Poem Tryouts: What Does This Smell Like?

04 Jun

7:26 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Maui Hawaiian Sup’pa Man sung by Iz

Hello, all. Two posts today. I shall give you the prompt now, then, later, send out the calendar for the summer. I want to keep the two elements separate.

Smell_Sign-460We start our summer program with an exercise to do with imagery, one of the most important aspects of poetry because that is one of the main links between the poem and the reader. Whether the poem focuses on story, theme, or description [or any combination of the three], imagery, sensory imagery, is the bridge to the reader.

Something many writers forget is that imagery includes all the senses, not just the visual. While visual imagery is strong because most people are image oriented, the sense of smell is powerful because it is the one sense routed through the memory area of the brain. Tactile imagery attracts all those people who have to keep their hands in their pockets in a museum [I’m one – I learn and make my bridges through touch]. And we are bombarded by sound everywhere. If you employ imagery, your reader can step into the poem. Check Keats’ poem “The Eve of St. Agnes,” if you want to read a master of sensory imagery: Forty-two stanzas and worth every minute you spend reading.

We will try several exercises which may, or may not, result in poems. Don’t worry if all you end up with is a list of images. They become a resource pool for you.

by Chris Pirillo

by Chris Pirillo

Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived.” Helen Keller

Smell is the most evocative of the senses. Of all our senses it is the one which will most immediately transport us to another place and time, because it routes coffee-smell-660through our memory. There are odours that spark passion and sensuousness and others that repel us physically. Our culture produces thousands of products to alter a person’s scent or that of her surroundings. Animals use scent to mark their territories. We use scent to mask and manipulate.

Smell, scent, odour, fragrance, bouquet …what other words do you associate with smell? Go around your house, place of work, or choose a route to walk. Focus on smell only. Do your perceptions of a place change with smell? Below, we have several possibilities for using smell in a poem.

John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse  

Describe smells. On the left side of the page, list significant smells; and on the right side, jot down what you associate with these smells. Pick two or three and expand into a vignette.

by Kevin Ertell

by Kevin Ertell

Describe two or three places using only your sense of smell. Don’t mention the places.

Describe a person using only your sense of smell. Don’t mention the person.

Describe your most vivid memory evoked by a smell.

Flikr user Ashok

Flikr user Ashok

Enjoy focusing on smelling things this week. Smell even things you know the scent of, but now focus on the smell. What does this thing smell like? How do you put the smell into words that another person can smell? Dip into your spice jars. If there were no names for herbs and spices, how would you describe their smell?

According to summer rules, you may write on this, this week, and post here, or you may choose the topic for three weeks from now, even though you will go into it without my bit of chat. Should you choose the latter, post here anyway, but tell people your poem is for the prompt three weeks down the road. You can slot smell in somewhere else, or ignore it and redo another prompt. It’s reading5summer. I don’t really have rules but even they are at the beach.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 04/06/2013 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , ,

10 responses to “Poem Tryouts: What Does This Smell Like?

  1. markwindham

    04/06/2013 at 5:28 pm

    I will have to come back for fresh writing over the summer. here are a couple of scent related pieces written on the same theme:

    I did a search for ‘scent’ in my archives…17 posts. Hmmm. I think I have heard that scent is the most powerful provoker of memory.

    • margo roby

      04/06/2013 at 5:44 pm

      You have heard that have you? 🙂 I’ll be back tomorrow to read. I don’t do well after a glass of red!

      • markwindham

        04/06/2013 at 5:48 pm

        I am sure you do just fine, you just might be a bit concerned with excess honesty in your comments. 😉 Enjoy, I am off to track practice. No red for me tonight.

  2. Hannah Gosselin

    04/06/2013 at 9:36 pm

    Hello! This is intense…tricky thing to try and describe smells without stating them…I didn’t succeed this time but there’s lots of meat to this post…I believe I’ll be back to chew on this, (tough steak). 😉

    Thank you, Margo and :)’s to you!!

  3. barbara_

    07/06/2013 at 12:07 pm

    Working it just a little.


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