The Blog

autumn-leaves(post by Fiona Eustace)

Struggling to find some existential, literary brooding to compliment your finest Autumn cardigans?

Check out this eclectic pool of readings happening around town through the rest of October.


Credit: http://www.skylightbooks.com/event/eden-sher-discusses-her-new-book-emotionary-dictionary-words-dont-exist-feelings-do

(Courtesy of Skylight Books)

1. Eden Sher discusses her new book The Emotionary at Skylight Books

Ever struggle to put visceral feelings into words? Avidly enjoy graphic novels? Or just really find Sue from The Middle incredibly amusing?

Come hear Eden Sher talk about her new book The Emotionary: A Dictionary of Words That Don’t Exist for Feelings That Do, illustrated by Julia Wertz, a hilarious guide to indescribable feelings.

Price: Free

Saturday, October 22, 2016 – 5:00pm

Skylight Books
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

More information


(Courtesy of Red Hen Press)

2. Red Hen Press Reading at Diesel Books 

Independent publishing and bookstores collide at this celebratory literary event.

Directly experience the myriad of experimental poetry fostered here in Los Angeles at Diesel Bookstore where Red Hen Press Poets Brendan Constantine, Ron Koertge, and Amy Uyematsu will read from their latest work.

Price: Free

Sunday, October 23 – 3:00 pm

Diesel Books
225 26th St.
Santa Monica, CA 90402

More information

Image Credit: https://hammer.ucla.edu/programs-events/2016/10/anne-carson/

(Courtesy of the Hammer Museum)

3. Anne Carson at the Hammer Museum

Anne Carson, established Canadian poet, essayist, and translator known for Nox and The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos, will be performing her “Lecture on the History of Skywriting.” A book signing will follow the program.

This reading is organized and hosted by poet and UCLA professor, Stephen Yenser. Co-sponsored by the UCLA Department of English, the Friends of English, and the UCLA Department of Cultural and Recreational Affairs.

Price: Free.

Date: Sunday, October 23 – 2:00 pm

Billy Wilder Theater
10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024

More information

Image credit: http://www.largo-la.com/event/1227167-carrie-brownstein-paperback-los-angeles/

(Courtesy of Largo LA)

4. Carrie Brownstein launches Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl with Maggie Nelson

Skylight Books and Largo eagerly anticipate the paperback launch event for Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. Brownstein will be in conversation with Maggie Nelson, author of the New York Times Bestseller The Argonauts.

Price: $30, a copy of the book is included.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 – 8:30pm

366 N La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

More information


(Courtesy of Lit Crawl LA)

5. Lit Crawl L.A.

A literary Smorgasbord of readings, journals, local presses (oh my!) at over 36 restaurants, bars, galleries, theaters, and other hip venues in the NoHO Arts District. Enjoy a free evening of innovative creativity with the best of LA’s ever-changing literary scene.

Price: Free

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

North Hollywood Arts District

More information 




Inspired by McSweeney’s list of “Things To Do With Your English Degree” and every Buzzfeed listicle
  1. Write every day.
  2. Learn how to convincingly tell people you write every day. (Helps to carry around a pocket notebook to pull out at parties and other social gatherings.)
  3. Have at least three illusory comments to make about an award-winning contemporary novel written by a non-white, non-male author.
  4. Be a white male.
  5. Become friends with film students. All preferably with colored hair and/or distinctive glasses and shoes.
  6. Only be seen on campus wearing open cardigans and button downs.
  7. Consider buying a New Yorker subscription.
  8. Buy a New Yorker subscription with your parent’s credit card.
  9. Smirk at other students during workshop before commenting that their stories need more character development.
  10. Learn how to smoke cigars.
  11. Write this list in your Chaucer class. Then, raise your hand to comment on the lacking feminist lens in the discussion.

(post by Celeste Seifert)

Let’s get this out in the open- I love manga.

I love holding a volume in my hands and flipping through the pages that illustrate a story nearly as much as text in a novel. This is why I was overjoyed to find browsing through the manga section of Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago and finding the second half of a compilation of Tokyo Babylon that had been republished by Dark Horse in 2013.

