Culture

Meet Lang Leav, the NZ-based queen of poetry with over 2m followers


Sharing her passion, love and flair for poetry, Lang Leav has something to say that everyone wants to hear.

Poetry was already declared dead when Lang Leav self-published her first anthology Love & Misadventure in 2013. According to reports at the time, readership had been dropping for two decades and poetry was the second-least popular art form, falling behind others such as classical music and knitting.

But Lang was typing away in her own creative corner in New Zealand, unaware she was in the midst of a linguistic apocalypse. “When you love something, you just naturally think everyone else loves it too,” says the now international best-selling author over coffee and patisserie in her Parnell, Auckland apartment.

Although the 37-year-old’s first poetic work shared a dusty shelf with Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare at Barnes & Noble stores and the like, a global rise in poetry has seen leading bookshops install sections dedicated to contemporary poetry, where Lang’s sixth book of poetry, Love Looks Pretty on You, will be sitting proudly when published by US-based Andrews McMeel Publishing in March.

In six short years, poetry became the fastest-growing and one of the largest-selling forms of literature – the ultimate poetic justice.

Social media has been a key player in the uprising and Lang, who has a combined following of over two million, believes she and her contemporaries (Brit Yrsa Daley-Ward and Australian Shastra Deo, for example) are the new Beat poets. Anti-establishment and born out of a need for self-expression, they’re finding the pulse and the voice of a generation, all the while making poetry more approachable for our era.

Lang’s style is straightforward, and all the more powerful for it. “I think poetry got a bit too esoteric and difficult for most people. It was something you studied at school,” she says.

“They’re just beautiful, expressive pieces, and that’s what poetry is. It’s just the most beautiful form of language.”

 
 
 
 
 
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Exciting news!! You can now buy my latest book Love Looks Pretty on You from @target US wide 🇺🇸💃🏻 Pick up a copy today! #lovelooksprettyonyou #poetry #langleav #target #books

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The poet’s work first gained momentum on Tumblr in 2012. The University of New South Wales alumnus had already achieved commercial and critical success with her darkly romantic fashion label Akina and was beginning to make a name for herself as an artist when the poetry, her “first love”, began to eclipse all else.

Lang uses social media to her advantage, connecting with like-minded individuals including Khloe Kardashian, who posted the poem ‘Closure’ from Sea of Strangers when going through a highly publicised break-up,
but cringes at the label ‘Insta-poet’.

“I don’t think a social media platform should define a genre.” Instead, Lang calls her expertise ‘pop-poetry’, because it’s so accessible.

“It’s getting a whole generation of kids reading again, which is what we want… We just need poetry to be in everyone’s consciousness a lot more.”

Although Instagram enables her to instantly showcase her talent to the world, it’s as make-or-break as any publishing house. “There’s a lot more noise on Instagram at the moment, but I think good writing will always shine through,” she says.


 
 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Lang Leav (@langleav) on


The poet’s work first gained momentum on Tumblr in 2012. The University of New South Wales alumnus had already achieved commercial and critical success with her darkly romantic fashion label Akina and was beginning to make a name for herself as an artist when the poetry, her “first love”, began to eclipse all else.

Lang uses social media to her advantage, connecting with like-minded individuals including Khloe Kardashian, who posted the poem ‘Closure’ from Sea of Strangers when going through a highly publicised break-up, but cringes at the label ‘Insta-poet’.

“I don’t think a social media platform should define a genre.” Instead, Lang calls her expertise ‘pop-poetry’, because it’s so accessible.

“It’s getting a whole generation of kids reading again, which is what we want… We just need poetry to be in everyone’s consciousness a lot more.”

Although Instagram enables her to instantly showcase her talent to the world, it’s as make-or-break as any publishing house. “There’s a lot more noise on Instagram at the moment, but I think good writing will always shine through,” she says. “Social media is a great tool, but it’s not going to make your career.”

With her bold black fringe, Lang is instantly recognised on tours throughout Asia, where great authors have rock-star status; she’s so famous in the Philippines, she says she always travels with armed guards. The US is starting to pay attention too, with Lang enjoying sell-out shows in Los Angeles and New York.

Her poetry has stuck because its universal themes of love, loss and female empowerment don’t just resonate but resound with soul-searching women around the world. Lang doesn’t write about her personal life per se, yet everything she writes is deeply personal.

“I get a lot of people writing to me to say that my work has been like having a friend there who understands what they’re going through,” she says. “And I’ve had people write to me to say that I’ve saved their life.”


Lang’s work is uplifting and also tinged with sorrow – not least her debut novel, Sad Girls, about a lie and its ricocheting repercussions, published in 2017. Lang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her parents fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – both came from large families and lost almost everyone.

When she was 11 months old, the family immigrated to Australia, settling in the migrant town of Cabramatta. There Lang had a happy, creative childhood, but couldn’t help but feel the shared sense of melancholy that came from growing up with other children who had endured the horror of war.

She’d like to tell her parents’ story – her mother’s frightful escape through the jungle while Lang was growing in her belly – but she’s not ready just yet. For now, she’s working on her second novel about a girl who finds fame as a poet. She also has a stack of upcoming tours across Australia, Asia, Canada, the US, the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East.


When she’s back home, Lang cherishes her privacy, being recognised only once in a blue moon when she steps outside her sanctuary of an apartment, enclosed by a tall courtyard wall covered in greenery.

Although she never dreamed of living in New Zealand, our laid-back culture and collective love of black fashion, in particular, has suited her well over the 10 years she’s lived in Auckland. “I’ve never felt such an affinity to another country,” she says. “It just really feels like home here.”

Lang moved to New Zealand with her partner and fellow author Michael Faudet to be closer to his son Ollie – she remembers climbing trees in the nearby Auckland Domain when they all met together for the first time.

“Love is often sold as this fluffy, silly thing, but it’s not,” she says. “It’s the most important thing in your life. It really determines your life. If I hadn’t met my partner, I wouldn’t be here in New Zealand.”

Words: Jessica-Belle Greer
Photos: Stephen Tilley, Instagram

This article originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly Issue 1, 2019.


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