Poetry

Something Completely Different

Shizuo Heiwajima wanders Ikebukuro. (Detail of frame from Durarara!! episode 7, "Bad-Ass Dude".)

“Have to face it, I’m finally an addict; the smell of popcorn and worn plush lingers for weeks.”

Margaret Atwood

Here’s a change of pace:

No matter where you go, the movie theaters tend to smell the same: like popcorn, and the butter-like stuff they put on the popcorn, and that stale odor of recycled air-conditioned air.

Also fear, and sadness, and joy. These feelings aren’t scents, per se, in that you don’t take a whiff of air and consciously think, “Man, it smells scary in here.” But in a study published earlier this week in the journal Nature, a team of researchers found that the air in movie theaters tends to take on unique chemical signatures based on how the audience reacts to what’s happening on the screen. A horror film, for instance, will have a different chemical imprint than a comedy, which will leave a different mark than a tearjerker.

The report from Cari Romm for Science of Us actually sets a number of thoughts in motion, including a weirdly recursive context in which yes, actually people do now have ideas of something smelling scary, and as the colloquialism sets roots in American culture the idea will eventually concretize or crystallize long enough to be noted, and then set right back to shifting and changing and growing and evolving. It’s not quite the same as the decade-old debate whether sour apple or lime tastes like green, though even then the question illustrates contextual challenges. To wit, the straightforward answer: I’m middle-aged; the sour-apple thing is “new” by comparison, so “lime” is what tastes like “green”. A more honest answer: Marijuana. A more cultural-contextually useful answer: I’m sure as a middle-aged lifer in cedar and hemlock country, green means something different to me than it would a young’n barely as tall as the wheat that is all he can see for miles in any direction.

Smells, of course, are more interesting, but translating the relevant trivia about memory into something useful seems a challenging return on investment especially according to a daunting prospect against success.

Nor should we wonder why Atwood comes to mind.

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Image note: Shizuo Heiwajima wanders Ikebukuro. (Detail of frame from Durarara!! episode 7, “Bad-Ass Dude”.)

Atwood, Margaret. “You Take My Hand And”. 1971.

Romm, Cari. “Movie Theaters Smell Like People’s Feelings”. Science of Us. 13 May 2016.

Your Morning Misty Memory

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Photo: Dennis Cook/AP)

This is just for the hell of it, because I had cause to think of it the other day. Never mind.

Hart Seely for Slate, circa 2003:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is an accomplished man. Not only is he guiding the war in Iraq, he has been a pilot, a congressman, an ambassador, a businessman, and a civil servant. But few Americans know that he is also a poet.

Until now, the secretary’s poetry has found only a small and skeptical audience: the Pentagon press corps. Every day, Rumsfeld regales reporters with his jazzy, impromptu riffs. Few of them seem to appreciate it.

But we should all be listening. Rumsfeld’s poetry is paradoxical: It uses playful language to address the most somber subjects: war, terrorism, mortality. Much of it is about indirection and evasion: He never faces his subjects head on but weaves away, letting inversions and repetitions confuse and beguile. His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’. Some readers may find that Rumsfeld’s gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements is as entrancing as Frank O’Hara’s.

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