SMELL IS A POTENT WIZARD THAT TRANSPORTS YOU ACROSS A THOUSAND MILES AND ALL THE YEARS YOU HAVE LIVED.
– HELEN KELLER
IT IS THE GOLDEN MAXIM TO CULTIVATE THE GARDEN FOR THE NOSE, AND THE EYES WILL TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES.
– ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
My wife Wendy Bourgeois got me into perfume. She has built her obsession for years now, while I am a total novice. It wasn’t precisely that I wanted to catch up with her nose, but I have my own obsessive ways of apprehending a thing. I began to think about perfume as a problem to solve, and it was out of this need to solve a problem that I came upon the idea to this project.
I had just applied and been accepted to PSU for an MFA in poetry, but at the last minute I found I was two credits shy of completing my undergraduate degree. I had to scramble to find a suitable course of study I could complete by the end of summer. I had been tinkering around and talking with Wendy about the idea of putting together perfume related description writing workshop. She suggested I use that idea as my class.
I’m pretty heady when it comes to my obsessions and as a result of that headiness I have the tendency to make things more difficult than sometimes necessary. While constructing the class, I thought one way to think about perfume would be to think of each one like a text, or like a novel. I thought what if each perfume acted as a novel for the nose. With this in mind I wanted to bring the perfume to the writers stripped of context. I was interested in how one perceives the very thingness of scent. As a reader of perfume and then to write about them, I didn’t want to be influenced by the maker’s name, or the name of the perfume; I only wanted to read the smell.
It was then Wendy and I contacted Tracy and André at Fumerie Parfumerie. They were gracious enough to curate the experience. For five weeks straight, Wendy and I devised a different writing exercise each week and each week André put together a package of unmarked samples for us to smell. After the first week, this exchange became like a conversation. We, the readers groped around in the dark trying to find new ways to access meaning, while André and Tracy were our light bringers showing us the way. Each week we came back with more questions, and each week they responded with their own questions: “What about this?”, “How about these three?” or “What if you thought about this variation on a theme?”.
The work we writers performed is varied and expansive: ruminations on specific memories, philosophical questions of just how memory works, magical realist travel to places in the imagination, animals, plants, sex, love, revulsion—everything from the sacred to the profane.