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Imagine: the scent of a rose

I began writing a long post summarizing salient points from two months spent consciously noticing smells, learning about smells (smell tours, scratch-and-sniff art, smell mapping, etc.), reading for smells — and wondering, since smells have the power to evoke memories, why not more descriptions, more language, more words giving us the whole olfactory experience? But the language – our writing and talking – of scents, aromas, fragrances and stinky stuff tends to be secondhand and hindering. Except for well-known and frequently encountered smells like pine and smoke, roses and peppermint, the language of smells favors simile and suggestion. I can say, the scent of black currants is like a pine forest on a hot summer day and you’ll probably know what I mean but you won’t know exactly the smell of black currants unless you share my experience of picking from a garden patch in Alaska in late August and then the experience is more encompassing than simply smells . . . lifting long branches and searching for clusters draped like tiny grapes, breathing the semi-pine-scented stickiness, and the bugs, often both mosquitoes and yellowjackets. Unless it is raining. . . .

So I diagrammed my view of the relationships between readers and writers, smell-experience and imagination. What do you think?

Smells: The Aroma Factor in Literature

Smells: The Aroma Factor in Literature

Without a shared “smell” experience, does the reader just skip over descriptions of smells? Does this explain why scents get a relatively small percentage of page space? Or is it a deficit of imagination?


Photo from Katie Eberhart’s personal photo library (Rose. Aug. 11, 2001).