By Meaghan Menzel
On Tuesday, Oct. 7, the Literary House launched its first anthology and trade paperback “The Book of Scented Things.” The anthology focuses on poetry and perfume and is nationally distributed. “This means that people can now buy the book nationally through Small Press Distribution,” said Dr. Jehanne Dubrow, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and one of the editors for the anthology.
The book launch started with a speech from Dubrow, then a reading from each of the present poets. They read not only their own poem but that of another poet.
According to Dubrow, this project was “two years in the making.” She said, “Lindsay Lusby my co-editor and I first came up with the idea of the anthology in the fall of 2012 during a quiet afternoon at the Literary House. It had become clear that I had a problem—a perfume problem. ‘Surely,’ I said to Lindsay, ‘there must be some way to use this fragrant habit for good rather than evil.’ And an hour later we had sketched out the rough outline of the project.”
Dubrow and Lusby began to contact poets across the country the next day. According to Lusby, they went through Dubrow’s “poets address book” and contacted about 150 poets. These poets included writers who had visited Washington College before and other poets Dubrow met through her line of work.
“The purpose of the [Literary House] Press is to connect Washington College to the larger literary community by publishing books by poets and prose writers of national reputation,” Dubrow said.
“Each poet who agreed to write a poem for ‘The Book of Scented Things’ received an individually selected vial of perfume,” she said. “They were given a simple instruction: please write a poem that engages with or responds to the fragrance that we have sent you.” Dubrow and Lusby received 98 poems, and each wrote a poem as well.
Dubrow and Lindsay along with poets whose works were also featured in the anthology—Sandra Beasley, Writer-in-Residence Meredith Hadaway, Dr. James Hall, and Leslie Harrison— read at the event.
Dubrow said that as she and Lusby received more submissions, “Certain themes began to present themselves. There were poems about the writing of poetry, poems about smell and the act of sniffing itself, poems that consider the philosophical and the spiritual, poems about places… poems residing in memory, poems about the body, and of course poems about love and longing.”
Hadaway said, “Part of my process was studying every freaking note. I learned all about Josephine and Napoleon and perfume and the history of perfume, then I went off on a sideline about guillotines, and I came up with a…sonnet that had it all—life, death, perfume. [Then] as I was writing it, I had the little vial sitting on my desk… and my freaking cat jumped up and knocked the vial over. So I just had to write a second poem… and I gave both to Jehanne, and she was like, ‘Oh, we want the cat.’”
Hall said that he sprinkled his perfume on his pillow for two nights. He said, “The second night I did remember my dream, and my grandmother was in it telling me to smell the bottle. I woke up to smell the bottle… and it had fallen. It had broken… and I had no more perfume, and I didn’t have my grandmother either.”
Meanwhile, Harrison said, “I’m… a complete perfume rookie. I have never worn perfume.” She did not try on the perfume when she received her vial. Instead, she said, “I got fascinated with how perfume gets made and what it is. Like this idea that you’re bottling scent… So I got really interested in the process of making perfume which, as many processes are, is actually sort of violent.”
Dubrow said it was a big help when all the poets who took part in creating the anthology submitted their poems on time. She also said Owen Bailey, the administrative assistant of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, helped with marketing and promoting the anthology. Alumna Sam Gross also played a part in the creation of the book.
According to Dubrow, “Sam served as our literary house intern. As part of her duties, Sam worked directly with each of the 100 contributors to the anthology, creating style sheets for each poet, sending out proofs, reading through the anthology dozens and dozens of times, catching numerous errors and typos the rest of us missed.”
Gross said the best part for her in participating in this anthology was “getting to read all the poems before they got published.”
Dubrow announced upcoming Literary House projects at the event such as the first edition of the “Cherry Tree,” in February 2015, a chapbook featuring a short story by Baltimore Fiction Writer James Magruder in autumn 2015, and their second anthology of poems titled, “Still Life with Poems” by autumn 2016.
According to Dubrow, “Working on ‘The Book of Scented Things’ has been a joy and a pleasure.”
Students and staff can purchase a copy of “The Book of Scented Things” at the WC Bookstore or online at amazon.com.