Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I'm Reading: The Book of Scented Things

80º ~ feels like 80º, headed up to 95º, our saving grace...a drop in humidity, no rain and no relief in sight, summer arrives late this year, but it arrives, cicadas and hummingbirds abound

In February 2013, I was invited by Jehanne Dubrow to participate in an anthology project that she was then editing with Lindsay Lusby: The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems about Perfume. Now, the book is done and in the hands of reviewers and contributors. Published by The Literary House Press, it appears the book will become available for sale after its October 7, 2014 debut party at the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College.

You can read about my drafting process here. My perfume was Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clement's by Heeley.

And to whet your appetite, dear reader, here is a glimpse between the covers of the book.

Anthologies, for me, are hit or miss. I tend to read them piecemeal, often only really reading a small percentage of the poems or authors. I mostly associate anthologies with classes, but I know that there are many other readers out there who have distinctly different approaches to anthologies. I tell you all of this as background to this fact: I read The Book of Scented Things cover to cover, devouring each and every poem, and not just because I'm a contributor.

Perhaps the organization of the book compelled me to read linearly. Like most anthologies, the book begins with an introduction (by Jehanne Dubrow), and there is a preface (by Alyssa Harad, author of a book and many articles about perfume). Then, we get to the poems. Each poem is numbered, and numbered in a certain typography that echoes perfume lingo, a la Chanel Nº 5. While some poets chose to mention their perfumes in titles or within the poems, in the contributor notes, the editors have included which perfumes was paired with each poet. While I'm not a perfume wearer, I found myself flipping back there out of curiosity time and time again.

Poem Nº 1 is by Amit Majmudar, and is an anti-assignment poem. The title, "On His Reluctance to Contribute to The Book of Scented Things," explains. So, we begin with a poem where the first line, "All attars are unutterable," calls out the challenge for the poets, each assigned a different perfume as inspiration. There were no other "rules" for our writing. We were to write any poem at all, as long as it was in response to the perfume.

I was struck, at first, by the number of poems that directly mentioned the assignment, perhaps by alluding to getting the perfume in the mail or by describing the tiny glass bottle with the black top. It didn't even dawn on me when drafting "Too Simple a Reason," my contribution, to start there. Others worked from the idea of the scent on the body, as I did. And still others wrote poems less directly connected to the literal perfume on the body, but as reaction to the fragrance alone. Fascinating.

Another fascination for me is the range of style in the book: short lyrics, longer narrative, single long stanzas, couplets, a sonnet or two, a prose poem, etc. Along this line came the realization that while I recognized many a poet in the book, I met many new writers as well, and now I have a whole new list of books to explore (one of the greatest benefits of anthology reading).

It is nearly impossible to pick a representative poem to quote here, and certainly impossible to pick a favorite as my picture of the dog-eared pages should attest.

However, I'll list some titles as precursor to your reading the real thing come October, should you choose.

The Lost Bottle (Rachel Hadas)
Sniff (Catherine Wing)
You think language is silly until it happens to you (Dorothea Lasky)
The Perfumier on the Comeback of the Scented Glove (Rebecca Morgan Frank)
Mystery Joins Things Together (Rick Barot)
Gulf City Dialect (Nicky Beer)
This is What Manhattan Smells Like? (Matthew Thorburn)
If Scent is the Trigger of Memory, This is what America Remembers (Nick Lantz)
Too pretty for words (Jessica Piazza)
American Masculinity (Jericho Brown)
Dear Rotten Garden-- (Mark Bibbins)
In Algebra Class, Prince Stuck in My Head (Adrian Matejka)
Unrequited Sublime in Three Notes (Traci Brimhall)
At a Certain Point in Marriage (Idra Novey)

Finally, the last poem, Nº 100, is "Your Scent Does Not Remind Me..." by Elana Bell, and we come back full circle to the ideas introduced in Majmudar's poem. How do we say in words what is evoked by a scent? In between these two poems, there were many references to bodies, relationships, flora and fauna of all kinds, pastorals and urban landscapes, flights of fantasy and crushing confessional poems. It was a wild and wonderful ride.

Many thanks to Jehanne Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby for the great job editing the book. The crew at The Literary House Press did a fabulous job on the production of the book as well. I'm so happy to have been included, and I look forward to hearing what other readers think of the collection once it is available to them.


Kathleen said...

Sounds like a wonderful book!

Sandy Longhorn said...

I think you'll love it, Kathleen.