Singer Lana Del Rey brings her ethereal storytelling to life with her debut poetry collection, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass. In it, Del Rey reminisces on her once-concealed existence—creating an out-of-body, impostor syndrome feel that leads us on a suffocating journey through her meandering psyche.
Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass features 30 poems in hardcover, 14 of which are available as an audiobook read by Del Rey. Whether in written or audiobook form, the six-time Grammy-nominee’s poetry is honest and eclectic as she strips away her life stardom and scrupulously judges its value at her own expense.
This dehumanization is a spiritual continuation of Normal F***ing Rockwell!, her universally acclaimed psychedelic rock album from 2019. Accompanied by Jack Antonoff’s euphoric sound, a long-time collaborator of Del Rey, the audiobook makes for an introspective listen throughout its fine-tuned poetic landscape.
In this collection, Del Rey becomes incognito to embrace the poetry’s existential feel. She isn’t Lana, rather, she’s a millennial Californian named Elizabeth Grant (ironically, the singer’s birth name), clinging to past love and fame. A famous New York City runaway, Grant yearns for some cosmic lift-off into even greater fame—one that never arrives.
Our protagonist has a kitsch femininity that’s always heartbroken and without solace. Like the “Summertime Sadness” singer’s past work—Grant fantasizes about 1950s California, where many dreams are born to die.
Del Rey’s standout poem, “LA Who Am I to Love You?” addresses this cursed dream as she laments the city that famously houses rejects. It’s an idyllically down-trodden poem that best captures the LA’s disappointment. Grant left her boyfriend to pursue greatness, yet, the city lies in her bed, “vaping lightly next to [her].” After its comforting welcome, Los Angeles ultimately provides Grant with nothing but a smoking companion when the nights grow colder.
“Sport Cruiser” is another melancholic poem, one in which flying and sailing lessons symbolize life’s tidal changes and insecurities. For Grant, these lessons aren’t a leisurely pursuit but a “midlife meltdown navigational exercise in self-examination.” Throughout this long poem, Grant abandons her hopes of greater fame and instead hopes to remain unrecognized as a once flourishing New York City singer. A desire to learn how to navigate the world soon becomes an excuse to doubt her own abilities.
In her penultimate poem, “Paradise is Very Fragile,” Del Rey takes a break from introspection and focuses on the world around her. She criticizes the “megalomaniac” Donald Trump and addresses the oft-politicized environmental issues of climate change, rising sea levels, and Californian wildfires, all of which further dampen LA’s appeal. As the poem progresses, Del Rey conflates her personal distress with humanity’s irreversible harm of the earth: “I always had something gentle to give/all of me in fact/ it’s one of the beautiful things about me/it’s one of the beautiful things about nature.”
Del Rey’s attentiveness to nature transcends the poetry itself, as she dedicates this work to the Navajo Water Project, which seeks to bring clean, running water to all American families. Following this initiative, the singer seeks to release a spoken word album in the coming months, of which half of its proceeds will benefit Native American organizations around the country, preserving Native rights and keeping their lands intact.
Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass offers us a window into Del Rey’s conflicted persona. It’s a sanitized version of the singer’s hurt that, like her music, remains benevolent and romanticised. She weaves this confliction throughout her poetry collection, combining her usual lackadaisical pop-star millennial flair with high Americana society.
Lana Del Rey invites us into her imaginative mind with this magnificent debut poetry collection. It’s easy to get lost in her verbose descriptiveness and occasional generic romanticism. But it’s her sincere narration that truly draws us deeper into the stories, allowing us to witness what’s afflicting her now and empathize with her vulnerabilities.