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Christian Bök

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Title: Christian Bök  
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Subject: Lipogram, Constrained writing, List of Canadian writers, Codex Seraphinianus, 'Pataphysics, 2002 in literature, Griffin Poetry Prize, List of Canadian poets, Eunoia, Coach House Books
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Christian Bök

Christian Bök (born August 10, 1966 in Toronto, Canada) is an experimental Canadian poet. He is the author of Eunoia, which won the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize, and which has been said to be "Canada's best-selling poetry book ever."[1]

Life and work

He was born "Christian Book", but changed his last name "to avoid unseemly confusion with the Bible."[1]

He began writing seriously in his early twenties, while earning his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Carleton University in Ottawa. He returned to Toronto in the early 1990s to study for a Ph.D. in English literature at York University, where he encountered a burgeoning literary community that included Steve McCaffery, Christopher Dewdney, and Darren Wershler-Henry. As of 2005 he teaches at the University of Calgary.[2]

In 1994, Bök published Crystallography, "a pataphysical encyclopaedia that misreads the language of poetics through the conceits of geology." The Village Voice said of it: "Bök's concise reflections on mirrors, fractals, stones, and ice diabolically change the way you think about language — his, yours — so that what begins as description suddenly seems indistinguishable from the thing itself."[1] Crystallography was reissued in 2003,[1] and was nominated for a Gerald Lampert Award.

Bök is a sound poet and has performed an extremely condensed version of the "Ursonate" by Kurt Schwitters. He has created conceptual art, making artist's books from Rubik's Cubes and Lego bricks. He has also worked in science-fiction television by constructing artistic languages for Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley's Amazon.


Bök is most famous for Eunoia (2001), a book which took him seven years to write.[1] Eunoia consists of univocalics: The book uses only one vowel in each of its five chapters. In the book's main part, each chapter used just a single vowel, producing sentences such as this: “Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech.”[3] Bök believes "his book proves that each vowel has its own personality, and demonstrates the flexibility of the English language."[4] In preparation for the project, Bök read the dictionary a total of five times, compiling an exhaustive list of vocabulary; Bök aimed to use almost all of these words during his work.

Edited by Darren Wershler-Henry and published by Coach House Books, in 2001, Eunoia won the 2002 Griffin and sold 20,000 copies.[5] Canongate published "Eunoia" in Britain in Oct. 2008.[6] The book was also a bestseller there, reaching #8 on the Top 10 bestselling charts for the year.[5]

The Xenotext experiment

On April 4, 2011 Bök announced a significant break-through in his 9-year project to engineer "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".[7][8] On the previous day (April 3) Bök said he
"received confirmation from the laboratory at the University of Calgary that my poetic cipher, gene X-P13, has in fact caused E. coli to fluoresce red in our test-runs—meaning that, when implanted in the genome of this bacterium, my poem (which begins “any style of life/ is prim…”) does in fact cause the bacterium to write, in response, its own poem (which begins “the faery is rosy/ of glow…”)."[9]

The project has continued for over a decade at a cost exceeding $110,000 and he hopes to finish the project in 2014.[10]


Eunoia won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002.

Bök's poem "Vowels" was used in the lyrics of a song on the EP A Quick Fix of Melancholy (2003) by the Norwegian band Ulver.

In 2006, Christian Bök and his work were the subject of an episode of the television series Heart of a Poet, produced by Canadian filmmaker Maureen Judge.[11]

On May 31, 2011, The BBC World Service broadcast Bök reading "The Xenotext." [12]


  • Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (2001) ISBN 978-0-8101-1876-8 - See ’Pataphysics
As editor
  • Ground Works: Avante-Garde for Thee (2003) ISBN 978-0-88784-180-4
Included in
  • Poetry Plastique (2001) ISBN 978-1-887123-51-8
  • The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology : A Selection of the 2002 Shortlist (2002) ISBN 978-0-88784-676-2

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Ed Park, "Crystal Method," Village Voice, Dec. 16, 2003.
  2. ^ The Xenotext Experiment: An Interview with Christian Bök
  3. ^ Shelburne, Curtis K. (2008-10-16). "God writes his love in one word | love, writes, one - Faith and Lifestyles - Clovis News Journal". Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  4. ^ "BBC - Today". BBC News. 2008-10-30. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  5. ^ a b "Calgary poet hits U.K. bestseller list". 2009-01-05. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  6. ^ "Literary Life". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  7. ^ "Contemporary Poetics Research Centre: Christian Bök - 'The Xenotext: A Progress Report' (Thursday 5 May 2011)". Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  8. ^ "The Xenotext Experiment". Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  9. ^ By Christian Bök (2011-04-03). "The Xenotext Works : Christian Bök : Harriet the Blog". The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Heart of a Poet: Season 1
  12. ^ "BBC iPlayer - The Strand: 31/05/2011". Retrieved 2012-01-14. 

External links

  • Christian Bök pages on UbuWeb, including recordings, poetry, and essays
  • Christian Bök on Twitter
  • Griffin Poetry Prize biography
  • Griffin Poetry Prize reading, including video clip
  • University of Calgary Faculty of English profile
  • Eunoia online book
  • "Bazaar of the Bizarre: The Book of Horrors" - Christian Bök's first publication
  • Christian Bök interview and reading on CBC Radio program And Sometimes Y, episode 5, July 25, 2006
  • Podcasts recorded at the Institut du Monde Anglophone, Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle, on May 22, 2008
  • Christian Bök at University of Toronto Libraries
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