The original localization done by Tokyopop had been abandoned after the fall of the company, and it was only during my final year of high school that I came across the first half of this series. With gorgeous illustrations that ooze the fashionable style and (admittedly) disproportionate body types that the all-women mangaka group CLAMP are known for, Tokyo Babylon is currently among my favorites of their work despite the more popular Cardcaptor Sakura and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle titles.

But what kept me intrigued was the surprisingly dark story and characters with real social issues that are just as important now as they were when Tokyo Babylon was published in 1990. Though its main character Subaru Sumeragi is a 16-year old onmyoji, similar to a Western exorcist that utilizes Buddhism, divination and the occult, the story focuses on subjects like suicide, terminal illness, ageism, racism, bullying, rape and victim blaming all in a Tokyo on the brink of its economic bubble pop. The central characters at first appear to be one-dimensional, but the story pays attention to their growth and also addressing that some characters are not what they seem. How having total selflessness is not a virtue (no matter what some new manga protagonists promote), but a martyr complex.

Needless to say, when I found the second half I read through it in a few hours and am cursing CLAMP for putting the sequel to this work, X, on hiatus since 2003. If you love the 90s, fashion, occult movies and tragedies both romantic and heroic, I suggest looking up this manga.


(post by Megan Lent)

Commonly misheard lyrics, also known as mondegreensI wish I could say that I had to research this term and didnt already know it due to a memorable swan-dive into a Wikipedia K-hole last summer that started with malapropismand ended with me splayed out in one of the deeper circles of semiotics hellare wonderful. I think its beautiful that some people hear one thing and some hear another and theyre both kind of equally right, or at least equally revealing as to the listeners interior life.

Hold me closer, Tony Danzais an adorable phrase, and even though I think that joke is from Friends, it has so entered the popular cultural lexicon that I feel I can reference it without necessarily acknowledging a show I dont like. Neutral Milk Hotel fans can go on for days about whether the line in Oh Comelyis drunk on your awe to meor drunk on your automy(as in a shortened autonomy) (as in its totally this one because its so much more gorgeous to think of a person drunk on their own sense of self and sense of freedom than someone worshipping another human, thats so gross, like, go get a tattoo and reassert your individual humanity, better yet get a Neutral Milk Hotel tattoo, better yet get a tattoo of Neutral Milk Hotel lyrics that are so nonsensical that strange men will use them as a means of attempting to start conversations with you any time you wear short sleeves for the rest of your life,but I digress.) There are swaths of Bob Dylan songs that could either be smartly cynical indictments of modern capitalism or recipes for brownies with a dash of coffee added into the batter to pack a little punch.

The whole reason Im bringing up mondegreens, though, is to talk about my favorite mondegreen that isnt a mondegreen. By which I mean that its the actual line to an actual song, but its so, so, so terrific, and so unlike anything anyone else Im familiar with would ever write, that I cant totally believe its real.

Im talking about the part in Raspberry Beretwhere the girl with the raspberry beret comes into the Five and Dime: she came in through the out door.

In just seven words, Prince created an entire character whos so full and engaging, immediately recognizable yet wholly new. Hes efficient, its effective, its affecting. People spend hundreds of pages in novel after novel trying to do this. People spend their whole lives trying to do this. And very few can do what Prince did as well as Prince did.

But most of what Prince did very few can do well, if at all.

Ive watched Purple Rain three times in the past two and a half weeks; I listen to Dirty Mind or1999 daily; Ive consistently worn more purple eye shadow than is usually required for daytime activities. His face is my phones home screen for gods sake. Im past the point of consciously knowing if Im doing this out of self-care or in some last-ditch hope that it will bring him back. Its a harmless preoccupation that will probably flirt with the border of obsession sometime soon. But flirting with obsessionseems like a very Prince-esque concept, with Prince as the flirt, the obsessor, and the obsessed-over.

