Christian Bök

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Christian Bök
Bök reading from Eunoia at the University of York
Bök reading from Eunoia at the University of York on May 19, 2011
BornChristian Book
(1966-08-10) August 10, 1966 (age 57)
EducationB.A, M.A, PhD
Alma materCarleton University, York University
Notable worksEunoia
The Xenotext (Book 1)
Notable awardsGriffin Poetry Prize 2002

Christian Bök, FRSC (/bʊk/; born August 10, 1966, in Toronto, Canada) is a Canadian poet known for his experimental works. He is the author of Eunoia, which has won the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize.

Life and work[edit]

He was born "Christian Book", but uses "Bök" as a pseudonym.

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. Since 2004, he taught at the University of Calgary — but as of 2022, he works as an artist in Melbourne, Australia, and he serves as a Professor (Honorary Appointee) at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia. [1]

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."[2] Crystallography was reissued in 2003 [2] and was nominated for a Gerald Lampert Award.

Bök is a sound poet, who 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 artificial languages for Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley's Amazon.


Bök is most famous for writing Eunoia (2001), a book that took him seven years to finish.[2] Eunoia consists of univocalic lipograms. The book uses only one vowel in each of its five chapters. In the book's main part, each chapter uses just a single vowel, producing sentences such as this: "Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech."[3] Bök believes that "his book proves that each vowel has its own personality."[4]

Edited by Darren Wershler and published by Coach House Books in 2001, Eunoia won the 2002 Griffin Poetry Prize and sold more than 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[edit]

The Xenotext is an ongoing work of BioArt which claims to be “the first example of ‘living poetry.’”[7] The Xenotext consists of a single sonnet (called "Orpheus"), which gets translated into a gene and then integrated into a cell, causing the cell to "read" this poem, and in reply, the cell builds a protein — one whose sequence of amino acids encodes yet another sonnet (called "Eurydice"). The cell becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also an operant machine for writing a poem. The gene has so far worked properly in cultures of E. coli, but the intended symbiote is D. radiodurans ("the dire seed, immune to radiation") — an extremophile, able to thrive in very inhospitable environments, deadly to most life on Earth.

According to Bök from an interview in 2007, the final product will include:

a poetic manual that showcases the text of the poem, followed by an artfully designed monograph about the experiment, including, for example, the chemical alphabet for the cipher, the genetic sequence for the poetry, the schematics for the protein, and even a photograph of the microbe, complete with other apparati, such as charts, graphs, images, and essays, all outlining our results. [8]

Bök has collaborated with laboratories at the University of Calgary, the University of Wyoming, and the University of Texas (Austin), to realize his design.[9] In 2011, nine years after conceiving The Xenotext, Bök announced that labs had performed a successful test run of his “poetic cipher,” meaning that:

when implanted in the genome of [the] bacterium, [the] 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…’). [10]

In 2015, The Xenotext: Book I was published — a work consisting of meditations on both science and poetics (addressing their mythic drives for immortality). This first, "Orphic" volume sets the conceptual groundwork for the second, "Eurydicean" volume, which will document the experiment itself.[7]The Xenotext: Book II remains forthcoming.

The Kazimir Effect[edit]

Since 2017, Bök has been working on a lengthy project of visual poetry, inspired by Suprematist Composition: White on White by Kazimir Malevich. This project has culminated in the publication of a book entitled The Kazimir Effect (Penteract Press, 2021), listed as one of the Times Literary Supplement’s Books of the Year 2021.


Eunoia won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002.[11]

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.[citation needed]

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.[12]

On May 31, 2011, The BBC World Service broadcast Bök reading "The Xenotext."[13]


  • Crystallography. Coach House (1994) ISBN 978-1-55245-119-9
  • Eunoia. Coach House Books (2001) ISBN 1-55245-092-9 - winner of the 2002 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize
  • Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science. Northwestern University Press (2001) ISBN 978-0-8101-1876-8 - See ’Pataphysics
  • The Xenotext (Book 1). Coach House Books (2015) ISBN 978-1-55245-321-6
  • The Kazimir Effect. Penteract Press (2021) ISBN 978-1-913421-11-3
As editor
Included in

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Xenotext Experiment: An Interview with Christian Bök
  2. ^ a b c Ed Park, "Crystal Method," Village Voice, Dec. 16, 2003.
  3. ^ Shelburne, Curtis K. (2008-10-16). "God writes his love in one word | love, writes, one - Faith and Lifestyles - Clovis News Journal". Archived from the original on 2012-07-24. 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.[dead link]
  7. ^ a b Bök, Christian (2015-10-05). The Xenotext: Book 1. Coach House Books. ISBN 978-1-77056-434-3.
  8. ^ Christian Bök (2007). "The Xenotext Experiment: An Interview with Christian Bök". PostModern Culture. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  9. ^ What is Xenotext? | Christian Bök | Walrus Talks, retrieved 2022-05-03
  10. ^ Christian Bök (2011-04-02). "The Xenotext Works". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  11. ^ Griffin Prize and Winners Britannica, 2017, Retrieved 16/04/18
  12. ^ Heart of a Poet: Season 1 Archived February 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "BBC iPlayer - The Strand: 31/05/2011". Retrieved 2012-01-14.

External links[edit]