Listening to Lana del Rey’s songs one cannot deny she’s one of the most authentic and evocative songwriters of our time. That’s why it wasn’t surprising when last year she released her first poetry book, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.
Del Rey’s lyrics have been improving with every album and she has always been outspoken, both in her songs and in interviews, about her literary and musical influences, among which we can mention Vladimir Nabokov, Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison, Sylvia Plath and T.S. Eliot. The aesthetic line she has been following in her career is perhaps more evident in her poetry debut.
I thought of the book as a continuation or maybe a consolidation of the poetic statements she has been outlining in her music. Back in 2012, Lana Del Rey released the music video for her song “Ride”; in it, we can find some sort of manifesto, spoken by her before the song begins. There she mentions the aesthetic elements of her compositions as well as her life philosophy, which is, in turn, her view on what art should be. The American Dream, honesty in writing, an obsession with freedom, a nostalgic patriotism and her view on vulnerable feminity are all there and I could not help seeing all these things in her new book.
Alongside these themes, I believe there’s a motif that underlies all the poems, including the one that gives the book its title, “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass”. Del Rey resists vehemently the idea that life imitates art, she seems to think it is the other way around. There is a (very criticized) line in a poem which reads, “You see/ I’m a real poet”. What could be seen as an egotistical statement is only another clue as to what she believes is poetry. It follows: “My life is my poetry/My lovemaking is my legacy”. This line is familiar with a fragment of her Ride monologue: “Nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing we desired anymore, except to make our lives into a work of art.” and several lyrics from her last album, Norman Fucking Rockwell.
I believe that, reading this poetry book as a part of a bigger thing, we could begin to fathom the poetics of Lana Del Rey, a philosophy in which living is the real art-making. Thus, every poem and song is only an incomplete part, a glimpse or a memento of a wider, imperfect and unfinished work of art. This explains the obsession Del Rey has with authenticity and the little editing she did of her poems; she seems to be against a refined and over-planned piece of art, she sacrifices artifice and technique for feeling and rawness as if that is the only way the poems could become a part of that wider work of art that is her life.
This approach also explains why this book reads more as a fragmented autobiography than as a book of poems. Most of the poems can be read as anecdotes and that is, I believe, the greatest weakness of the book. While her songs are evocative and measured in the use of language, the book is sometimes too descriptive; while her songs are statements, the book seems to try hard to justify or explain these statements, something I don not think necessary.
That being said, the book is also a fresh glimpse into Del Rey’s life and some fragments of her poems are just as hauntingly musical as her best songs. I enjoyed both reading the book and listening to it in her voice, the poems I liked the most were “Sports Cruiser”, “Bare Feet on Linoleum”, “Never to Heaven” and “L.A. Who Am I To Love You”. Do I think she’s a real poet? Yes.
Do you guys like Lana Del Rey? Have you read Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass? I really recommend to listen to the poems on YouTube.
I am now reading Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse and I think it is one of those books that change lives, so I’m excited.