You can see him playing those roles, to some degree, in Little Red Corvette.He depicts himself as overwhelmed by the girl who pops her color and loves em and leaves em fastshes more experienced sexually, shes savvier in relationships, shes both in control of herself and intoxicatingly exciting. He may say shes got to slow down, but its not because hes trying to tame her. Noits that he wants to keep up. His depiction of their dynamic is, just like in Raspberry Beret,economical and brilliant. But its phrases like the ride is so smooth you must be a limousinethat really take the song to the next level. There arent many cases where a metaphor for sex is somehow way dirtier, way sexier, and way cooler than the explicit.

Or, take this part in Lets Go Crazy:He calls his girlfriend. She answers. She drops the phone on the floor. And she starts ecstatically moaning, presumably because of someone else, presumably knowing that Prince is listening. That moment is brief, but so vulnerable and funny, containing the particularly bleak absurdity of being alive. And its in an all-time great dance anthem. Actually, just take all of Purple Rain: I Would Die 4 U(also a great song to dance to, and the second-best song on Purple Rain to reference doves) features Prince challenging the gender binary in the very first two lines. Regardless of what he meant or didnt mean by Im not a woman/Im not a man,Im so comforted by the fact that a song like that exists, and has existed since 1984. As clear of a character as the girl in Little Red Corvetteis made out to be, the way were introduced to Darling Nikkihas to be in some XXX-rated Hall of Character Exposition Fame out there. (Which is, incidentally, the only type of museum I would ever be qualified to curate.)

And like, who the hell would ever own up to wondering if your relationship turmoil is caused by you and your lover being too much like your own mother and father? Like who has a) that kind of insight and b) that kind of honesty and c) who would write that into the first-best dove-related song on Purple Rain and also possibly the best song of the 1980s? Who would do that? No one would. No one but Prince. Only he would.

He was one of the best storytellers in pop (and funk and soul and rock and 50 other genres, some of which he himself invented) music. And not just from a lyrical standpoint, although thats what Ive been focusing on here. Taking the bass out of When Doves Cry,and thus nixing the level of steadiness that instrument typically provides, allows listeners to better experience the ungrounded dysfunction of the relationship depicted in the song. Every sonic element of his first few albums form fascinating interactions, which makes a decent amount of sense, given that he played every instrument and produced every track. With meticulousness and passion, he could coax a guitar into admitting heated emotions and difficult thoughts and not-just-sexual (but sometimes also 100% definitely sexual) desires.

He could create whole universes in the span of a 4-minute song, and in those universes he found ways to reflect aspects of each of our individual, personal universes. And, despite his enigmatic reputation, he gently threw in pieces of himself, too. Most songs are not universes. There is nothing wrong with this, thoughno one ever said a song had to be. But Im thankful that Prince decided that songs needed enormity. Its not like anyone else was going to.

caro3(post by Libby Hsieh)

Originally from Minnesota, musician and songwriter Caroline Smith splits her time between Los Angeles and Minneapolis. After the positive reception of her album “Half About Being A Woman” in 2013, Caroline continues now to work on her upcoming album in anticipation for her latest single, which comes out in next month. Her music can be described in one word: honest. Her songs often feature many different messages that empower women with a soulful and groovy vibe. Ever since the release of her last album, Caroline has been such a big influence in my music style and writing as her art is extremely relatable and all-encompassing. In light of her upcoming tour, I wanted to get the inside word about her journey in the music industry. As you can imagine, talking to her was a delight.

First things first, how would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
I would say like women-centric, honest, alternative soul.

What was the first concert you attended/record you bought and how did affect your musical journey?
The first concert I attended was N*SYNC. I was wearing this American Eagle tube top but I didn’t have any breasts so it was hard to keep it up. The first album I ever bought was TLC. Performing on a bigger level, like N’Sync or Beyonce, has always been fascinating to me. Maybe just bringing that level of care and production to a smaller stage. TLC I listened to over and over and over again. Massively obsessed with TLC. I think that definitely molded by song writing. I was listening to folk music like Jewel. So in writing, I kind of had the poeticism of Jewel but with the TLC swag.

