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Monday, 10 April 2017

The Smell of Paper



There was a stand at Bristol Artists' Book Exhibition last week where you could commission a poem for a pound.

The idea was started by Amber Hsu and she is sometimes joined by Gareth Brookes. At Bristol they had a queue of poems to tap out on the Remington typewriter.

My poem choice was the smell of paper and the poem created by Hsu is quite beautiful, poignant and touches on those ineffable moments that make books such description-defying objects.

It is also an example of how something that seems quite distant is made completely accessible and desirable - qualities we don't necessarily associate with poetry. The thing is Hsu and Brookes are drawing people in - they are making poetry accessible in a multitude of ways.

This is what Hus says about One Pound Poems.


People always seem to be positing whether poetry is dying as an art form (look two examples of people asking here and here). A lot of poetry gets tucked away in rarefied, literary journals that just aren’t that accessible. Everyone says that no one’s buying poetry anymore and no one’s willing to slow down and take the necessary time for poetry’s rewards.

But if this experiment has been proof of anything, it’s that people want more poetry. Seriously, they will literally stand in line and wait for it. See the pic below? That’s an actual QUEUE we had going at the Hackney Fleamarket DIY Art Market (which you should totally check out if you haven’t already, and btw if you don’t know Gareth’s comics and zines you should totally go and get each and every one of them here too because they are all amazing). We actually had to turn people away at the end of that day. Pretty good going for two random kids and a typewriter, eh?

You can read more about One Pound Poems here. 

So one week I get a poem about the smell of paper. The next week there's an article about the smell of paper in the Guardian, in this article, Can you judge a book by its odour.

This is about the odours that books have, our emotional and descriptive responses to them. and research by Cecilia Bembibre that has attached these smells to specific chemicals that date the books. Somebody has even invented a book odour wheel. This is from the text.

Audience members responded with their own sense impressions. Peter, a pensioner, said he experienced books as smelling of salt and pepper – “that dryness when you open the cupboard … with a touch of the sea”, while 46-year-old Donna confessed that she had recently bought a book for her young son partly because it “smelled of the rain”.
To conservators and historians, smell has always played an important role in assessing the origin and condition of historic books, and in working out how to look after them. “I have no vocabulary to define this, but there is a curious warm leathery smell to English parchment, unlike the sharper, cooler scent of Italian skins,” wrote the Cambridge University don and librarian Christopher de Hamel in his bestselling Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts.
But that lack of vocabulary could be about to change, thanks to a groundbreaking project by researchers at UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage, who have devised a way of relating such apparently subjective descriptions directly to the chemical composition of books. In a paper published this week in the journal Heritage Science, Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič describe how they analysed samples from an old book, picked up in a second-hand shop, and developed a “historic book odour wheel”, which connects identifiable chemicals with people’s reactions to them.


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