Liz Zorn: Perfume in a Poem
Perfuming Literature: Interview with Christophe Laudamiel

End Note: Perfume in a Poem

Lonely Yellow Umbrella The poem that we've been exploring for the last two weeks, "In a Station of the Metro," took Ezra Pound almost two years to write.  I suppose, then, that it's not such a great shame that I am at a loss for words in response to the great outpouring of creativity and generosity which the perfumers here have shown us over the past two weeks.  I feel as the poet must have felt during those years.  I want to tell you how grateful I am that this project came to life, but I'm afraid I can find very little to add to what the they themselves have written on the subject of Pound's poem.  They truly took this strange little project and made it soar.

Ezra Pound said in Gaudier-Brzeska (1916) "I dare say [this poem] is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort, one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective."

The transformative power at the heart of Pound's verse is perhaps the aspect of the poem that elevates it from a series of interesting images to a great work of art.  Perfumers use exactly this kind of transformative energy in their own artistic work: elements and images are superimposed upon each another, often in the structure of top, heart, and base notes, and the perfumer transforms these elements into a sensory experience that is far greater than the simple sum of the components. 

These particular perfumers--Mandy Aftel, Lisa Fong, Yosh Han, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Rachel Jones, Vero Kern, Christophe Laudamiel, Anya McCoy, Ineke Ruhland, Ayala Sender, Michael Storer, Andy Tauer, Roxana Villa, and Liz Zorn--have done something even greater: they have shown us how outward things such as poems are transformed into inward images and emotions, then expressed outwardly again in words and in scent.  It is not by accident that one perfumer chooses one note to represent "petals" and another chooses a different flower, or even something that is not a flower at all.  Their interpretations are as unique as they are, and we have been privileged to see this creative energy at work in their words and images over the past two weeks.

In their contributions, the perfumers mention over 130 notes, and many appear more than once: vetiver, cistus labdanum, mitti, ambrette seed, pepper (pink and black), patchouli, tonka, oakmoss, and sandalwood are just a few of the ones that attracted the thoughts of several artists.  But the list of unique notes is much longer and is just as fascinating: Sugi wood, Sumi ink, white cognac, osmanthus, cocoa, rubber, raspberry, jabuticaba, frangipani... And each perfumer took a unique approach, some favoring an excavation of the historical context of the poem, some favoring multi-media exploration, and others simply allowing their minds to wander into whatever fragrant pool of inspiration it would go.  Some talk about death and sadness, some about joy and rebirth.  From the routine to the spiritual, from the natural world to the man-made, from Japan to Paris to the subways of America--the span of ideas explored here is genuinely impressive.  And all in English, by fourteen perfumers on two continents, some of whom are writing here in their second or third language. 

I cannot ever thank them enough.  They risked quite a bit in saying "Yes": almost none knew which poem they would be working on when they committed to the project, none knew who the other perfumers in the project were, and almost none knew that they were all working with the same poem until that fact was revealed two weeks ago.  They didn't even know I would be adding editors notes or discussing their other perfumes.  They took a chance on a pretty strange request from a little-known blogger and they trusted us, me and you, Dear Reader, to appreciate an aspect of their work which takes a particular kind of sensitivity.   Each gave much, much more than I asked of them and not one asked for a single thing in return. They simply did it for the creative challenge, for the joy, and for the art in it all.Petalo di Girasole

Throughout the project, people have offered their suggestions and comments both publicly and privately, and other perfumers have shared even more ideas on the directions Ezra Pound's haiku could take in the world of imaginative scent. Natural perfumer JoAnne Bassett, whose Aromatic Journey workshops center around the element of sensory storytelling, has allowed me to post her own imagistic thoughts on the poem here as an example:

My fragrant interpretation of this poem is one of simplicity, such as this poem.

I hear the footsteps on the cement.  Endless chatter on a dismal palette.

The clock moves slowly and then the sound of the rails come alive.

A sweet, floral smell hits my nose and I turn to see the face associated with the scent.  It is one of ylang ylang a very heady scent.  It is too much for my morning nose and I turn away.

The hot coffee smell is overwhelming and is in competition with the hot chocolate.

The damp smell of the rain permeates my nose and the wet wool reeks of tobacco.

A burst of citrus is like sunshine and I welcome the commuter peeling an orange.

My fragrance creation for this poem would be a combination of sweet orange oil, ylang ylang extra essential oil, coffee oil, cocoa absolute, and tobacco absolute.

I'd personally be thrilled to see each and every perfumer alive take on the challenge of turning Ezra Pound's haiku into a perfume, if only for the reason that I know no two would be alike; there is more than enough room in these twenty words for endless scented interpretations. It comforts me to think that even at the end of this project, it might continue to thrive in the imaginations of perfumers who are inspired by the challenge of interpreting Pound's poem in scent.

I have been honestly astonished and humbled by the kindness and openness shown here, and I am changed by the experience of having worked with these extraordinary artists.  Thank you, Reader, for the support you have shown these perfumers by honoring their work with your time and with your comments.  I am grateful to Jason--who was my tireless editor, chef, and constant companion through this wonderful project--as well as Alyssa, for your encouragement and excellent advice from the very beginning.  And to all the individuals who put their considerable resources to work in order to publicize this event: I am greatly indebted to each of you.

