Celebrity’s books and poetry collections haven’t been something I’ve bothered with in the past. I tend to have more of a cynical approach to them because more often than not they only get a book deal because of their popularity and can’t write. Unless the book is written by a ghost writer, the books tend to be a disappointment. It’s harsh but I see them as money grabs. However, I am always open to be proved wrong in my assumptions so when I found out that singer Lana Del Rey had released a poetry collection my interest was spiked.
In my teenage years Lana Del Rey’s songs were a stable in my playlist, she just had a way with words that I loved so much. That’s the reason I picked up her poetry collection and not some other celebrities’ book – she could write good lyrics and there is a cross over between lyric writing and poetry.
A bit about the collection
“Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass is the title poem of the book and the first poem I wrote of many”.
Lana Del Rey
The book is both a poetry collection and a picture book, with a vintage aesthetic. All the poems are in a traditional typewriter font that adds to the striking visuals this collection will give you. I read on so many websites and reviews that the photos were her original photos but at the back of the book it does say that interior black-and-white archival photographs are found, and anonymous images excerpted from the artist’s book Voyagers. So, whilst all interior colour photos are by Lana Del Rey and the black-and-white photos on the second, third, sixth and ninth haikus are also hers, not every photo is hers despite the claims you’ll read.
The collection contains 22 full lengths, free verse poems, 10 haikus, 5 blank pages for notes and a spectacular 62 pages of images (many of the photos are full spread so take up two pages a time). In regard to the poetry, it’s closer to a chapbook than a full collection, with chapbooks more traditionally having 30 poems with a collection being 30 – 100. It is a collection if you count the haikus, but I’ll get onto that later on.
The theming of the collection holds true to her style of song writing. Most of them are love poems talking about an ex-lover, but they are a little more personal than you’d hear in one of her songs. The more reflective poems do link quite closely to talking about LA and don’t go to deep beyond that.
Unsurprisingly Lana Del Rey has a way with words in this collection. I wasn’t completely sure how her style of writing would translate to poetry but overall, she shows good use of form and control of her words. She uses vivid and beautiful imagery to take you one a journey as your read her poems. She also uses alliteration perfectly, there’s this amazing section in What happened when I left you that reads:
“Perfect petals punctuate the fabric yellow blue
silver platters with strawberries strewn across the room.”
That is amazing use of alliteration and I love it even more every time I read it. It’s very easy to make alliteration a bit cheesy and clunky, but the way she balances the soft ‘p’ sounds with the slightly harsher ‘s’ in strawberries strewn is amazing.
I also appreciated her decision to show some of the drafts of her work against the finished poem. One example of this is the poems Never to Heaven that on the left page has the draft with notes and scribbles all over it and then on the right page is the final version of that same poem. You can see how the poem changed through the editing process. Would that be something I’d do in my own collection? No, I don’t have the guts to do that, but I appreciate the vulnerability it shows as well as the confidence in her writing.
There were a few things I wasn’t too keen on with this collection, the first being the photos and the haikus. Aesthetically I LOVED the photos, but practically they really didn’t work for me. The first few photos alongside a poem were cute, it gave me this scrapbook vibe that was nice. But when you’ve flicked through your third double spread photo, things were boring, and it felt as if they were there to just bulk out the book. I respect that the photos aren’t of her, I think it would have been so easy to fill it with pictures of herself, and I’m glad they were mainly landscape shots, but they just felt like they were there to make the book longer. The same goes for the ten haikus at the end.
I will admit haikus are my least favourite form of poetry. They can be incredibly powerful if the poet has been taught how to do them correctly. But because it’s an incredibly accessible form, many people write them and just don’t do it well. For me, Lana’s haikus were too vague and lacked personality. I also think it was a big mistake having them all bunched at the end of the book.
Remember what I said earlier on about chapbooks being under 30 poems long? Well without those haikus Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass wouldn’t have technically been a poetry collection, it would have been considered a chapbook by most people. It’s only those ten haikus that push it over the 30 mark. I don’t think the average reader will notice this at all, but as a poet myself and someone who’s studies poetry, it really looks like they were just there to bulk it out. The solution to this would have been to spread them out evenly throughout the whole collection and not have them bunched at the end. If they’d been spread out more, I honestly don’t think I would have noticed them, nor would I come away from the collection feeling a little bit dissatisfied that the ending was just there to bulk things out.
I also want to touch on the collection’s theme very quickly. Most of the poems have something to do with love, whether that is love of the self (we love to see that), a love for a location (LA mainly) or even an ex-lover. Personally, not my cup of tea because I like poems that explore abstract issues, but I didn’t lower my review because it wasn’t my thing. I understand this is purely my personal preference and I know loads of people who will love the theme of the collection. If you enjoy a raw insight into someone’s love life and how that’s shaped them as a person, this will be perfect for you. As I said before, the control of form and imagery in this collection is amazing, so if you enjoy that sort of theming, you’ll love this collection.
How I think about it when it comes to books and poetry collections written by celebrities is ‘would this sell if it didn’t have the celebrities name attached?’ and in the case of Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, I think it would. Yes, I had a few niggles about the photos, the haikus and the theme isn’t really my thing, but I did enjoy this collection. Lana Del Rey has a really impressive poetic voice that did not disappoint me at all.