Competition

Spectator competition winners: poems about favourite smells

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3189 you were invited to submit a poem about a favourite smell.

This challenge certainly seemed to strike a chord — not surprising, perhaps, given the looming threat of Covid-induced anosmia. As Brian Murdoch puts it:

Be ever grateful for your sense of smell!
Treat no aroma with the least disdain,
In case some virus makes you so unwell
That you can never smell a thing again…


Other star turns, in an entry that was a delight to judge, were Adrian Fry (‘Most of all, I crave the pong/ of a layabed, copperhead girl gone wrong…’), Chris Ramsey’s Wordsworthian tribute to the smell of frying bacon and Paul Brown’s clever twist on Herrick. Commendations also go to David Silverman, Nick MacKinnon and Sarah Drury.

The winners take £25 each.

The smooth, sharp tang of lime or lemon zest;
The autumn gush of cider apples pressed;
The lilac that intoxicates the bees;
The brisk broth of a briny seaside breeze;
Mown hay’s clean, sweet surrender to clear skies;
Gorse flowers’ playful coconut surprise;
A raindrop’s splashy duet with dry earth;
A grapevine’s juicy air of purple mirth;
Fried masterpieces sizzling with a wealth
Of greasy, joyous disregard for health;
A yeasty fresh-brewed beer or fresh-baked bread;
A newborn’s drowsy, delicate, lush head;
The sun’s perfume you wear when you come in
From gardening, the season on your skin —
For all these, coffee richly wakes my senses
To how immense each scent with its portents is.
Chris O’Carroll

A fine bouquet! That rich and potent smell:
a ‘high’, to which no class-A drug compares,
transports me in a mood-inducing spell
to sample an aroma that ensnares.
 
The substances that drove the volatile
Van Gogh to frenzied creativity:
the scent that made the Mona Lisa smile
and then spiced up Chagall’s Nativity.
 
That fragrant blend of turpentine and oil
at once ignites the fire in my belly;
the odour makes creative juices boil,
while tempting me to challenge Botticelli.
 
In truth, my Birth of Venus sadly fails,
and yet, in part, lives on — I make a trip
to throw it out, yet still the essence trails
in perfumed strands above the council tip.
Sylvia Fairley

The Casanova of all smells, the coffee bean’s perfume
is my seducer, darkly rich and strong;
it’s Cumberbatch’s vocal cords, a purring baritone,
an earthy, smoky, fragrant siren song.
Persuasive and pervasive, an olfactory nirvana,
unholy incense, every tempter’s dream,
it’s leather, furs and velvet in a luxury boudoir,
a sensual match for chocolate and cream.
A caffeine-laden bad boy, it beguiles you through the nostrils,
an intoxicating brew, a lure, a hum,
Eve’s apple couldn’t match it, it’s a jolt of pure espresso,
inhale it at your peril; you’ll succumb.
It’s cellos, oboes, saxophones, it’s ‘o’s of satisfaction,
it’s more than any cup of vapid tea,
and throatily it murmurs, ‘Drop your Dior at the doorway.
‘For real aromas, take a sniff of me.’
Janine Beacham

Up a small drawbridge, so awkward,
But in through a well-fretted arch:
What aroma! I didn’t dare squawk, couldn’t
Breathe — and my throat was so parched —
The straw was as sweet as a sheet
When a warm breeze has rendered it dry —
It smelt of molasses, of wheat.
I looked at the occupants, shy.
Wood-shavings, and lemon-peel, curling:
The headiest brew you might guess —
It still sends my memory swirling —
The scent of safe childhood, no less.
I can still hear my grandmother call
As I eye up the well-feathered troupe,
And their beady old gaze as I sprawl
In the scent of the henhouse, the coop.
Bill Greenwell

Inconceivable that I alone
Should revel in the smell of acetone
Which unequivocally, to tell the truth,
Still calls to mind those salad days of youth
When life made sense, was simple, clear and good—
Diligent homework, hobby balsa wood…
Alluring scent: intriguing, all-pervasive,
Versatile, volatile solvent and adhesive;
Degreasant. Furthermore, we learned at school,
A not especially complex molecule,
Merely a footnote to our education,
No sinister malign indoctrination.
How could we know the pear-drop waft of ‘sweeties’
On breath betokened Type 1 diabetes?
Mike Morrison

The house honks and a fusty hum appals
my nostrils. While I laboured in the loo,
Cat, in her litter, did the ritual waltz
then squatted down and defecated too.
Our mutual relief is evident
and nothing I can do will stop it stinking.
Cat nonchalantly cleans her fundament.
I sip a cup of tea, sniffing and thinking.
Like typists in a pool, whose monthly flows
will shift until they menstruate together
we two have shat in unison, which shows
how close we have become to one another
and though the smell is bad, the thought is good;
a token of a sort of sisterhood.
Ann Drysdale

No. 3192: beastly

You are invited to submit a short story that features an animal (or animals) taking revenge on humankind. Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 24 March.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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