Book review: “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass” by Lana Del Rey


Photo Courtesy of NME

Story by Ashley Barrientos/Contributing Writer

Bittersweet hues of loneliness, regret, heartbreak and wistfulness are gently colored in between the stanzas of Lana Del Rey’s debut poetry book, “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass,” which released on September 29. Del Rey is primarily recognized as an American singer-songwriter whose musical style is known for tones of romanticized heartbreak and female empowerment.

She warmly invites her readers into this haunting collection of graveyard dreams and private thoughts with a sincere dedication worth noting: “To whomever’s worn, warm afternoon hands come upon these pages—wherever you may find them—and that you may remember that the world is conspiring for you and to act in a manner as such.”

Explicit references and subtle allusions to Shakespeare, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Unchained Melody,” Bob Dylan and Greek mythology are peppered throughout this little book of self-reflection and self-examination. It should also be noted that the state of California seems to be the primary setting/location of her poems, which lines up with her Americana aesthetic, songs, and music videos.

In a soft and poignant manner, Del Rey’s poetry collection mainly invokes woe, solitude and remorse. In “SportCruiser,” she hints at her bouts of self-doubt and her hopeless romanticizing. She writes, “Pathetic I know, but sometimes I still like to park on that street / and have lunch in the car just to feel close to you.” Throughout this poem she also mentions flying and boating lessons she has recently taken, but her lack of success in these two activities symbolizes a much deeper meaning, ultimately painting a sense of insecurity and failure in herself.

She writes of an AA meeting in “Thanks to the Locals,” where she shared her story that resembled a battered housewife’s tale. “The man that I love hates me. / But it would be easier to stay,” she confesses. This poem focuses more on the toxic relationships of her past and how they made her tired, damaged and bruised. She also writes:

But there’s always been just a little tiny piece of me inside

the size of a small sliver of angel cake that knew

somewhere somehow

That I deserved better than someone like you.

Her poem “Bare feet on linoleum” hints at her brewing identity crisis, indicating that she is lost and aimlessly wandering. Del Rey expresses this interpretation through her pensive and slow-moving words:

Or should I just be here now

In the kitchen

Bare feet on linoleum

Bored—but not unhappy

Cutting vegetables over boiling water that I will later turn

into stew.

She is a homeless soul, looking for something or someone to revive her spirit.

Within one of her strongest poems in this collection, “LA Who am I to Love You?” she reflects on her fame, fortune and everything it has cost her. In this ode to Los Angeles, she personifies the city in a haunting and heartbreaking way, illustrating her bleak loneliness, as well as poor mental health habits that presumably resulted from past abusive relationships.

She explains how she is both motherless and daughterless, asking LA: “Can I raise your mountains? / I promise to keep them greener and make them my daughters.” This question expands on the melancholy undertones of solitude already witnessed in this poetry collection.

She goes on to convey her distress, writing, “I sold my life rights for a big check/ but now I can’t sleep at night and I don’t know why,” expressing a common celebrity trope.

Similarly, in “happy,” she declares, “People think that i’m rich and i am but not how they think.” These somber references to her fame and fortune add on to the amount of distress she is revealing through these poems.

Tinges of independence and strength can be found in “What happened when I left you,” sharply contrasting her poems’ predominant themes of sorrow:

My life is sweet like lemonade now there’s no bitter fruit

eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

no thought of you

The “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” reference alludes to a couple erasing each other from their memories.

Additionally, in the poem “My bedroom is a sacred place now – There are children at the foot of my bed,” Del Rey momentarily seems to reaffirm a sense of her identity. She goes on to elaborate on her love for Rose Gardens, violets, Yosemite National Park, claiming:

I go on trips to the beach with my friends who don’t know

that I’m crazy.

I can do that.

I can do anything—

even leave you

This poem exudes the confidence of a powerful idol, the one Del Rey always seems to put on display for her fans and the whole world to see. This is the character people seem more comfortable and familiar with. However, the themes of this poem actually differ from the rest.

Lastly, in “Paradise is Very Fragile,” she discusses social issues, mainly reflecting on climate change in its American context. She writes:

down here in Florida we are fighting toxic red tides.

Massive fish kills

Not to mention hurricanes and rising sea levels

Back in Los Angeles things aren’t looking much better

With this mention of the hurricanes and wildfires that have been swirling through America, she also makes a not-so-subtle reference to the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Del Rey writes, “Our leader is a megalomaniac and we’ve seen that before / but never because it was what the country deserved.” In this politically charged poem, she leaves readers with an eerie feeling of what is to come when earth is met with complete and utter disregard for herself.

Reading through this collection of poems was like stepping into a dainty flower shop; each poem was like smelling different floral arrangements for her odes to lovers, L.A., lost dreams and the mothers and daughters she never had.

The poems are mostly free-styled, and towards the end she gifts the readers with a mini-series of haikus. This is evidently more of a beginner’s poetry book, rather than an advanced form of poetry. In some places it feels more like a rambling diary entry than a real poem. However, the vivid imagery, brave discussion of taboo topics and the collection’s beautifully romanticized features provide readers with an unforgettable experience of what it’s like to run through Del Rey’s mind, which is still greatly appreciated.

This double-edged culmination of all her uplifting and dampening musings paints Del Rey in a previously unseen light. She has always depicted herself as a strong, wildly successful and empowering cultural icon, and these extremely intimate and personal poems provide her fans and others with deep insight into who she finds herself becoming.

 

To contact Lifestyles Editor Brandon Black, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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