It must be my age. Or maybe my present emotional state [!] . But I have started reading contemporary poetry dealing with, of all subjects, love and loss. Double exclamation point here.
This isn’t a declaration of my intellectual gifts, of course, because this is a bit too late to discover the joys of poetry. Rather, it is an affirmation of the pull and power of artist Lang Leav who has achieved something rather extraordinary: publish best-selling poetry. In this age of cynicism and erudite pop literature — think Harry Potter and its million and one layers of stories — where can poetry and especially romantic poetry fit in?
I don’t think there has been a poet in recent memory who has enchanted and engaged a busy world to pause and savor her words. This is poetry, where the words are measured and the meanings oftentimes float above us: “Always seeking./each moment fleeting/this is where/my soul will rest.”
Oh, yes, T S Elliot once held us in his breath, but we went to his temple by way of Broadway; we first discovered his Jellicle Cats, when it was translated into “Cats,” one of the longest running musicals before we discovered the rest of his works. In a sense, we first sang “Midnight” before we fell in love with J Alfred Prufrock.
The truth is, it was my 20-something niece who got me interested in Leav, pointing to her books every time we strayed into the bookstore; it seems like Leav is one author her generation reads. I did not even know she was a poetess. But there: this is one author who can pull in different age groups.
My niece practically shoved Leav’s “Lullabies” to my face at the bookstore counter, and I thought I’d buy it for her. But when I opened it and read the dedication, I smiled and kept the book: “For Michael/ I love you, I do – you have my word. /You have all my words.”
I thought that was silly, but elegant. The rest of the pages did not disappoint. I don’t know about the others – I now find out she has hordes of fans even here in the Philippines which she visited last month– but for the cynical generation I represent, Leav takes “silliness” to another level, her words playful but evocative of emotions and memories. Sniff, sniff: “But we were a maybe/ and never a must –/ When it should have been us.”
Or this: “There is a tide that rolls away,/I want to make it stay….There are two old hands that move this clock,/I want to make them stop.”
“Lullabies” which I understand is as much of a bestseller as Leav’s first best-selling anthology “Love and Misunderstanding” has prose in between the poems, and these are also written in the same magical manner Leav uses her words in her poems: “Her poetry is written on the ghost of trees, whispered on the lips of lovers.
But what makes Leav such a landmark in contemporary literature is not really that she got us reading poetry nor the fact that like J.K. Rowling, she has engaged our young to read. Rather, it is the assurance that no matter how much the human race has evolved, with all the strides we’ve made with science and technology, we continue to be touched and moved by words and that books will continue to be with us, not just as artifacts of our time, but as the chronicles of our journey.
For our sheer human love for words, we hope so. As Leav says in her Introduction, “There is a certain quality to words that – when strung in a certain way – has an almost hypnotic effect. This combined with the universal theme of love becomes ever more potent and intoxicating.”*