Christian Bök (UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY)
THE UNKILLABLE POEM
“The Xenotext” is an artistic exercise currently being undertaken by the poet Christian Bök, who proposes to create an example of “living poetry.” Bök plans to generate a short verse about language and genetics, whereupon he plans to use 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). Bök plans to compose this poem in such a way that, when translated into the gene and then integrated into the cell, the text nevertheless gets “expressed” by the organism, which, in response to the inserted, genetic material, begins to manufacture a viable, benign protein—a protein that, according to the original, chemical alphabet, is itself yet another text. Bök is, in effect, striving to engineer a life-form so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also a useable machine for writing a poem—a poem that might conceivably survive forever….
The Poet Christian Bök is most famous for Eunoia (2001), a book which took him seven years to write. Edited by Darren Wershler-Henry and published by Coach House Books, in 2001, Eunoia won the 2002 Griffin and sold 20,000 copies. He is interested in Composition in practice, grammars in poetry and poetry in things („how do words work on a page?).
Bök is also known for “The Xenotext experiment".
Eunoia. Coach House Books (2001).
Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science. Northwestern University Press (2001).
The Xenotext (Book 1). Coach House Books (2015).