what the other has been doing. Bound to each
like mountaineers coming down from a
bound with the tie of the delivery-room,
we wander down the hall to the bathroom, I
hardly walk, I hobble through the granular
shadowless air, I know where you are
with my eyes closed, we are bound to each
with huge invisible threads, our sexes
muted, exhausted, crushed, the whole
body a sex—surely this
is the most blessed time of my life,
our children asleep in their beds, each fate
like a vein of abiding mineral
not discovered yet. I sit
on the toilet in the night, you are somewhere
in the room,
I open the window and snow has fallen in a
steep drift, against the pane, I
look up, into it,
a wall of cold crystals, silent
and glistening, I quietly call to you
and you come and hold my hand and
I say I cannot see beyond it. I cannot see
the only poem where I wanted, or more truthfully, the poem demanded two
True Love is one of my most precious poems; I am quite
overcome by Sharon Olds when I read her sensual and open work. Her words read
like intimate confessions, yet strike our hearts and minds with real physical
force. She is brutally honest, yet a tactile and emotive writer, her work is anchored
in all of our physical realities. She dissects the body, heart and mind with
almost unbearable precision.
Her most recent
collection Stag’s Leap was
extraordinary. An intimate and shared journey through the slow and painful
disintegration of Old’s marriage. The
poems were written over fourteen years and Old’s has allowed us to glimpse into
a sacred house of intimacy and witness the wars and love the rooms have witnessed.
I struggled with the intensity of them, and will need to return to them as an
ongoing commitment, like talking to a friend after trauma. She was awarded the
Pulitzer Prize for Stag’s Leap, a
strangely public prize for such private work. But this in many ways is poetry,
the sharing of scars and intimacies, the transmissions of love and pain that
lay down messages for us to pick up and imbibe.
True Love is taken from Wellspring, a moist and intimate collection, dealing awash with
sex, death, birth and the ties that bind us at so many times of our fraught
lives. Invisible or not, some ties hold, some strangle. I return to this group
of poems again and again. They are nighttime words, sex words. I have read them
to strangers in hotel rooms, read them in flickering bedroom light, feeling
each word like a needle or a caress depending on my mood.
….I know where you are,
with my eyes closed, we are bound to each
with huge invisible threads, our sexes
muted, exhausted, crushed, the whole
body a sex..
read these lines. I knew I had to have Amaranthine
by Penhaligon’s. Created by Bertrand Duchaufour in 2009, this carnal, corrupted
floral changed many people’s perceptions of the classic English house. Bertrand
was given carte blanche to create something shocking. It was his first
commission for Penhaligon’s and is in my opinion the best fragrance the house has
ever done. Loaded with two huge beating heart
notes of jasmine and ylang-ylang absolutes, Amaranthine
assaults the senses. Ylang has to be
controlled in fragrance. Early mods of Amaranthine
were rejected for failing to comply with IFRA guidelines. Ylang has a
reputation as aphrodisiac oil; high doses cause dizziness, rapid heartbeat and
nausea. Love, hate and desire essentially.
the poem demanded two fragrances. Two bodies, one mix. So to echo the comfort
and physical recognition of the couple in True Love, I chose Vanille Absolument by L’Artisan
Parfumeur also created by Bertrand. It was important to me to have two perfumes
by the same nose. They would meld, echo, subvert and obsess each other.
been my signature scent since it launch in 2009. Sadly it has been discontinued,
so I have been forced to buy up bottles wherever I can. A fabulously sexed-up vanilla, soaked in rum
and smoked with the sweet caramel tones of Cuban tobacco. Piracy, cane sugar,
sweat and heat. Things are wrapped in one of the most buttery burnt twisted
vanilla ever made.
overwhelms you where you first spray it on; dizzying in its intensity, pungent
with a whiff of what seems like burnt butter. This butyric twist is lit through
with plumes of smoky tobacco and rounded off with tonka bean, the licorice lick
of immortelle and narcissus absolutes. This heart of smoke and mirrors precedes
the final dazzling act of vanilla absolutes, smoked woods, musk, benzoin, Tolu
balsam and mosses. These base elements sway slowly across the skin like an ancient
ritualistic dance in a room walled in amber, the air liquid with love.
Everything is honeyed, sweet, smoked and warm.
or smearing these fragrances together seems almost obscene. So much sex, the
rolling of skin, the heat of post-coital tenderness… Old’s ‘shadowless air’,
the oxygen and light burned up by such committed intensity. Yet both scents
have kernels of intimacy that remain separate from the other. The porny
corrupted milk and shattered flora of Amaranthine
gives way to a languorous unfurling of scented fingers and limbs. Vanille Absolument drops into a
half-remembered movie moment of shared cigarettes and bruised skin, the air
humid with desire.
Duchaufour has imagined the vanilla pod as skin, wrapped around the most
delicious rum and raisin internals, underpinned with radiant balsamics and the
most exquisite amber and woods. His trademark atmospherics vibrate, shimmer and
open out on the skin, widening Vanille
Absolument into a panoramic wonder.
facet, the effect of comfortable post-coital scent resonates with the poem, the
ease of one other, and the intimacy of shared spaces. The physical act of love,
still so tender and meaningful. The kids doze, the couple treasure a moment in
a bathroom, so full of familiarity, the drama of sudden awareness, of oncoming
fragility, looms large as snow against the glass. The view is blocked. For a
moment, they cannot see beyond it.
each other, beyond their lives or just the simple piles of white crystals
drifting up against the glass. There is a telescoping of emotion at the end. I
would like to imagine them, skins cross-scented with vanilla, ylang and
tobacco, listening to snow fall, reaching for each others fingers in the dark.
poem and fragrance may seem at first like unusual companions, but there is subtlety
and grace to my reasoning. Jane Kenyon’s poem is a quiet decent into death,
shadows shifting, light stretching, and time inevitably moving toward darkness.
I have been
haunted by it ever since I first read it many years ago during a brush with
severe illness. It affected me profoundly. Each verse adds more details - dew,
crickets, stars, an abandoned hoe, a bottle in a ditch, air in lungs, a scoop
in the oats, light and foxes. These
quiet things are settled, in repose as darkness comes. The picture painted is
one of shimmering suffused rest. But there is comfort in the creeping shadows,
an inevitability of solace in obscurity and shade.
Let evening come. I am ready. I am rested.
read this I wonder… what will I remember as evening falls, the great highs and
lows, the operatic passions and sexual dramas that shattered the peace of
random seasons. Will it be faces, in rooms, endless rooms, lit by joy and
regret? Or will it be the detail, the minutiae. The scoop in the oats, the bottle
in the ditch?
on strewn student floors, a Paris polaroid on a table, cigarettes in drunken
fingers. The scent of beeswax and oakmoss on sleeping skin, a cat asleep in
moonlight, shoes on a crumpled bed, a Highland lake, safety pins in a broken
Shrouded in dusk. Warmed through with the comfort of letting go. Of faith in
something, even if it is just the knowledge of finality.
…Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
smell something in the darkness. It took me a while to get it. Then remembered
a review of Dior Homme & Dior Homme Intense
I had written for Basenotes a while back:
imagine walking through a city nightscape, kicking through cocoa powder like
the finest of sand beneath my feet, clouds of it catching flickering overhead
neons. I am wearing lipgloss, people stare, some smile, some close their eyes.
The air is still, my skin is alive though with spices, chocolate and the lilac
kiss of bruised iris. I want them to know I am man who takes risks, a man who
walks on the dark side of the line. The ambiguity of Dior Homme is startling enough, but its David Bowie Man Who Fell to
Earth eeriness is almost unbearably beautiful. My skin adores it, drinks itself
giddy on it. It settles around me like a halo, barely glowing, but still warm
enough to burn wings. For me the Intense
version is even better, more swirling cocoa, more sci-fi, more sweet rain. Like
a drug, distance and separation can cause heartache and withdrawal.’
this again I knew I had found my scent for Let
Evening Come, a sweet brooding aroma to drop into, like arms and kisses in
the darkness. The enhanced cocoa note in Dior
Homme Intense floods the senses with drama and detail. The original fragrance by Olivier Polge
changed the face of men’s scent forever. It is perhaps one of the most
beautiful and enigmatic men’s fragrances of the last twenty years. On a visit to Edinburgh Bertrand Duchaufour
said it was the fragrance he would have loved to have made. Praise indeed. So many sweet, powdery men’s scents have
followed, but none of them have ever come close to Polge’s original. Patrick
Demarchy reworked Dior Homme for the Intense version. It has been re-formulated
and this has split the Intense
lovers. Some love the remix, others hate it.
the scent again reminds me how delicately the notes are assembled. There is
space in between the accords and facets, allowing the senses to breathe and
absorb the beauty. I have always admired the stillness of this scent. There is
a tremor of something in the background. Something coming, but it is so hard to
discern edges in the falling darkness.
life was brief; she died of leukemia at the age of 47 after battling depression
for most of her life. Her poetry is incredibly beautiful, marked by simplicity
and a quiet and steadfast faith. Many of her poems feel like prayers or psalms.