Who are your musical influences now as you have evolved as an artist?
Beyonce is obviously one of them. That’s really typical but whatever she’s doing I’m like, “Oh God, I have to be doing that.” I guess women who are really in control of their own brand like Grimes. I’m a huge Aretha Franklin and Carol King fan. I guess women who are really in control of their own music. Women like HAIM, Lorde, Grimes, people that write their own music and really brand themselves. It’s easy to be like “Ah, I’ll just have someone else do it. Selena Gomez looks great, I’ll just do that route”. At the end of the day, those women inspire me to keep going.

Yeah, there is more honesty in that as well. Being able to write from your own experience and taking over your own brand. Do you write solely from specific experiences?
The songs that translate best are the ones from my own personal experience. But I have a really tight knit group of girlfriends. I found that writing from their experiences also works well. I’m sure you’ve had a girlfriend who had a guy break her heart and she tries to go back to her and you just want to shake her and be like, “AHHH!” Those emotions are super real too. Songs about my friends relationships. You can take it into first person or have a message to her. They can universally translate to all people—including men.

How did you decide you were going to pursue music?
It just happened. I was in school and my band really wanted to tour so they were like “lets just book a tour. lets go on tour.” It was during winter break. And that tour turned into another tour and that one turned into a mother tour. We just started touring so I had to stop going to school. I always said I would go back to finish my degree but I never did. It just started working. I never did the scary “I’ll just quit everything and do music.” I’m very a pragmatic person. It just worked out. I always just follow the path that’s in front of me.

So, what inspired you to go your own route rather than choose the conventional route that many people try to take?
I honestly feel like I just never had an option. Whenever I try to do the other thing, cause I’ve tried, It just doesn’t feel right and I feel really unhappy because I’m not saying what I need to say. Going down the independent or alternative way was just what made me happy and fulfilled.

If you were ever to leave the industry, what would be the catalyst to that?
I think creative people often use a number of outlets to practice their creativity. For me, music is just one of them. If I felt like music wasn’t fulfilling me creatively anymore, I would find something else like writing, fashion design, music video production, you know, whatever. Something that I could practice and explore as a new creative medium. You know, people like Kanye West. He’s so creative. He’s just brimming with creativity. He want’s to work with everything and act on everything. Thats great and I think sometimes in the music industry it can move so slow and you can get locked up in that because that’s just the way the world works. There’s nothing you can do about it. That’s when you get interested in something else like, I don’t know, fucking shoe design.

What are some of the biggest obstacles for upcoming artists?
The hardest thing for people is just releasing the music. People get stuck in their own head and get worried because the music doesn’t sound perfect or doesn’t sound finish. Just giving yourself a cut off point is really healthy. I watch a lot of people get stuck in feedback loops and get too scared to release something. A lot of my musician friends and I talk about the idea of recklessness. You just have to be brave. You have to be reckless. You have to release things. Try things that might not work. You won’t know unless you try it. You’re not gonna know if your music is good or bad unless you release it. If it’s bad and everyone hates it, you’ll grow from it. That would be my advice to people. Just do it. Don’t wait. Don’t wait for people to do something for you. Get out of your own way. If you find a team of people who believe in what you’re doing, that’s important. Keep them happy. If you find a team that love you, care about you, and support you, keep those people close to you. Those are the people who are gonna tell you that your shit is bad.

eduardo(post by Dylan Karlsson)

On Thursday, April 28th Eduardo Corral was invited to read as part of the Hammer’s Poetry Reading Series put on by Stephen Yenser. Capping off the yearly celebration of National Poetry Month this April, Eduardo Corral took the stage to share poems from his first collection Slow Lightning, as well as a few newer poems.

slow lightening
Corral opened by dedicating his reading to Chicano/Chicana poets who paved a literary pathway for him to follow, including Lorna Dee Cervantes, José Montoya, Martín Espada, Sandra Cisneros, Pat Mora, etc. He expressed his desire to wear those influences on his sleeve,

His book, Slow Lightning, which won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 2012 is a florid and darkly imaginative work, ripe with images of an erotic and vulnerable nature. Corral displayed the breadth of his form, reading ekphrastic, persona, and portrait poems. It is no mistake these forms focus on the contents of a frame, be it in art or the self; Corral’s poetry is as obsessed with interiority as it is with the borders enclosing such secluded/exclusive places.

