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Perfume and Poetry

Location: Rose O’Neill Literary House

October 07, 2014
The Literary House Press asked 100 contemporary poets to react to tiny vials of fragrance selected just for them. The results are published in The Book of Scented Things, being launched Oct. 7 with a festive reading.

CHESTERTOWN, MD—What if 100 contemporary poets were sent individually selected vials of perfume, each fragrance chosen to reflect the author’s voice, aesthetic or writerly obsessions? What if each then wrote a new poem in response?

The answers are collected in The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems about Perfume, edited by Jehanne Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby and being launched this fall by the Literary House Press, publishing arm of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College.

The Press will celebrate the new book, its first-ever trade paperback, at a festive reading and reception on Tuesday, October 7, beginning at 4:30 p.m. on the Literary House porch, 407 Washington Avenue.

Dubrow, left, a poet and professor of English who serves as director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, is a self-described perfumista, obsessed with the world of perfume. She felt the book could reflect the strong impact smell has on emotional memories, and link the art and craft of poetry to that of fragrance design. She worked with co-editor Lusby, who is assistant director of the Literary House, to select and send each participating poet a tiny vial of a fragrance.

The matching of scent to poet was strictly intuitive, says Dubrow, who assigned herself Incense Oud by Kilian and suggested that Lusby take home Jo Malone’s Lime Basil & Mandarin.  “We asked ourselves odd questions,” she writes in the book’s introduction, “like, If Laura Kasischke were a flower, what would she smell like? What’s the spice of a Matthew Zapruder line break? And, Is a Rachel Hadas poem an orchard or a temple?”

The contributors, each an accomplished writer who has published at least one book, were told that their poetic response could be a memory, a series of associations, an interpretation of the scent, or some entirely different kind of interaction. “You can wear the perfume or sprinkle it on your pillow, or just sniff the scent in its glass vial—whatever works best for your process,” the instructions noted.

The responses form a collection that spans a wide spectrum of human experience and subject matter—place and childhood, philosophy and politics, love and longing and grief. “For some, there were narratives waiting to be written, waiting to be triggered by the memory-laden sense of smell,” says Dubrow.

The Book of Scented Things includes a preface essay by Alyssa Harad, author of the memoir Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure and an Unlikely Bride. A back section lists the 100 contributors with a brief biographical note on each and the name of the perfume he or she received. 

At the October 7 launch celebration in Chestertown, poets Sandra Beasley (who was matched with Jo Malone’s Blackberry & Bay), Meredith Davies Hadaway (Osmanthe Yunnan by Hermés), James Allen Hall (Dark Purple from Montale), Leslie Harrison (Nectarine Blossom & Honey, from Jo Malone), and Shara Lessley (Roses Elixir from Montale) will join co-editors Dubrow and Lusby in reading their own poems from the anthology and sharing favorites contributed by others.  A book sale and signing will follow, along with refreshments from JoJo’s Cupcakes and Cream and a drawing for a bottle of Chanel No. 5 Eau Première.

A second event will be held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, October 29, at the Arts Club of Washington, (2017 I Street, NW). Beginning at 7:00 p.m., it will feature readings by Harrison, Lessley, and James Arthur (Grand Néroli from Atelier Cologne) and a discussion with the editors moderated by Sandra Beasley.  

The Book of Scented Things will be available for purchase in select independent bookstores and online at Small Press Distribution

Image: The first trade book from the Literary House Press features cover art by Carla Echevarria.

Last modified on Sep. 30th, 2014 at 10:48am by .