Thursday, August 17, 2006

Whenever I teach a sensory writing class, I remind my students to not just write about beautiful sensory experiences--there is power in our prickly, disturbing sensory experiences, as well. So I was tickled to find this article in the Washington Post about a writer's quest to find the stinkiest spots in New York. He takes a retired sanitation worker and a perfume maker along to help him map out Manhattan's most disgusting smells (the perfume maker gets quite overwhelmed at times, and has to walk away from the most offensive odors.) In A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman explores about how difficult it is to write about scent, since it is such an ephemeral sense--we have to come at it sideways, through metaphor. Here are some metaphors I appreciated in this article:

--There is a fish market nearby with an assortment of scallops and lobsters cooling on ice, but those odors have been overwhelmed by something else, something vile and pitiless. Hints of rotten mustard, a soupcon of ammonia, undertones of armpit. The scent evolves in your nostrils like an argument that escalates -- it starts off testy, then insults your mother.

--This is like honeyed rot marinated in hummus, as odious as a wet kiss from a wino.
--If migraines had an odor, they would smell like this.

No comments: