I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.

Friday 28 June 2013

Poetry & Perfume VII – ‘True Love’ by Sharon Olds & ‘Amaranthine’ by Penhaligon’s & ‘Vanille Absolument’ by L’Artisan Parfumeur

True Love
By Sharon Olds
In the middle of the night, when we get up

after making love, we look at each other in

complete friendship, we know so fully

what the other has been doing. Bound to each other

like mountaineers coming down from a mountain,

bound with the tie of the delivery-room,

we wander down the hall to the bathroom, I can

hardly walk, I hobble through the granular

shadowless air, I know where you are

with my eyes closed, we are bound to each other

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 beyond it.

This is the only poem where I wanted, or more truthfully, the poem demanded two fragrances.

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 other
with huge invisible threads, our sexes
muted, exhausted, crushed, the whole
body a sex..

When I 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.

I said 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.

This has 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.

It almost 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.

Wearing 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.

Bertrand 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.

This skin 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.

Or beyond 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.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Poetry & Perfume VI - ‘Let Evening Come’ by Jane Kenyon & ‘Dior Homme Intense’ by Dior

Let Evening Come 

by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon

shine through chinks in the barn, moving

up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing

as a woman takes up her needles 

and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned

in long grass. Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop

in the oats, to air in the lung

let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't

be afraid. God does not leave us

comfortless, so let evening come

This 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.

When I 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?

Candles 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 shirt.

Random details. 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.

I could 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:

‘I 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.

Reading 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.

Wearing 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.

Kenyon’s 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?’…

She 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”.’

I always have her poems by my bed. Her work is balm and solace. 

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Poetry & Perfume V – 'Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint' by Frederico Garcìa Lorca & 'Nahéma' by Guerlain

Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint

By Frederico Garcìa Lorca

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.

I have the pain of being on this shore,
trunk without branches. What I most regret
is having neither pulp, nor clay, nor flower
to feed the earthworm of my hurt.

If you are my hidden treasure,
if you're my cross, my tear-soaked grief,
if I am your lordship's dog,

don't let me lose what I have gained
and decorate the waters of your river
with my abandoned autumn's leaf.

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.

Lorca’s 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.  

Statement - 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.

But Jean-Paul 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 a shock 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.

All rose 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.

Lorca is 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.

The 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.