Mad professor of poetry

By Falice Chin

Dr. Christian Bök loves to mix poetry with experimental sound effects and visual art. So much so, he once showcased his work by building an entire book of poetry with tiny Lego blocks. Known for his creativity and contribution in avant-garde experimental poetry, Dr. Bök will help students at the University of Calgary understand and grasp the arts of expert wordplay in his new role as an English professor.

“Writing is like conducting an experiment in a lab,” Dr. Bök explains. “I can compose something and it becomes an activity in which the outcome is something I cannot predict. It is a method of self-expression–a function of language itself.”

In addition to providing assistance to aspiring writers in his creative writing course, Dr. Bök hopes to expand the boundaries of poetry writing for his students so they can become comfortable with unfamiliar territories.

“Students get told ‘write what you know’,” he says. “But then you only get a homogenous selection of poetry about growing up in the prairies. Only mundane poetry comes out of those workshops; you should always try to write things you don’t know anything about.”

Dr. Bök is a cultured man whose poetry often reflects a stream of philosophical thoughts. He found his love for experimental poetry during his graduate years of education after feeling unsatisfied with the confident mediocrity of his fictional works. Upon discovering a whole new world of contemporary literature, Bök became intrigued by Steven McCaffery’s unconventional book The Black Debt.

“This was a book that, by normative standards, would be considered a work of nonsense.” Dr. Bök recalls. “I didn’t understand why anyone would devote so much effort to this kind of project. After some research, I found out that despite the fact that I thought I knew alot in English literature, there was an entire unofficial tradition of writing that goes untaught.”

Inspired by McCaffery, Dr. Bök became passionate about his own experimental poetry. In the process, he found the literary niche that he sought for years.

“I like the shape, sound, and texture of words,” explains Dr. Bök. “And I realized that was why I was an English major.”

According to Dr. Bök, experimental poetry contains a wide variety of writing cloaked in various unusual forms. It becomes difficult to pinpoint the exact definition of such a broad term.

“Just like music, poetry has many marginal genres,” Dr. Bök continues. “In those genres are new exciting ideas that eventually get adopted by more mainstream or normative writers.”

As a lover of visual art, Dr. Bök often incorporates images into his poetry. For example, his online version of “Eunoia, Chapter E” displays words fading behind one another in Flash animation, which contrasts sharply against the recorded version of the poem.

“I really wish that I had pursued art instead,” he comments. “Everything you do in literature you can do in art. There’s definitely a lot more robust activity taking place in the world of art.”

Being “different” is exactly what Dr. Bök strives after.

“It’s not enough to be publishable,” he comments. “It’s important for writers to operate on the assumption that what they are doing has to be inventive, imaginative and unprecedented. I hope that’s what I’ll be able to convey to students in my class.”

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