by Anissa Sanchez
I’m a real poet
My life is my poetry
My lovemaking is my legacy.”
Lana Del Rey’s first published book of poetry, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, features poems that the female singer-songwriter has written over the years. Released in September of this year, Del Rey’s collection of over twenty poems and ten haikus emits a nostalgic ambience through typewritten manuscripts of her poetry, which are digitally scanned before being printed in the book. As a result, there are multiple typos and markups on the original pages, all of which fit the authentic aesthetic. Additionally, the inclusion of evocative original photographs brings to life the sentimental and idyllic imagery that fans are already familiar with. Del Rey’s confessional poetry offers a glimpse into her own introspective way of thinking as well as her personal attachment to the L.A. area.
Those who have listened to Lana Del Rey’s music once, or even to her entire discography, would know that while melancholia is at the core of each song, it is almost always joined with meditative lyrics. Her works of poetry do not stray far from this concept, as there is a sense of wistfulness that tends to linger after coming to the conclusion of each poem. Moreover, Del Rey skillfully interweaves in her own outlooks on certain subjects. The title poem “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass” is the first reflection of the poet’s receptive spirit. Upon entering a house party, the poet sees a young girl in the backyard “arched like a bridge in a fallen handstand / grinning wildly like a madman / with the exuberance that only doing nothing can bring.” Catching sight of the girl’s carefree happiness, Del Rey muses “and in that moment / I decided to do nothing about everything / forever.” This opening poem was the first of many that Lana Del Rey would compose and it paves the path for the journey of outspokenness that the poet will embark on.
Among other poems in the book with a similar candid theme, “Sportcruiser” is possibly the closest look into Del Rey’s personal life. In it, she exposes her vulnerability and self-doubt that she comes to realize has been lying dormant within herself. In what the poet calls a “midlife meltdown navigational exercise in self-examination,” she details her experiences signing up for flying lessons on her 33rd birthday, followed by sailing lessons, which led her to become aware of her lack of self-trust. When flying an airplane, she becomes afraid of potentially making an error, to which the pilot takes notice and “not tactfully and not gently” comments on her incapability of truly trusting herself. Del Rey takes his remark to heart, writing, “I didn’t trust myself / not just 2500 ft. above the coast of Malibu / but with anything. I could have said something but I was quiet / because pilots aren’t like poets / they don’t make metaphors between life and the sky.”
This feeling of discontent carries over to her experience taking sailing lessons on “the vibrant bay of Marina Del Rey,” where the sailor offers her constructive advice that gives her something to look forward to. From this, she is able to gain a deeper sense of trust in herself. Deciding against mentioning it to the captain, she explains, “because captains aren’t like poets / they don’t make metaphors between the sea and sky.” From her trips, Del Rey concludes, “all of this circumnavigating the earth / was to get back to my life / 6 trips to the moon for my poetry to arise / I’m not a captain / I’m not a pilot / I write / I write.” Thanks to the instructive remarks from both the aviator and sailorman, Del Rey discovers the difference between them and her: she writes to dissect her observational sentiments toward life. Unlike others who might have a pragmatic approach to life, Del Rey proves to naturally romanticize life in all its complicated aspects.
In another achingly compassionate piece, Lana Del Rey expresses her devotion to Los Angeles with an ode written to the city and how this love/hate relationship has an essential influence on her life. The fourth featured poem, “LA Who am I to Love you?”recounts Del Rey’s past memories within the city and how she has grown to love it. The poet writes from a first person point of view and uses the pronoun “you” to directly refer to the city itself. She confesses, “I’m lonely LA / can I come home now? / I left my city for San Francisco / I’m writing from the golden gate bridge but it’s not going as planned.” The confessional voice of the poem reveals just how much Del Rey feels a sense of belonging to Los Angeles. She continues, “I am an orphan / a little seashell that rests upon your native shores / one of many that’s for sure but because of that / I surely must love you closely to the most out of anyone.” In particular, this poem sees Del Rey on a reflective and longing reminiscence of her life in California. By adoringly personifying the city, Del Rey has a one-way conversation with Los Angeles and begs for their acceptance, showcasing her ability to write in various poetic forms.
Lana Del Rey also demonstrates her aptitude in the visual arts area, accompanying her lines of poetry with an array of photographs. It is easy to distinguish which photographs are of Del Rey’s own collection and those that are from other artists, as many of the singer’s photographs of different landscapes, power lines, and highways appear as if they were taken from behind the steering wheel of her car. Nonetheless, the grainy and low resolution of her photographs support the book’s nostalgic appeal. For example, following “LA Who am I to Love you?” there is a photo of the Paramount movie studios, and after the poem “The Land of 1000 fires,” we see zoomed in pictures of a rock quarry and the water tower of the city of Vernon, California, which is mentioned several times within the poem. These pictures, along with the vibrant oil paintings by artist Erika Lee Sears, who is also responsible for the cover art, synchronizes readers with Del Rey’s mindset and allows us to see her unique artistic vision.
In addition, Del Rey offers a spoken word album of her poetry in her own voice. Set to an understated musical backdrop that highlights the solemn tone, Del Rey enchantingly delivers her poetry much like an actress reciting her lines. The inclusion of music alongside Del Rey’s voice allows for the poetry to be interpreted in a different light, one that seems more immersive and cinematic. Perhaps the first time fans heard the singer experimenting with reciting poetic lines was in her 2012 music video “Ride,” where she notably states “it takes getting everything you ever wanted, and then losing it, to know what true freedom is.” Again in 2015, Del Rey included a spoken delivery of poetry in her fourth studio album Honeymoon. Only this time, Del Rey recited T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton and included it on the album as an interlude set to dreamlike music. These are the two most similar examples of what listeners can expect to hear on Del Rey’s audio performance – a work that very nearly compares to her past music. The spoken format amplifies the emotional appeal of the poems, though the book does this considerably well on its own, further revealing Del Rey’s attachment to her experiences conveyed in her written words.
Lana Del Rey’s new book of poetry allows readers to ride on her wavelength for a time, transporting us out of the current time and into a world of her own – something that is indispensable, taking into consideration the chaos this year has seen. While her poetry may not be highly relatable for most, it is still powerful and articulate in its metaphysical verses. Her successful music career aside, Del Rey showcases her natural aptitude to write exceptional works of poetry that hold close purpose to her life experiences. The combination of original poetry and photography has created an imaginative tableau that directly captures the somewhat starry-eyed spirit of Del Rey. With interspersed references to Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and Jim Morrison, Lana Del Rey’s poetry is saturated with a sense of realism and optimism, solidifying her position as the epitome of contemporary poets in our current time. Although Del Rey may take inspiration from these famous poets, her own poems are distinctively authentic on their own and deserve to be interpreted for the bohemian candor which they sincerely embody.