Like Poignant Land Mines

“Smell brings to mind… a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years.”
Diane Ackerman

A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman has been on my reading list for a year, recommended by my first adviser at Goddard. I can now see why she recommended it. As a writer and a poet, we are often reminded to engage all of our senses in our writing but for me, the hardest sense to capture in words has been the smell. Ackerman writes “when we see something, we can describe it in gushing detail, in a cascade of images…But who can map the features of a smell? We tend to describe how they make us feel.”

Here are two memorable smells that Ackerman captures in words. “Violets smell like sugar cubes that have been dipped in lemon and velvet,” She writes this is what writers do “define one smell by another smell or another sense.” “A Peace rose smells like sugared leather dipped in honey.” I highly recommend this book not only for writers and poets but for anyone who is interested in the world of our senses.

Today, spend some time writing about smells or look through your writing and find where you are missing lush descriptions of senses. Try to write about the smell of the ocean, a garden, your mother’s kitchen, a classroom, a new book, a spring morning, your dinner last night, a favorite perfume… Now get back to work!

The Writing Nag

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