“Pop” Poetry?

22 October 2020 on Blog, Storystorm  

An hour spent browsing the display at Barnes & Noble helps me get a pulse on the current literary scene. Unlike used bookstores, my preferred place to shop for books, the chain keeps the newest covers accessible at the front.  

To my surprise, in the New Fiction section, I came across a collection of poems by Lana Del Rey titled, Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass, which is the name of one of the poems inside that I read. Those who follow me on Instagram may have seen my story: a short video of the cover opening to the eponymous poem. I was sucked in by the lush cover artwork and the 1950s-themed interior. I was so excited! I am a fan of Del Rey’s music, and the thought of her writing poems was full of potential. 

As I started to read, my initial excitement deflated. This is not a book review. Rather, encountering Del Rey’s book made me think about how easy it is for a celebrity to publish a poetry collection—too easy both because of their marketability and because of the “easiness” of the poems themselves. Lili Reinhart’s poetry collection, Swimming Lessons, gives me a similar feeling. It hurts a little bit to see a poetry collection floating on a cult of personality, especially when I see my classmates working hard to interrogate the meaning and function of their poems in workshop.  

Are these collections something that we could call “pop” poetry? These are poems that may be full of feeling, but lacking nuance, easily consumable, and perhaps accessible. Is there something to be appreciated in their accessibility? They aren’t the kind of poems that we look to publish in Barnstorm, but there is a place for them, as aggravating as they can be to a poet who is immersed in her studies of poetry. 

It turns out that both Del Rey and Reinhart’s collections are so accessible that they can be found at Urban Outfitters. Del Rey has an audiobook version (on vinyl!) available there as well. I imagine a person going to a clothing store and picking out a book, not because it is a collection of poems but because it is an accessory, because it fits a particular brand. But I'm trying to be optimistic—maybe, for a different poetry reader, Del Rey’s collection will be an experience of discovery and an opening to other poetry.  But for me, reading the book feels like shopping: empty.

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Eve Glasergreen is the poetry editor at Barnstorm. She is a second year MFA student at the University of New Hampshire. Follow her on Instagram @evgreens.

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