.... And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: the Grand Giveaway, which will include samples of the custom fragrances made for this project by Lisa Fong, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Anya McCoy, Ayala Sender, Michael Storer, Andy Tauer, AND Liz Zorn, as well as samples from the perfumes of Mandy Aftel, JoAnne Bassett, Yosh Han, Rachel Jones, Vero Kern, Christophe Laudamiel, Ineke Ruhland, and Roxana Villa goes to: 

MONICA - Your post on 3/20/08 (in response to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's contribution) was the lucky winner.  Congratulations!

And the winners of the ten samples of Michael Storer's Poem eau de parfum are:

  • chayaruchama
  • Eileen
  • HeatherMaville
  • rachael
  • Lauren
  • Debra
  • Laurie
  • Lisa A
  • Jane
  • Tatyana

I will contact each of you by email for your address, or feel free to send it to me via the Contact Me interface. 

Statistical details:  There were 242 eligible entries out of 384 comments. (I disqualified myself, my family members, and my close friends.  Each commenter was allowed up to five entries.) Click here for a screen shot of the results from Random.org. 

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Credits:

  • "Lonely Yellow Umbrella" ©iStockphoto.com/EdouardHarkonen. Used under license.
  • "Petalo di Girasole" ©iStockphoto.com/studiovitra. Used under license.
Posts prior to 2015 first appeared on my previous website, memory & desire (memoryanddesire.net).

Comments

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Heather

chaya and risa: It was such a wonderful pleasure to meet you both this past weekend. Thank you very much for your kindness toward me and for your support of this project. To know that others are enjoying this makes it very satisfying to think of other possibilities for the future!

Ruth: Thank you also, for your generous feedback and support. I hope that Monica will send us her reactions as well. If she does, I will certainly post it for all to read!

Minette: I'm with you - brava/bravo to all, including each commenter and silent reader. It has been an awesome, truly awesome experience.

risa

this was a particularly gorgeous series - thank you for coming up with it!~

Ruth Ruane

Congrats to Monica ~ I would love to hear some feedback from you about the perfumes (the feedback would be a blog in itself)
Heather I thoroughly enjoyed reading every perfumers post. It was a learning inspirational experience. Thank you!

Scent Signals

well, i was just going to say two words: brava! and encore!

but now i have to add that i really like your olfactory vision of the poem! it put me right there in the crowd. a beautiful job all around. congratulations!

chayaruchama

Bravissima, bella !
Tanti auguri, everyone...

This was a splendid act of cooperation, love, and dedication.

I doff my chapeau to you all.

Heather

Thank you, everyone! You guys have been so incredible to me, and I am so glad you all came here and shared in this one-of-a-kind event. As for what's next, I have a few thoughts but I'm open to all ideas!

Anya: I think Monica IS your student!

Debbie: I don't know that poem but I'll keep an eye out for it in the future... I know that feeling, when you're looking for a few lost lines of a poem you've loved for so long.

Suzanne: You're right, this was just like a festival, only without the pushing and shoving! (I'm a little shy of crowds, so I've never been to a festival of the kind you mention.)

sweetlife

Hooray!!!

Crowds cheering as you all cross the finish line together!

A thousand glasses raised to toast the outpouring of art for art's sake, creativity and play that has been on display here!

(*whispers* so what's next?)

Tatyana

Wow!

Congratulations to Monica and other winners:) And, Heather, thank YOU! You did an amazing job bringing this idea to its full realization. Thank you and thank you:))

Eileen

Heather and all others involved -- this must have been a lot of work for you all, as well as the perfumers. Thanks for sharing all of this energy and creativity with us - I've enjoyed reading every entry and imagining the scents.

The sample of of Michael Storer's Poem is just icing on the cake -- but I *love* icing!!

Suzanne

This project was beyond beautiful, Heather.

I live near a university town that hosts one of the biggest arts festivals in the country each summer. It has been going on since the 1970s, and every year, it just keeps getting bigger; the energy of that festival is just electric. That's what I was reminded of by your project: it felt like a perfume festival, a place where I could witness, in a sense, a diverse group of artists in action and be a part of the admiring crowd who revels in their creativity.

Congratulations on going above and beyond to create something that I think all would agree was truly special.

Debbie

Only one poem has ever embedded itself into my consciousness before, and now this one has too. The more I read it, and the more I read of others' thoughts on it, the more I experienced it. It will be loved forever now. This poem and scent experience has been fantastic. I would love to smell JoAnne's fragrance also.

Congratuations, Monica! And I am delighted beyond words to receive a sample of Michael's fragrance. You know my eyes will be glued to the page on his interpretation while I smell his fragrance.

My other poem?

You speak of islands
as I speak of you.
Sea circled and remote,
an island too.
And of such latitude
as islands keep
(and then I can't remember it! something about fragrance!)
My San Salvatore!

I love it. I memorized it when I was 15. Now, at 50, I cannot remember one or two of the lines. Does anyone know this poem?

Anya

I'm hoping the Grand Winner Monica is my student from Taiwan - oh, I so hope so! Congratulations to all of the winners, they contributed to a wealth of commentary that helped all of the perfumers see feedback on our creative process. Thanks to you, too Heather, for taking on this huge task with such dedication and sacrifice, as I know it must have taken a lot of time from your family and social life. Great to see JoAnne submitting her thoughts and as Darlene said, maybe she can be included in the next round of whatever springs from your fertile mind.

Anya (still wondering how to create that "electrical crackle" note ;-)

Darlene Johnson

Congratulations to the winners! Thank you Heather, I really enjoyed this project you started and hope it can be done again! Maybe JoAnne Bassett will be on the next list of perfumers!! Her thoughts on a perfume for Pounds poem sound delicious...

Darlene

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