After much teasing, Lana Del Rey’s first poetry release ‘Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass’ is finally here. “They are eclectic and honest and not trying to be anything other than what they are,” the musician has said of the poems that feature on the spoken word release (a hardcover book featuring more of her written work will follow on September 29).
It’s a fascinating project – one that sees her explore topics such as love, trust, happiness, friendship, climate change and more, with the audiobook version set to music composed by Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff. She pulls off these musings and observations brilliantly, creating a new offshoot of the very specific world she’s created as Lana Del Rey. Here are the biggest talking points from the record.
‘Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass’ is full of vibrant little details
It’s no surprise that Lana’s poetry is beautiful and vivid – she’s always been a master lyricist and long spoken of her love of the likes of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, after all. What makes ‘Violet…’ so brilliant, though, are the little details that light up her passages, giving glimpses into her (or someone else’s) life. There’s the boyfriend box full of receipts and movie tickets from old loves lost, the orchids planted in the garden every time a relationship dies. The flying lessons full of self-doubt and the sailing lessons she’s self-conscious to begin in case people recognise her and tell her she doesn’t belong down at the docks of California’s Marina Del Rey (of course!). Treehouses built by people long dead burn down in forest fires and quiet waiters waiting to be picked up in Lana’s truck after work. These are vibrant, three-dimensional vignettes to burrow into.
Jack Antonoff’s musical backings are the perfect accompaniments
Her writing and producing partner on 2019 album ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ is a great collaborator – his backings creating the perfect atmosphere for Lana’s tales, accompanying her with soft, smoky jazz lilts or, as with ‘Bare Feet On The Linoleum’’s discordant, chaotic layers of strings. The tone-setting takes are just as important to the ‘Violet…’ experience as Lana’s words themselves – too much or too little would throw the whole balance off, but these foundations get it just right.
It’s an incredibly intimate listen
If you’ve ever wanted to have Lana read you a bedtime story, this audiobook is your chance. Her delivery is soothing and calm, somehow even when her voice is quickening and contorting with emotion. Sometimes the mic crackles like she’s a little too close to it and other times there’s a lo-fi sheen over the whole recording. On final track ‘Bare Feet On Linoleum’, a cacophony of voices clamour behind Lana, as though you’re sat in the corner of a busy dive bar or stood in a TV shop with the volume on every set turned up. The effects of each are a cosy kind of intimacy, as though she’s laying out these stories just for you.
There are some overlaps with ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’
Listen carefully throughout ‘Violet…’ and you’ll notice some little nods to ‘NFR!’. That makes sense – some of these poems were written while Lana was working on that album. On ‘Paradise Is Very Fragile’, the musician-turned-poet addresses climate change and the Trump presidency, as she did on ‘The Greatest’. “My friends tell me to stop calling 911 on the culture,” she says at one point, a line reminiscent of that song’s lyrics. She mentions a “stupid apartment complex” on ‘Sport Cruiser’ (perhaps the same one from ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’?) and, on guitar-backed ‘Never To Heaven’, she delves into the concepts of hope and happiness and having faith in good, as with ‘NFR! track ‘Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have – but I Have It’. Perhaps when her next album ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ is released in September we’ll find more Easter eggs in there too.
Could it win Lana her first Grammy?
She might have been nominated for the Grammys five times over the years, but somehow Lana is still yet to take home one of those golden gramophones. In a just world (or at least one where she wasn’t up against Billie Eilish), she would have headed up to the winner’s podium for the first time this year to claim Album Of The Year for ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’, but it wasn’t to be. ‘Violet…’ could take her on an unexpected path to her first Grammy, though – there is a Best Spoken Word Album category, after all. The audiobook was released within the eligibility period for the 2021 awards and would make her the youngest winner of the award in quite some time (recent victors include Michelle Obama, former US President Jimmy Carter and Joan Rivers). It’s certainly good enough to take home the honour.
Who is Tessa DiPietro?
Although some of ‘Violet…’’s characters are named, there’s only one whose full name also serves as the title of one poem: Tessa DiPietro. The titular woman is a real person – “a healer on Sixth Street in Ridgely” who Lana has visited. This isn’t first time she’s referenced Tessa. though. Last July Lana shared a Facebook post of some book and audiobook recommendations with her fans. “Thank you to Tessa DiPietro, an out of this world intuitive healer for recommending this a while ago,” she wrote of Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ spiritual 2011 text Untie The Strong Woman.
Lana wants you to know she’s rich in happiness
When NME met up with Lana in LA last August, she spoke about the perception of her as a “sad girl” and argued that allowing herself to feel those lows “sometimes makes me actually more cheerful than some people I know, because I gave myself permission to have a lot of colours”. On the new poem ‘Happy’, she reinforces that idea that, while she’s not just one thing, she’s also not the permanently blue caricature people perceive her as. “People think that I’m rich and I am / But not how they think,” she says. “I have a truck with a gold keychain in the ignition / And on the back it says, ‘Happy, joyous and free’ / Happy.”
She’s donating “a substantial portion of the proceeds” to Native American organisations
Lana has spoken many times about wanting to make reparations to the Native American community and she’s doing so with the release of ‘Violet…’. “A substantial portion of the proceeds” of the collection will go to groups of her choosing, she’s said, to help them “keep their land” and “preserve their rights”.
She told Stereogum last year: “I just really wanted to sort of pay homage to the country that I love so much by doing my own reparation… my own reparative act…. I know it’s a bit of an unusual choice, and I have no reasoning for it other than it just feels right to me.” In a statement released alongside ‘Violet…’, she added she was donating to the Native American community in particular because “of the experiences that I’ve had which have greatly shaped my own life course”.
– ‘Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass’ is out now