Last year in her song ‘The Greatest’ Lana Del Rey, with an eerie prescience, predicted the nightmarish world we are now living in. She sang about how the world was burning, how she missed New York, missed the music, how Kanye West was gone, how the livestream was on…calling it the greatest loss of them all. We didn’t know what we had til it was gone.
Some albums win end of year polls and are forgotten as soon as the year turns. Others define the mood of a whole era, and for me Norman Fucking Rockwell, with its bittersweet odes to our painful modern reality, does just that.
The final song on the album ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it’ is a necessary reminder that even in dystopian, pandemic hell we must need to cling to beauty, music, poetry, hope above all else.
In that song Lana described herself as 24/7 Sylvia Plath, which some may raise an eyebrow at – after all this is an artist who has long used such reference points as part of her glamodrama musical aesthetic. But this was no throwaway lyric. Lana was serious about writing poetry and has now published her first collection Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.
Lyrics can be poetry, poetry can be lyrics. What Lana offers us here is a mixture between the two, some words that cry out to be sung, others that live happily left on the page. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a woman who has ambitions to be something other than just a reflection of what the world wants a pop star to be.
The aesthetic of the book itself is stunning – a mixture of typewritten poems, fragments, paintings and photographs. Her poetry beautifully explores her connection to place, like in ‘LA Who Am I To Love You?’, which is rooted in her dream of Hollywood glamour and vintage Americana imagery.
The haikus are smart and full of knowing winks at the reader’s expectations. Yes she’s still concerned with doomed romance, but you sense she’s enjoying writing about love freely without worrying about having to sing these words on stage every night. On ‘Salamander’ she writes pointedly about the clash between her artistic dreams and her fears with a sharp eye for truth and detail. When she writes ‘you see I’m a real poet / my life is my poetry’ it might sound pretentious or self-indulgent out of context but within the collection it’s partly aimed at those people who have dismissed her work and also serves as a gentle mockery of her own self image. By the end of the collection she has written her own future: Lana Del Rey, poet.
Courtney Love once said she wanted every girl in the world to pick up a guitar and start screaming. In the final section of this book Lana Del Rey offers instead an invitation for every girl in the world to pick up a pen and become a poet. If that’s her legacy then she will have done more than enough to silence the skeptics and any snobbish critic who might dismiss the need for this collection.
‘Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass’ succeeds by reflecting the artist, offering a book of sweet, sweet beauty. Eat it with sugar.