Score: 90/100 (9.0 out of 10)
Violet by Sabrina Simon is a book of poems (and accompanying prose) that not only captures the fiery love and passion of the author but also their journey as a poet and a writer. You can literally see the improvement and the growing sophistication of Simon's writing from the time she began dawdling in poems as a teenager to the present day as an adult. In that sense, this book is incredibly impressive!
The quality of writing that this book reaches by the ending of this is actually mind-blowing, especially when compared to the quality of the writing at the start of the book.
Now, let's get this out of the way. It got off to a rough start. The first few poems, which were apparently written when the author was 15, are rather cringe-worthy. Let's not sugarcoat things. The poet is likely aware of it and had the courage to still release her older works.
We all struggled at something when we first started doing it. No one is born with the ability to pen Hamlet or Anna Karenina, it's something that develops with time and with practice. Think about the first time you tried to write a poem, story, or essay. It probably wasn't your proudest or best work, was it?
So, what do we mean when we say the first few poems are cringe-worthy? Well, an experienced enough reader—even while empathizing with the poet at that age—can still spot the flaws in the young person's reasoning. The poet at that age was possessed by a feeling of infatuation—of puppy love—entranced by intense feelings (and likely a surge of hormones) that were new to them. We know (as a mature third-party) that this mystery guy who the poet is fawning over is likely not the idealized person that the poet describes. We catch hints that they may have “friend-zoned” the poet, sends them mixed signals, and really doesn't seem all that into them. We also catch that the poet at that time seemed to be venturing into somewhat dangerous obsessive territory, fantasizing about the target of their affection constantly.
Interestingly, you can even spot holes or contradictions in the poet's claims in their early poems. For example, the poet keeps saying that they're so glad that they love their crush's “mind” (“from the neck up”), however, we get lines like “our legs are tangled” and “everything we need now is between our thighs” that clearly contradict that. However, even this is understandable. New emotions and hormones as a teenager can create a chaotic environment in that person's head space. It can be very confusing for that person, and that's fine. It's part of growing up and learning.
Like we said, this is relatable behavior. It's the kind of thing that you live and learn from, and we were really hoping that the poet would learn and live from it. It seems like they did.
And that's kinda the beauty of this whole book: the progress or the hero's journey that the poet undertakes. You can see them start off the book like a naïve young protagonist in a 19th century bildungsroman, then see them come into their own by the end.
Digressing a bit, the puppy love wasn't the only thing that was a bit shaky about the beginning. There are poems and portions of poems near the start of this book that very obviously are borrowed from—or at least are structured similar to—well-known songs. For example, there's a poem in here called “Are You in Love?” that seems to be a clone of “Lose Yourself” by Eminem—although it could be argued to be done for humorous effect or as an homage. There are times the poet does seem to poke fun at the playful use of the lyrics. The poet later confirmed that this was done as an homage to a beloved song.
There are times in the poem “Mindplay” that sounds like “Wonderful World” by Louie Armstrong, although this turned out to be coincidental. There is also a poem called “Smooth Criminal” that constantly uses the phrase made famous by Michael Jackson. We get it. We really, really get it. We listen to good music while we write too. We pay homage to the things we like in our writing too. However, you don't get maximum originality points for paying homage to another IP. In the poet's defense though, even famous songwriters and musicians sample music and lyrics all the time. That's where familiar leitmotifs come from, the most famous of which is without a doubt the opening of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. And let's not forget that just about every rapper, hip hop artist, and their mom had to mention Grey Poupon in their lyrics at some point or another.
Ultimately, the poet started crafting some really beautiful, elegant, sophisticated works of their own.
So, thank goodness we read past the first ten pages of every book (unlike some contests), right? If we'd stopped as soon as we encountered something we didn't jive with, we would've missed out on some true treasures.
Without a doubt, the best poem in this book is “Sad Truths” and it shows up about 2/3rds of the way through. “Sad Truths” is not only powerful in the shear amount of pain and emotion it showcases, but it seems to be the turning point of the book and the poet's journey. It is the moment when the poet realizes that their love interest may not feel the same way that they do or that their love interest may not appreciate them at all. This poem is full of juxtapositions. The poet is constantly comparing what they would do for their love interest versus what their loved interest would do for them. It's actually chilling how effective this is and how well it's carried out in literary terms.
Here's an excerpt:
“If you decided to come back, I’d probably have the door wide open for you, but I don’t think you’d even turn the doorknob for me.
If you asked me to, I'd jump hurdles for you, but I don’t think you'd even step over a crack in the sidewalk for me.
If you needed me, I’d swim a thousand miles just to see you smile, but I don’t even think you’d get on a boat to see me.”
You can literally feel the anger and frustration of the poet just by reading these lines. It goes back to something that the late great Anne Rice said as a tip for writing: “Go back to where the pain is.” This poem was clearly written at a time of great pain for the poet, and look at what power and beauty came from it!
Now, we're NOT condoning self-harm or inflicting pain on others as some sort of way of accessing your muse. That's 1000% NOT what we're saying. What we're saying is that pain, disappointment, and other negative emotions are felt by everyone, but you can channel them constructively instead of letting them hold you back and drag you down. They can drive you to do better and be better. Anger, when used constructively, can drive a person to be able to accomplish something physically that they might've not been able to do otherwise (perhaps from the adrenaline and/or testosterone boost). Pain can give you the ability to empathize with the suffering of others and to be better connected to fellow human beings. These are all positive, constructive things that can come out of something that initially seems negative (like feeling sad or hurt).
There's another line that comes up later in the book that really steals the show:
“He has the aura of the evening—— calm and quiet, and sits like the moon—— beautiful, majestic, yet distant, so how can I approach him?”
There's a lot to unwrap here. First of all, the simultaneous use of simile, metaphoric language, and personification (of the moon and, to a lesser extent, the evening) is absolutely incredible. The other thing is that this line touches on and reveals a lot about the poet that was talked about in far earlier poems. The poet definitely seems insecure and unsure of themselves. They're constantly self-deprecating and putting down their appearance compared to other girls. Sabrina, girl, don't worry. And remember that “sexiness” and “hotness” isn't just looking good, it's putting across confident, sexy “energy.” Confidence is sexy. Some people just have very sexy personalities. Kid you not, there are women and men out there who have physical characteristics that might seem undesirable (like being overweight), but they have an infectious sense of humor, or a “cool” nature, or an inviting disposition that just make them so attractive even despite their physical characteristics.
The one thing (or two things) that aren't sexy at all are: 1. being needy, 2. being desperate. So, as the poet matures and evolves as a person, we hope they can realize what a special, intelligent, capable, and self-sufficient person they are, pushing past these two things.
Check this out on Amazon!