I conduct experiments through language.
Christian BökPoetry in Process podcast, July 2019
Hello poets and readers,
We’re delighted to be able to bring you our second podcast, with experimental poet Christian Bök. Christian’s approach to poetry is scientific. He uses experiments in poetry to test ideas and capacities, unsure of outcomes. He has dedicated himself to ‘formalistic innovations’ and ‘exploratory procedures,’ which means that his work is intimately bound up with process.
Bök extends poetry’s range. His first book, Crystallography, ‘misreads the language of poetics through the conceits of geology’ (156). The geological processes described in the sequence ‘Geodes’, for example, includes self-reflexive injunctions and statements which create a form of process poetry – where the act of creating becomes part of the content. Scientific vocabulary is gathered for our aesthetic pleasure. If, in Wilfred Owen’s experience, the poetry is in the pity, in Bök’s it lies in the fluorescent algae mimicking constellations in a cave, where the author attempts to ‘saturate with new meaning / the dead layers of rock’ (48).
His second book Eunoia has been hugely successful, despite being a determinedly avant-garde collection. It has sold over 20,000 copies and been reprinted 20 times. It uses extreme technical constraints to test the boundaries or ‘limit cases’ of language in a way that ultimately celebrates what language can achieve.
His most recent collection The Xenotext, Book 1 explores the encoding of genetic sequences into cells which ‘read’ a poem and become a machine for generating their own poem. This work further develops Bök’s relationship with the natural world in the context of taking ‘instructions’ from molecules and genetic sequences for the composition of poetry. Each of Bök’s projects have been years in the making and demonstrate the work of a poet committed to both craft and the future development of poetry.
Christian Bök, Crystallography (Coach House Books, 2003)
Christian Bök is the author of Eunoia (2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök is currently working on The Xenotext — a project that requires him to encipher a poem into the genome of a bacterium capable of surviving in any inhospitable environment. Bök is a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada, and he teaches at Charles Darwin University.