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.
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:
- Lisa A
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.