Exclusion and intrusion became central themes for the night, as he read several new poems taking on the perspective of a border patrol agent, finding unclaimed bodies on the Devil’s Highway. His work addressed both the danger and stigma of crossing the border, to risk one’s life in crossing the desert. Similarly a case of countering stigma, Corral read two poems with the same title, “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome,” entering into natural, yet surreal scenes accented with fauna and string instruments. In the poem, the body exists within these bordering images, at once mystical and exposed.

Coming from the Arizona city Casa Grande (pronounced “grand”), Corral exhibits his code-switching between English and Spanish as a method of displacement. As he said of his varied use of language and dialect, it is just a “different form of music” employed in the poem. Central to his generous reading style was an awareness of the social boundaries which exist for the disenfranchised, the undocumented and the stigmatized. Corral’s work opens an entry-way for those voices existing between borders, as he welcomes – with care and caution – all language, to play and intermingle.

(post by Pauline Pechakijan)
I interviewed Kathleen Sarnelli, a senior English major, and Manvel Kapukchyan, a senior Political Science major, on their journey together as a filmmaking duo. They have recently been working on their Los Angeles Drought Documentary with a number of honorable researchers in order to investigate whether or not El Nino could affect or mediate the severity of the drought. Read on to hear what they have to say about filmmaking!

What inspired you two to delve into the world of film?

K:  Well, I always loved telling and writing stories. I was always fascinated about other people’s lives so I usually would make up stories about them. Film allows me to tell the stories I create and share them with the world.

M: I always had many interests and could never decide what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I found myself most interested in art, history, photography, computer graphics, and business, but directing was my main love. I believe directing is unique because it combines technical formal practices with art. It was this combination of technique and art which gravitated me towards film, as well as the emotional and political impact film can have on societies.

How has your work changed throughout the years? Does working with each other help inspire new ideas?

K: I learned how to develop my stories to be more in depth. Also, my stories have progressed throughout the years, as have I, and they have transformed with me through new experiences. Working with Manvel is great because he is blunt and will let me know of ways I can improve my work. His honest criticism has helped push my work to new levels of maturity.

M: It would be impossible to be where we are without each other’s support. Our work continues to improve as we learn the craft and hone in on our individual and collective skills. Kathleen comes up with the stories, and I find a method to tell that story in the best possible way.

What are you currently working on?

K: The L.A. Drought Documentary. I know this deviates from my traditional fictional story telling, but I believe there is a story board component to making a documentary. We had been hearing about the California drought and subsequently low water supply, but were not getting a clear answer as to whether or not El Nino would clear it [the drought] up. Thus, we investigated this question and decided to make a documentary.

M: Our largest project now is The L.A. Drought Documentary. It is a UCLA research project which will be presented in May at the Undergraduate Research Conference. We also hope to exhibit the documentary at various film festivals. The project explores the current water crisis in depth by looking at the past, present, and future of the drought in regards to science and politics. We are working with many experts from JPL, UCLA, the local government, and the Metropolitan Water District.

What would you say are the biggest challenges for up-and-coming filmmakers?

K: The biggest challenge is negative feedback from naysayers and the competition within the industry. Although it is highly competitive, persistency and consistency will pay off in reaching your goals.

M: The biggest challenge is staying hopeful and optimistic in the face of what may seem to be a far-fetched and outlandish goal. We always encounter people that diminish our efforts or tell us our goals are impractical, but this is what we want to do and we will do everything in our power to ensure that we reach them.

Do you have any advice for other students who would like to explore filmmaking?

K: Do not be afraid to pursue something new because, chances are, it will make you stand out.

M: My advice is to be persistent and not give up. It’s so hard to know if you are on the right path or if your work is being appreciated or noticed, but the most important thing is to keep on filming and creating, as ultimately, that’s what being a film maker is about.

Where can we find more on your current project?

K & M: For more information, you can check out our Facebook page which is the most active and up-to-date source. Also, be sure to check out our trailer for the documentary on YouTube and our Instagram page with some short clips taken directly from the project.

