By Ayesha Chatterjee
People often ask me if my new collection, Bottles and Bones, has a theme running through it, and I was surprised the first time I found myself saying that it does. I usually have the attention span of a fruit fly and can’t stick to a topic for longer than three poems (if you read my poems, you’ll see how very short they generally are, so that should give you an indication). But a few years ago, I stumbled across a term used in perfumery, fougère, which is a class of fragrances and is also French for ‘fern’. Think Drakkar Noir or Brut. Think oakmoss (a species of lichen. It’s all right, I had to look it up too) and sharp and spicy. But also soundless and green and soft and new. I was hooked.
It’s been a particularly peculiar obsession because I don’t have much of a sense of smell. So there is that. But fragrance is also emotion, colour, music, memory, instant anchoring of time and place. There are myths that go back millennia about the origin of perfume, and rituals surrounding the use of it. Even the Latin etymology of the word ‘perfume’ intrigued me. Per fumus, through smoke. The first known perfume maker, recorded in a four-thousand-year-old Cuneiform tablet, was a Mesopotamian woman named Tapputi. Inspiring that, though I don’t know why it should be. It ought simply to be a fact. How things have changed over the millennia.
I’ve also almost always been preoccupied with the concept of mortality and death. That’s where the bones come in. I know that sounds morbid, but it’s really not. If you’re of a certain generation, I’m quite certain you would, at least once, have labelled a book, as a child, with your name, the street you lived in, the city, the country, the world, the galaxy, the universe. That’s putting things in perspective. That’s acknowledging your own mortality. You’re no different from me then.
There’s other stuff in there as well, but I’ll let you find out the rest for yourself.
Born and raised in India, Ayesha Chatterjee has lived in England, the USA and Germany, and now calls Toronto home. Her poetry has appeared in The Missing Slate (Pakistan), The Moth (Ireland), The Rusty Toque (Canada) and elsewhere as well as being featured by the (Great) Indian Poetry Collective and on the official website of Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke. She has two full-length poetry collections published by Calgary-based independent press, Bayeux Arts: The Clarity of Distance (2011), and Bottles and Bones (2017).
Chatterjee will be launching her poetry collection, Bottles and Bones, on Thursday, August 17 at 7:00 PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series. It’s a free event at Centre for Social Innovation.