In an interview with David Bradt included in her Selected Poems published by
Bloodaxe, Kenyon is asked ‘What’s the poet’s job?’…
replied…’….the other job the poet has is to console in the face of inevitable
disintegration of loss and death, all the tough things we have to face as
humans. We have the consolation of beauty, of one soul extending to another
soul, and saying “I’ve been there too”.’
have her poems by my bed. Her work is balm and solace.
I was first
introduced to Frederico Garcìa Lorca at university by a lover who I will call
Blood. He would like that, he was always threatening ridiculous stuff. It suits
him. Blood was obsessed with self-murdered or martyred poets. (I went through
it too… Plath, Sexton, Lowell, Crane, Mishima, Pavese etc…). He loved with abandon. For a while Blood and
Lorca seemed indelibly linked. Even now, when I was preparing for this event,
reading Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint
I had uneasy and tremulous flashbacks to sticky flats and the scent of Blood’s
deathly rolling tobacco he bought from Love’s tobacconist’s on North Bridge.
terrible death and the anguished art of his last years have always resonated
with me. I like his theatre, the haunting claustrophobia of The House of Bernalda Alba is
unforgettable. But for me personally it is the poetry he wrote in the last year
of his life, Sonetos del Amor Oscuro
(Sonnets of Dark Love) that are so shock and move. They are a huge cry in
the dark of love to a young man whose identity remained a mystery until only
last year when he was revealed to be art critic and journalist Juan Ramirez de
Lucas, who died in 2010. Before his death his entrusted a cache of letters and
mementoes to his sister. Ramiriez de Lucas was only 19 in 1936 and was
paralysed by the intensity of Lorca’s desires.
- I love roses. Strong ballsy roses, cut with woods, salt, oud, patchouli,
hairspray, candyfloss, chocolate and the retro lipstick beauty of violet. It is a scent I have come to late in life,
looping me back directly to my childhood in the Middle East where rosewater and
the scent of woody, smoked rose oil are filtered through everyday life. I have a lot of rose perfumes in my
collection, some sweet, some dipped in cocoa, some burned through with
patchouli, fire and smoke, others more traditional, slow burning, gardens at
dusk and the scent of a summer arm.
Guerlain’s Nahéma from 1979 is the
rose that burns like ruby fire in my heart. Sometimes it seems to be almost too
much to bear, something that might consume me if I wore too much at once, burn
me to ground in a blaze of Ferrrari-tinted flame. Nahéma is ashock and awe
rose, violently gorgeous. Some claim it contains no rose at all, and is a CGI
masterpiece of aromachemical sleight of hand.
In fact there are roses galore, Rose de Mai, Bulgarian rose, oil of
roses and damascenones, the natural isolates found in roses that flicker in
scent like vermilion flames in distant windows. The peach accord, so beloved of
Guerlain just gilds the lily as it were, adding layers of bronzed depth and warm
honeyed addiction. It causes the roses to deepen in tone mingling with
voluptuous ylang, lily and vanilla.
fragrances hold secrets I think, something dark and private for each individual
wearer. Like unfolding the velvet petals, there is shadow at the heart. Nahéma is a vortex of rubicund emotions.
Drenched in the grandest French drama, yet magnificently sophisticated and
burnished. I chose it for the Lorca poem
because of its flickering beauty and mystery. There is something behind the
rose, an element of secret-self that always remains hidden. It is one of the
few great Guerlain fragrances I continue to wear that still continues to
intrigue me. It has changed of course, the roses are a touch more brassy than
before, the base a little more shallow, the opening aldehydes a little
exhausted. But the overall power still remains.
a man who would have understand the power and symbolism of a rose. His late
sonnets are laments for desire and drama, for understanding in the shadwows.
The love he speaks of is intense and vibrantly alive.
I am afraid to lose the miracle
Of your eyes – like a statue’s – and the voice
Which strokes my cheek, a thing nocturnal,
Your breathing’s solitary rose.
passion and pain of Lorca’s late passion for his young man burns out of the Sonnets of Dark Love. They have stood the test of time, preserved
their mystery and stand as searing testament to an all-consuming love and the
memory of an extraordinary man. Nahéma,
daughter of fire, is an olfactive essay in smouldering love, a light that burns
through the years, igniting the skins she loves. Truly moving, I love the
emotions she provokes, drama, contemplation and a sense of something secret,
something lost that leaves behinds a deep dark rose-filled hole. These words
serve to fill something of the night.