Scent Survey: Jynne Dilling Martin

Riverhead Books’ Associate Publisher, Poet

Jynne Dilling Martin exists at the pulsing heart of the literary world. She is the Associate Publisher of Riverhead Books and this February launched her first collection of poetry – We Mammals in Hospitable Times (Carnegie Mellon University Press). Those poems are in part inspired by her time spent living in Antarctica as an artist in residence with the National Science Foundation. Like a poet wielding an ice pick, Jynne taps away at the frozen surface of human lifetimes in her poems and shows us what’s beneath. Jynne has worked with other writers including Junot Diaz, Khaled Hosseini, Elizabeth Strout and Norman Mailer, for whom she would often buy vodka and do the crossword alongside on Sundays. She lives in Brooklyn, and teaches yoga in her meager spare time.

What did your childhood smell like?
Lilac bush, woodsmoke, and Legos.

What scent has the power to stop you in your tracks and immediately transport you to a memory/moment/feeling?
That nutty and ethereal smell of fresh genmaicha tea. It’s what morning in a Japanese ryokan smells like, and it immediately calms me even now just to brew and smell it, even if I am in fact not in a ryokan, but in a fluorescent lit corporate office.

What does your mother smell like?
The rich and warm smell of her fresh baked cinnamon rolls is the first thing that comes to mind, though she herself probably didn’t ever actually smell of them.

What does your kitchen smell like?
Garlic or cat poop, depending upon the hour! Nowhere good to put those litter boxes in a Brooklyn apartment.

What does happy smell like?
Skunk! And yes, I’m being a bit wicked with this answer, but the truth is, I love that smell of fresh skunk spray. Something in its intensity and how it burns run up your nostrils and sizzles inside your head makes me feel very alive and a little aroused. It touches some very happy and primal place inside me. Perhaps I was a skunk in a previous life.

What does your favourite place in the world smell like?
Mexico City: an intoxicating blend of bougainvillea, grilled corn, and citrus on my fingertips from all the lime squeezing involved in a visit there.

What is your least favourite smell?
The New York City subway stairs in August. The heat brings out the worst of our more putrid city corners.

What does love smell like?
My partner, Louie: salt, musk, soap.