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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Lana Del Rey – Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass

By Katie Powers

Lana Del Rey’s debut poetry collection and accompanying spoken word album, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, offers lyrical musings on self-actualization in the wake of heartbreak. 

Lana Del Rey is a seasoned wordsmith, who, across her six albums, uses imagery and world-building to explore themes of love, sex, and the American Dream at its most thrilling and most devastating junctures.  Violet Bent Over the Grass (Simon and Schuster) is hardly a departure from her previous work, as she’s incorporated spoken word into her video projects Ride (2012) and Tropico (2013) to elevate her music and visual performance. Many of the poems in her book are meta in nature, referencing the power she holds as a writer and the strength behind her own story. 

The production of the accompanying audiobook is simple. Del Rey reads each poem over subdued music by Jack Antonoff, the producer of her critically acclaimed 2019 album Norman Fucking Rockwell. Antonoff’s contributions are vital to the competency of the project, capturing the sentiment behind each track. Del Rey utilizes a stream of conscious approach in each of the poems featured in the book and on the album which turns her words into wholly authentic emblems, even when she is presenting an exceedingly romanticized scenario or a multifaceted metaphor.  Stripped of the glamorous aesthetic that she’s known for, her brand of sullen beauty suddenly feels more relatable in this format.

The book’s opening poem, “LA Who Am I To Love You” instantly situates the reader or listener into the singer’s headspace as she contemplates her complicated relationship with LA and an issue that’s plagued her career and personal life. The poem positions her as lost and disconnected both from LA as a physical place and from her own mind.  

“Salamander” captures the book’s theme of harnessing language and storytelling as a means for freedom and control. It’s also heavy-handed in its use of imagery, featuring lines that feel distracting in their candor and their edginess. “My life is my poetry, my lovemaking is my legacy! / My thoughts are about nothing, and beautiful, and for free,” she recites. Still, Del Rey recites this poem with such earnestness that it’s easy to stay focused on the inner world she invites the reader to explore in the poem. 

“Sportcruiser” is the longest poem in the book and on the album, but it’s also, far and away,  the most powerful. “Sportcruiser” is a story of discovering oneself again and taking back control in the fallout of heartbreak and offers a grounded message of growth and self-actualization. Through various lessons in captaining a boat, and piloting and driving a cruiser, the speaker, who is presumably Del Rey, attempts to connect with lost pieces of themselves again:

“Don’t tell anyone, but part of my reasoning for taking the flight class, was this idea that if/I could become my own navigator/The captain of the sky,/That perhaps I could stop looking for direction / from you.”

FROM VIOLET BENT BACKWARDS OVER THE GRASS

The language is simple and straightforward but effectively introspective, pulling elements from narrative fiction through dialogue between the speaker and the poem’s various characters. The poem ends in a meta moment of self-realization for the speaker: her greatest tool, she discovers, is her ability to write. “I’m not a captain / I’m not a pilot / I write! / I write,” Del Rey recites in the poem’s closing. It also features callbacks to Norman Fucking Rockwell, suggesting the poem centers around the deterioration of the relationship featured in “Mariner’s Apartment Complex.”

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass was released on September 28. Half of the proceeds from the book and accompanying spoken word album will be donated to The Navajo Water Project

@katieeepowers is an Illinois-based creative whose work has appeared in Marketing News and The Chicago Reader. Topics in her inkwell include gendered marketing, women in music, and indie theatre.

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