Wednesday, January 10, 2007
And what about that smell on Monday?
Poetry affects almost all the senses: you can touch it in book form, you can see it, you can hear it, and, with the right descriptions (or the right good-looking reader), the saliva glands are affected so much so that you can taste it.
But can you smell it? In modern poetry--rarely.
While some poets excel at writing descriptions that ignite the sense of smell, it is difficult. Smell is our most coveted personal asset; we want to think of it as part of what makes us unique. Anyone can admire a beautiful woman's eyes, but we rarely share in a group admiration of the same smell, especially if it is not related to food.
During the printing of Karen Hildebrand's amazing book "One Foot Out the Door," the author and her Three Rooms Press agent did share a smell experience. After a press check in midtown, we walked outside and smelled a sweet, vanilla-like odor whose source we couldn't place. Back in Greenwich Village a few minutes later, we caught the same scent again. Next day's paper said that we weren't alone. Thousands of New Yorkers had been collectively smelling this rather pleasant scent and no one could explain where it came from. Certainly, not one single person proposed that the scent came from New Jersey.
Monday morning in Three Rooms Press' Greenwich Village headquarters, staffers were overwhelmed by a scent that smelled like someone turned on a gas oven but forgot to light the pilot. As visions of Sylvia Plath danced in our heads, we staggered outside, only to find the smell permeating the street as well. We drifted a few blocks, where the smell was less, to the embracing arms (and scents) of The Pink Tea Cup on Grove Street. There, the smell transmuted to a blend of bacon, coffee and hot biscuits. After breakfast, we came back to a much dissipated gas odor, and breaking news commentary about how thousands were affected by this smell from midtown to the Village. More than one expert declared that the source of the odor was ABSOLUTELY New Jersey.
Poor New Jersey. And poor news reporters. Like poetry, television and newspapers have a difficult time displaying anything that accurately describes thousands of people being affected by smell. All the photos in the world can't do it. It requires either direct contact with the smell or very difficult word usage which modern poetry can inspire.
From now on--more poems involving smell!