USEREVIEW 101: The Poet and the Singer
In a departure from our usual focus on indie presses and authors who aren’t already famous millionaires, we present Daniel Hinds‘ experimental prose poem review of Lana Del Rey‘s debut poetry collection Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass (Simon & Schuster, 2020). Why did we break our own unspoken rules on which books we prioritize for reviews? Probably because we feel that what’s happening in this review is something much more than direct commentary on the book itself: it’s a reflection on the complicated relationship that ordinary, working poets have to celebrities who swoop in and snag the kinds of book deals that most of us never dream of, and what that means for poetry.
ISBN 978-1-98216-728-8 | 128 pp | $35 CAD — BUY Here
Plucking petals from a violet.
Before I have broken the skin of the first fruit / you have cultivated a persona / like Swift / (no, not her) / with his frontispiece for the gullible / or Byron with his piece without peace. / The blood oranges have been cut into / wrung out / put on the tab of tabloid hard drinkers / and men and women / doing my job / knives clacking on keyboards. / Your cover is a patchwork of all the covers you’ve been on / title and orange trees just visible beneath the collage and camouflage / of a slant-lettered pseudonym.
The slant-lettered pseudonym. / A book tour sells out in three words. / A coach full of Coachella cast outs. / The fans / visible / just behind each page / the warm breath / and sweaty hands / eyes burning / searching / for the spirit you have trapped somewhere / between Simon & Schuster. / The fans / they wait / craven and craving / to get beneath your covers / have no idea what to do when they get there / they lack / the ‘worn warm’ working hands of my profession.
I want to talk about your book. / We want to talk about you. / Go sing about it. / When’s the next album? / Selfie for my Insta album — / Like an epistolary pun, sharp as a letter’s edge: ‘regardless / you’re mine’ / inverting the possessive and absenting the signoff — sign my copy / my face / my left breast! / Before we have even got to your ‘afternoon hands’ / it’s been evening / and nighttime / and morning again.
You are generous / you give us a backstage pass / to your drafts / your handwritten / amendments / brave / tentative suggestions. / Fake juice stains / and typewriter font / as distracting as Sylvia / banging her head against the letters. / Matches your aesthetic. / Your aesthetic / it’s all there / alcoholics / presidents and poets / trucks / dependant and submissive relationships / freeways / LA and AA / Oedipal and apartment complexes. / You have spangled your most intimate areas. / In your country you can just lie beneath the stars / and the cold light will have you in stripes.
You cannot strip your earlier persona. / ‘Happy’ and ‘Sugarfish’ could be songs. / I know just how you would sing them. / Elsewhere / ‘LAAAAA’ / a city elon-gated into a song. / And I see your lyrics snuck in / like a politician or speechwriter / drunk on a dare. / Bare poetic footsteps / walk lightly over the electric crackle / of cassette tracks. / When’s the next album out? / Whoareyo — no, whoareyoudating? / Who is the dress? / Where is the dress? / I have (!) her address. / If I may interject — / look at her fruit-round cheeks / she’s had Botox injections / turn your attention / to experimental uses of form / like a three-colour refrain / that can’t change / like a single-sided record: / ‘all you have to do is change everything.’
To be read by: the author herself — / ideally, aloud, / to fans — / by fans / vinyl needles / James Franco / vain fingers flicking for mentions of his name / fame-worshippers / snobs / looking for something to hate today / today / anyone who still buys disc / and other artefacts of celebrity / those with the feminine equivalent / of an Oedipal complex / the men and women who awarded Dylan the Nobel. / Compared to most poetry / it’s an easy sell. / Smell the fresh cut violets.
You have everything I want. / A living / fame / a home in the hills / a city with a temperature / in excess of 20 degrees / the full bottom lip of a starlet touching your top lip at all times. / An edition featuring full-colour photographs. / I have everything you want. / Literary pedigree / several degrees / a path to the hill and the muses / obscurity / maturity. / The cruel curving joy of the critic’s smirk. / No one asks for pictures.
I write / you sing.
I can’t sing / you can’t —
But if we met / which of us would be more articulate? / You struck your words from cold starlight. / Lana / like I could swallow you in cold prose. / When you’ve plucked a flower / that piece is already dead.