Ava Macatlang hasn’t slept in the last 30 hours but she has no regrets. Such is the draw of her favourite poet, Lang Leav.
The 36-year-old nurse from Al Ain drove to Dubai straight after a 24-hour shift – just one of over a hundred fans from all over the UAE who thronged Leav’s book-signing event on Saturday. Athari Hesham, 23, a research analyst, had come up from Abu Dhabi and her friend Saif Al Shamsi from Al Ain.
The soft-spoken author and poet from New Zealand was in the UAE for the Sharjah International Book Fair but also met fans at two Dubai bookstores, gamely agreeing to requests to read out favourite pieces and answering curious questions about her writing process and inspiration. She also chatted at length with Friday about her debut novel, Sad Girls, which released in May this year; her upcoming novel; and about poetry, her first love.
‘After my panel at Sharjah Book Fair ended, I said I’ll sign some books and I was completely mobbed – I’ve got more fans here than I realised! That was really exciting and wonderful.’
Borders had to close the queue that snaked to the back of the store; the event at Kinokuniya at The Dubai Mall ran over time, proof that poetry is very much alive in the hearts and on the bookshelves of readers. That’s in great part because of the contemporary wave of Instagram poets like Leav, who use social media to reach their audience.
‘What I love about her work is that it’s so right on the spot every time. Every word is meant for you and anything that you’re going through. It’s very relatable at any age’ said Jane Trance, 30, in line at Borders.
The answer to what makes Leav’s writing so relatable is as old as time – it’s about love.
Love is the over-arching theme in her four collections of poetry and it’s a big driving force in the plot of Sad Girls, too. ‘I think love is a universal thing. I don’t think there are very many people in the world who haven’t experienced love and lost to a certain extent. It is something so inherently human… it’s the essence of life,’ Leav tells me.
The author is definitely on to something because readers love the love: ‘It’s amazing to [meet] someone who’s shared so many of their stories using poetry and turning [themes of] loving and relationships and heartbreak into this amazing form of art … To me it’s not just poetry, it’s so much more,’ explains 22-year-old Saif as he exited the queue clutching his signed copy of Lullabies.
While that has worked in the favour of poetry sales, bumping profits to a record Dh48 million last year according to a study by Nielsen Book Research, some critics bemoan that it is oversimplification.
The author points out classic poets like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, two of her biggest inspirations, also wrote simplistically. ‘Sometimes it’s easy to write something complicated and convoluted things but to be able to distil an emotion or a sentiment and turn into few words that punctuate with clarity – it’s not an easy thing.’
Teenagers Esther, Sarah and Loudrie, 15-year-old students from The Winchester School in Jebel Ali, say they have been inspired by Leav to write poetry. ‘Seeing the person that you really idolise and want to be like and messing up your English in the five-second interval that you get to meet her was embarrassing,’ laughs Sarah, ‘but it’s been a dream come true.’