With her bold red lipstick, strawberry hair and classic jet black eyeliner, Lana Del Rey has been an icon in the music industry since her debut single, “Video Games,” in 2011. Now, the singer-songwriter is moving into the literary world with her poetry book “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.”
She released the book as a hardcover and also made a “spoken-word album” in the form of an audiobook, where she reads 14 poems from the collection and features music from Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and producer Jack Antonoff.
The hardcover book includes over 30 vulnerable, honest and self-exploratory poems. When I first flipped through the book I was taken aback by the tear marks, coffee stains, handwritten notes and the snapshots of Los Angeles, California. Del Rey wanted the book to feel handmade, like the reader was just handed a looking glass into her mind. She wanted us to see the pages she cried on, the nights she stayed up spilling her iced coffee, the pages she’d scrawled notes on and the places these poems were written about.
“Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass” is an homage to LA and the lifestyle that goes along with it — the good, the bad and the ugly. In my favorite poem, “LA Who Am I to Love You,” Del Rey describes an estranged singer in a city where she feels alienated. Some noteworthy lines from the poem are “LA, not quite the city that never sleeps / Not quite the city that wakes, but the city that dreams, for sure / If by dreams you mean in nightmares” and “LA I’m upset, listen to me. I sold my life rights for a big check.”
The poem explores many themes present in Del Rey’s musical discography, such as the music industry and the corruption that lurks within it, feelings of isolation, glamour, self-hatred and romanticization of the city. With Del Rey’s voice reading with perfect cadence and rhythm, as well as beautiful piano chords being played in the background, listeners get a feeling of mystical melancholy.
Del Rey has a love-hate relationship with LA, ending the poem by saying, “There’s only one place for me … I can’t sleep without you, I feel your body next to me, smoking next to me, vaping lightly next to me, and I love that you love the neon lights like me.” She describes the city as a lover, someone who makes her feel lonely but also brings her comfort. “I’m yours if you’ll have me / But regardless, you’re mine.” Del Rey is unsure that she fits into the city’s ideals, but she loves it nonetheless. The poem ends fading away into the same piano chords, and readers and listeners are left hungry for more.
The Independent quoted Del Rey, saying that she “tore apart every word until she was able to write the perfect poem.” I take issue with this; while each poem undeniably has a rhythmic and stylistic choice that is deliberate, there is a certain level of candid self-reflection which makes the book perfectly imperfect. While many of the lines are beautiful, they also have a sort of conversational tone of a girl pouring her emotions into a diary.
Del Rey explained to Vogue that she had no intention of releasing the book until she was approached by Simon & Schuster, who asked to publish it. She wrote “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass” during her two-year break from music.
The passion project was created by accident, and she ended up accumulating enough photography and poetry to make it into a collection. When asked what her poetic inspirations were, Del Rey responded that she doesn’t read much poetry anymore. Instead, she found inspiration from the lives of great writers, naming F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck.
As a fan of Del Rey for years, I’ve always viewed her lyrics as a sort of poetry. Her albums tell an idyllic story, which used to bring her under fire for portraying a character instead of writing “real” music. Del Rey insisted that she “Never had a persona. Never needed one. Never will.”
“Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass” is a must-have read — or listen — for any Del Rey fan who wants to get a closer look into the inner workings of her mind. However, even for those who are not personal fans of her music, there is a poetic beauty and old-Hollywood glamour aesthetic to the audiobook and hard copy that make this collection appealing to a wide audience. Whether her stories are fictionalized or not, they are very real in the emotions they invoke and about her relationship to Hollywood.
Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. She’s a media studies and literature dual major and loves her pugs, iced coffee and Timothée Chalamet movies.