Poets provoked by fragrance – what happens when 100 poets are creatively triggered by scent?

What happened when 100 contemporary poets were sent vials of fragrances specifically chosen for them – scents to reflect their particular voice, character or chosen writerly obsession – and were then set free to explore those creative reactions?

The Book Of Scented Things is the culmination of a unique aromatic and poetical experiment – an anthology based on this original concept of deliberately provoking with perfume and collecting the results. Hence we discover poems of deeply personal childhood memories, that relate directly to a sense of place and more deep-seated philosophical longings. We all know that fragrance can regularly provoke such feeling within us, but generally it’s left to the beauty press and perfumistas to wax lyrical about – and fascinating to read the results of poets being directly influenced in this way.

Over the holidays we had our noses buried in all manner of fragrantly inspired books, and this was one that really intrigued… We knew that we were on to something on reading the preface by fragrance-obsessed author, Alyssa Harad, in which she explained the concept behind the experiment.

We might not be able to name the scents that haunt us, but we know them when we smell them. No, that’s wrong. We feel we know them before we know them, a pure gut tug of emotion tht jerks us down into the undertow – the flood of the past into the present – and leaves us gasping, not just for air, but for language. “That smell,” we say, disorientated, at a loss for words. “Oh god, that smell.”

Editor Jehanne Dubrow expands on the creative process in the introduction. ‘We were surprised to discover how many other poets already recognised the fleeting, narrative pleasure of scent.’ Describing how many of the poets already identified themselves as ‘perfume nerds’ and that even those who had little knowledge or previous experience of fragrance could see the potential of the project and were pleased to be involved.

We really enjoyed reading so many of the poems – the contrasting voices and styles, and especially those little lightning bolts in recognition of a shared feeling or idea about the ever-changing contextual nature of smell, and what that provokes in all of us… like this section of Ander Monson‘s poem:

it smells of daylight and love’s sliver
fading, and how spring means differently
in your desert than it does in the lake country
I once called home.

The Book of Scented Things, published by Literary House Press, £12.99

Written by Suzy Nightingale

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