(post by Winston Bribach)

About this time 52 years ago, February 28, 1964 to be exact, Rod Serling’s pioneering sci-fi show, The Twilight Zone, did something foreign. They aired an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s classic short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” That, however, was not unusual, as Serling loved showing his take on short stories. The foreign element comes from the fact that the adaptation was a short film not originally intended for television and shot in France. On top of that, this version of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” already won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. In any event, Serling struck a deal with the film’s director, Roberto Enrico, so it would air on The Twilight Zone.
By virtue of such information, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” already clings to a unique place in the series canon. Yet, that doesn’t even come close to explaining the massive disparity between its feel in comparison to every other episode. Sure, there is the imagination, the escape from tangible reality that was a staple of The Twilight Zone. Also, the twist ending seemed like something Rod Serling would include in the installments he personally created for the silver screen, but the similarities end there.

From the first shot to the last it is absolutely clear that the film has none of early television’s earmarks. Perhaps this can be attributed to the lack of pressure to get an episode completed within a very short time frame, which ultimately resulted in a static arrangement and virtually no artistic license for directors (in a way, this is still a trademark of non-cable TV Shows). The camera captures the scene from every conceivable angle—high in the trees, close-up, medium length, and even underwater. Although it is black and white, nature plays a huge part. Branches, bushes, leaves, and water all provide obstacles for the camera, creating a dynamic atmosphere.
Another thing missing from the episode is an abundance of dialogue. The Twilight Zone was well-known for its use of dialogue, and sometimes highly poetic philosophical monologues. This is even true in episodes where there’s only one character involved. In other words, the show (like all early TV shows) borrowed a page from Broadway’s book and focused on the characters’ spoken offerings. Roberto Enrico’s take on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” does the opposite. Whenever there is dialogue, it is short; a few words tops. This keeps the focus on the very artistic and carefully conceived use of the camera, which brings the audience into the main character’s point of view.

And finally, there’s the music. Instead of the show’s simple, yet eerie and ominous opening tune, a song plays from time to time. It underscores the story’s main point—how beautiful life seems when death is closing in and how much a person suddenly wants to go on living amidst such a circumstances.

In the end, the film provides proof of the gulf between classic television filming conventions and a true work of the motion picture art. The former uses the camera as essentially an idle observer watching a play unfold, where everything is reliant on the dialogue. The latter abounds in action and an active use of the camera, making dialogue only one aspect of the process and not the only aspect. Of course, there are further differences, but the list is much too long for our purposes here.

(post by Melissa Villalon)

(The radio personnel and hosts of Alma del Barrio. Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Alma del Barrio, or soul of the neighborhood, persists as one of the most successful Hispanic radio programs in the country, lasting for over forty years in Los Angeles. Two Loyola Marymount University students, Enrique Soto and Raul Villa, sought to present an eclectic assortment of the many aspects of Hispanic culture, starting the radio program in 1973 as a one-hour segment on KXLU, promoting not only talented artists like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente but also new, less renowned musicians, film directors, poets, authors and painters. With increasing prominence and popularity, the station was eventually scheduled from 6 am – 6 pm every Saturday and Sunday, which is still the time slot today.

[Francisco Aguabella (center), a former UCLA professor, played the batá drums and is an artist frequently discussed on Alma del Barrio. Still image from YouTube]

Radio DJs and hosts are bilingual. Spanish flows into English, and English melds to Spanish again. Both languages are inseparable, a testament to the assimilation and blending of cultures. Alma del Barrio features a weekly calendar of imminent, local Latino cultural events in live music performances, art exhibitions, poetry readings, and film previews. When you’re stuck in traffic on the dreaded 405 or when you want to listen to something new, try 88.9 FM! Alma del Barrio is a spiritual home in Los Angeles where any person can learn, listen, and discuss the dynamic Hispanic culture.

