resonate with so many people is a clear indication that these experiences are universal.”

Multi-disciplinary artist and  best-selling poet  Lang Leav
Multi-disciplinary artist and best-selling poet Lang Leav

An active social media presence definitely doesn’t hurt in reaching out to the right audience. Lang has made good use of Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter to market her self-published first book, selling nearly 10,000 copies in June 2013 before it was picked up by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Fans have been clamouring for more ever since.

Little wonder Lang enjoys interacting with her readers. She says, “It is a privilege for me to speak to the very people who have made it possible for me to write for a living. They have each contributed to the fortunate position I now find myself in and for this, I am truly grateful. I love hearing their stories and reading their words. I hope they know how much their support means to me.”

Lang lives and works with her partner, the writer Michael Faudet, and believes in a cross-pollination of ideas. “I am very fortunate to have a partner who is not only supportive but understands, on an intimate level, what I do. It really makes a world of difference. I think we have a great creative synergy and he is the first person I will go to if I am stuck on a line or a title. In fact, he named one of the main characters in my upcoming novel. At the same time, I am art directing his new book Dirty Pretty Things. We have different skills that complement each other and we function really well as a creative team.”

Lang Leav will be dropping by Kuala Lumpur on November 30, 2014, with appearances at Kinokuniya Bookstores and MPH Midvalley. For more information, visit her website or tweet her at @langleav.

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