I’ve always found one of the best environments for telling stories is around a campfire. For me it is more than the images in the flickering flame; it’s the smell of woodsmoke and that hiss of resistance before the crackle as the fire leaps. Above us is the sight of stars, around us is the smell of trees and in our cold fingers are gently charred eats. There is a lulling or whipping up of a nearby sea or the smell of stirred soil. Light plays across features adding accents to faces as we hear far off sounds in the shadows. It is a situation made for sharing and weaving tales together, as cultures across the world have for millennia. I’ve done a fair share of this, finding songs, rhythms, and meaning in the company of strangers and friends, and alone with rain thundering on tent walls.
It’s not always possible or appropriate to bimble off to a campfire. In fact, due to restrictions imposed by health and mobility issues in recent years, I’ve ended up being more of an obscure artist in the attic figure. Yet I find an intentional, conscious use of the sensory world drives and informs my work just as much. A recent poem, Experience was happily inspired by a visual prompt by Sue Vincent’s ‘ #writephoto challenge. Yet while the initial impulse came from the visual, I decided to explore it through other senses with a tale of two people exploring the garden represented in the picture, one of them without sight. It was other senses, together with the power of memory that I used to explore the connection between two humans and the world around them.
The sensory world is telling us stories all the time, and I feel one part of a writer’s or artist’s job is to listen and interpret these narratives alongside our own. We each experience how colours, images, scents, and sounds take our minds and emotions on different journeys, but how often do we give ourselves space to notice or immerse ourselves in this, or question and explore these patterns? Each of us has personal relationships with tastes and textures and fragrances, often taking us back to a time, place or emotion. For me, part of many creative processes is a proactive relationship to the sensory world instead of only an unconscious one. Part of that is knowing yourself.
Some of my emotional reactions I am aware I share with many others. I know, for example, that with the first whiff of sea air I feel a sense of freedom and homecoming. The smell of rising sap and I feel a sense of hope and opportunity. The smell of baking and I feel hungry. The smell of jasmine or spearmint and I feel joy. Cat or dog breath makes me feel resignation and affection. The smell of my favourite human’s aftershave, hand cream or soap makes me feel a sense of belonging. Knowing such things helps me set a stage. Along with poems and stories, I create aromas that form their own ghost landscapes, full of recollections, associations and immense potentiality. I never wear or create too sweet a perfume; I always say it may give people the wrong idea. I seek a complex balancing act of earthy and airy, sweet and sharp, resinous and a touch spicy, occasionally surprising and nearly always hard to pin down. I’ve come to realize that I have a similar process and aims in much of my written work. Sometimes I succeed.
So, whatever other tools I have in my creative kit, the world of scent is one of them. Like words, if you find the right combination your mind and emotion can travel almost anywhere. Like the fragrances in nature, there are always new forms and word combinations to be found. For me, creative space can be made with a pallet of garden herbs, kitchen spices or my trusty old box of essential oils. Likewise, it can be conjured from a photograph or a new rhythm or form offered to us by generous fellow poets such as Sonya Annita Song. Followers of this blog may well recognize her prompts in several of my posts in recent months. Inspiration can be sculpted from many things. Yet there is something deep inside that links me always to the outside world and its pulse, from the need to hear the wind to the tide-clock in my bedroom. Tomorrow, as a late birthday treat, I’m wheeling out into the icy woods before visiting local artists and a craft centre then a drink and food by a roaring (indoor) fire. I’m excited; I sense the possibilities.