(post by Pauline Pechakjian)
Lana Del Rey has built her career off of beautiful melodies paired with her delicately haunting voice that evoke rich, nostalgic sensory images and memories existing in the imagination of her musical persona. To date, the songstress, whose real name is Elizabeth Grant, has released four studio albums over the past four years and has reached tremendous amounts of success with her fans. Throughout her time on the public radar, there have been many debates that have questioned Del Rey’s authenticity – although she is marketed as being an alternative musician when compared to the likes of more mainstream artists that stream bubblegum-pop music, many claim that she is essentially just as “pop” as her contemporaries, only marketed differently. An aspect of this debate that I think doesn’t garner much attention is her use of literary icons and frequent references peppered throughout her songs.

As a philosophy major at Fordham University, I’m sure Grant received a solid education in many literary works and probably is truly inspired by the authors and poets that she frequently quotes. However, I’m not sure if her name-dropping of these influencers throughout her songs does much to actually convey any meaning or significance of these works outside of adding a touch of “intellectual” flair. Personally, I’m torn on the issue myself. I find that certain references to some of my favorite authors and poets help provoke certain images and memories when I listen to her music, but at the same time, I find it a bit unnecessary to saturate songs with hollow references that don’t intellectually contribute much other than possibly introduce names and concepts to previously uninformed listeners.
Let’s look at some of these examples from her catalogue of songs. Off of the Born to Die album, in “Carmen,” she quotes A Streetcar Named Desire written by playwright Tennessee Williams, singing, “Relying on the kindness of strangers.” The line in the play refers to the character of Blanche DuBois, a deeply troubled woman who shares subtle similarities with the heroine of Del Rey’s song. Another instance is in her song, “Body Electric,” off of her Paradise album, in which she croons “Whitman is my daddy” and “I sing the body electric.” It can be argued that her utilization of Whitman and the way in which she frames him is an authentic form of showing her connection and appreciation for him, maybe akin to the way Allen Ginsberg does so in his “Supermarket in California” poem, but once again, these lines do little more than name-drop the American icon. The same album holds another literary-reference packed song, (and one of my personal favorites), “Gods & Monsters,” in which she alludes to both Oscar Wilde and John Milton. She repeats Wilde’s famous declaration that “life imitates art,” and the whole song, or even whole album, strongly ties in to themes presented by Milton’s Paradise Lost on the loss of innocence. A more recent example of Lana Del Rey’s use of literature on her albums is “Burnt Norton (Interlude)” featured on Honeymoon, which was released last September. Del Rey reads out the first part of T. S. Elliot’s poem of the same name while elegant sounds are heard in the background.

Out of all of her literary references and allusions, Lana Del Rey undoubtedly gives the most attention to Vladimir Nabokov’s famous novel, Lolita. She has a song with the same name, in which she sings “Kiss me in the p-a-r-k park tonight,” possibly assuming the voice of 12-year-old Dolores Haze singing to her abuser, Humbert Humbert. In another song from Born to Die, “Off to the Races,” she describes a lover as being the “light of my life, fire of my loins,” a direct quote from Nabokov’s novel in which the narrator expresses his infatuation for his much younger object of admiration. Although Lolita is one of my favorite novels, and perhaps may be one of Elizabeth Grant’s as well, her romanticization of the relationship presented in the book is not a true and accurate representation of the story set between Humbert and Lolita, and her allusions to their “love” completely overlook the hilarity and satire that Nabokov cleverly utilizes to portray the inner workings of a delusional, ill-adapted man.
With all being said, I am and will always be a huge fan of Lana Del Rey’s music. I love her voice, her melodies, and the nostalgic, old-world feel that conjures up specific memories, images, and experiences whenever I listen to her songs. I personally believe that her catalogue of albums can all hold their own merit without being peppered with various literary references that ultimately don’t contribute much to her music at all. I don’t question whether or not Elizabeth Grant is personally inspired by Whitman, Wilde, Milton, Williams, and Nabokov; I’m sure all of these extremely influential poets and writers have played a large role in the shaping of her as an artist and individual. However, I think that the songstress’ strengths lie in her own musical innovations rather than the name-dropping of her favorite influencers. I love Lana Del Rey, and I love literature, but feel that her music is better off focusing on her own unique experiences and ideas rather than relating blurred ideas of famous literary icons.


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