IMPROMPTU #16: Christian Bök

16 - napomo - 16 - bok - site

Christian BökCurrently, I am a poet, best known for having published an avant-garde bestseller—a univocal lipogram, entitled Eunoia (which recounts five related stories, each one restricted to the use of a single vowel). I am one of the founding literati in the movement called “Conceptualism” (a poetic school that disavows the lyrical mandate of self-conscious self-assertion in order to explore the potential of the “uncreative” or the “unoriginal” at the utmost limits of writing). I have derived much of my inspiration from the avant-garde. I write poetry by exploiting unthinking machines, by colonizing unfamiliar lexicons, or by simulating unliterary artforms, doing so in a manner that might call to mind the historical precedents set by automatic writing, mannerist writing, or aleatoric writing. I have striven to promote such experimentation within a national, literary culture, which has yet to appreciate fully its own tradition of radical poetics.

Since 2001, I have been attempting to create an example of “living poetry.” I have written a short verse about language and genetics, whereupon I have used a “chemical alphabet” to translate this poem into a sequence of DNA for subsequent implantation into the genome of a bacterium (in this case, a microbe called Deinococcus radiodurans—an extremophile, capable of surviving, without mutation, in even the most hostile milieus, including the vacuum of outer space). I have composed this poem in such a way that, when integrated into the cell, the organism interprets it, and then, in response to the inserted, genetic material, the cell begins to manufacture a viable, benign protein, whose molecular structure enciphers yet another poem of its own. I am, in effect, engineering a life-form so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also an operant machine for writing a poem—one that might conceivably survive forever….



  1. Select a single page of writing from an antiquary textbook on astronomy.
  1. Scan this page, using customary software for manipulating photographs.
  1. Erase all text from the image, leaving behind only the punctuation marks.
  1. Assign to each punctuation mark, a specific style of dot, bullet, or asterisk.

            For example:

         ,      =      •

         .      =     ✦

         ;      =     ✹

         :      =     ★

         —   =     ☉

  1. Replace each punctuation mark with the specified bullets from your cipher.
  1. Vary the point-size of each asterisk, according to the number of letters in the word originally preceding the punctuation (for example: 1 letter = + 0.5 pts).
  1. Change the colour of the background to black; change each mark to white.
  1. Connect some of the largest dots by drawing lines to make a constellation.
  1. Identify the starfield, using the title of the book (and the page number cited).

Lyra - Christian Bok

Christian Bök is the author not only of Crystallography (1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, but also 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 a project, entitled The Xenotext (which involves the creation of “living poetry,” through the encipherment of a text into the genome of a bacterium). Bök teaches English at the University of Calgary.