Thursday, February 28, 2013

Drafting by the Smell of It

38º ~ bright sun for now, some clouds expected too, a definite lengthening of the days observed both morning and evening, a comfort

Last night I remembered to remind myself that today I should draft a poem.  To many people this may seem forced; however, for me it works in the way many athletes use visualization.  If I take a moment to see myself at the desk the night before, there's a better chance I'll actually get a draft done the next morning.  My record proves it.

Again, this morning, as my mind churned through several items needing attention at school, I had to remind myself that this was writing time.  I had to turn off the teacher brain and turn on the poet brain, and, yes, this required attention on my part.  It did not happen naturally.  So be it.

You might understand, then, that I was sure nothing good would come of my hour at the desk today.  Happily, not true!  A strange thing happened in the last week.  I was invited by the wonderful poet Jehanne Dubrow to participate in an anthology of poems based on perfumes.  How cool!  The poets who agreed to participate were each sent a tiny sample of a perfume and asked to write a poem in response to that scent.  This startled and scared me, but I knew it would be good for me.

My scent arrived sometime in the last week, and I immediately smelled it but didn't do anything with it.  Last night, I tossed the letter of explanation and the tiny vial on my desk in case I needed inspiration this morning, which I did.  I began, again, by smelling the perfume.  Then, I did a little research on the title of the perfume, which is based on an English nursery rhyme.  This led me down several Wikipedia roads, including how perfumes are made, all eventually abandoned.

I sniffed the perfume again and suddenly, the scent and my recent topic of obsession, the three sisters, all snapped into focus.  I grabbed my journal and drafted out the first half of what became today's poem.  I do not know if it will be the poem I send in for the anthology, as I've got a few months before that poem is due, but I do know that I'm grateful to Jehanne for the prompt.

As many news reports tell us, smell is one of our most overlooked senses, and it is often tied to memories.  While smelling my sample didn't immediately transport me anywhere or bring up any specific memory, it did shock me out of my normal routine, and it did lead me into a poem.  I'm not sure how to translate this prompt into something that would work in the classroom or for myself later on.  I suppose one could go to a department store and randomly pick a cologne or perfume and get a sample card to take home and work on.  In a classroom, too many scents might muddy the air.  Still, it would be fun to give the students a scent and have them write a poem from their own experience or a persona poem based on who might wear this scent and what might happen.

I do know that I'll be looking forward to this anthology and seeing what other writers did with their scents.  I do know that I'll chalk today up as a 'win' for getting a draft down on paper.


Jehanne Dubrow said...

I'm so excited to read about your process! And I'm absolutely thrilled that you're going to be part of the anthology. I've been wondering how to turn this book project into a classroom exercise, and I think you're right that giving the same scent to everyone would make the room a little less chaotic (smellwise) but could still produce really interesting and diverse responses. I'm going to try it with my students and see what happens.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Jehanne, it was great to do something completely new for me. Let me know how the class exercise works out. And thanks for the invitation!!

Kathleen said...

Loved hearing all about this. Sounds like a great anthology!!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen! I'm excited to see the book, too.

Karen J. Weyant said...

Sounds like a great project! Can't wait to read it!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Karen!

Molly said...

"This led me down several Wikipedia roads, including how perfumes are made, all eventually abandoned."

I often go down such roads myself, and sometimes the inner critic wants to tell me they are wasted time. But deep down I believe the creative legwork, if nothing else, helps things loosen and assemble in our subconscious.

Hooray for a draft and what an intriguing propmt!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, I suspect that's spiteful Gillian talking there. Yes, those meandering roads that may be abandoned are NECESSARY to the process. Plus, who knows if any of the information gathered along the way will pop up in some other poem! What a wasted opportunity if we cut the trip short. :)

John Vanderslice said...

Fantastic idea for a prompt, Sandy. I'm going to use that in one of my classes, I think. The anthology sounds cool. What will it be called?
Thanks once again for reminding everyone that writing is a habit and that no matter why you sit down at the desk something good can come of it.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, John. I don't have the title on me at the moment, but I'll let everyone know when and where it will be available. Poems aren't due until the end of May, so it will be a bit.