By Amy Badry
The first few sentences of “Chapter E” in Christian Bök’s Eunoia read, “Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech/The text deletes selected letters/He rebels. He sets new precedents.”
This is a good explanation for the influential writer and University of Calgary professor’s book. Bök has rebelled against the standard of modern day writing and set new precedent with the award-winning Eunoia. The avant-garde poet pushes the boundaries of language and literature, creating the eccentric and ingenious book.
Bök attempted something never done before in the history of literature, writing a book where each chapter employs only one vowel. It took Bök seven years to achieve this task, a feat formidable in itself. It is being re-released at a reading on Oct. 8 at Pages on Kensington.
In order to complete Eunoia — which means beautiful thinking and is the shortest English word containing all five vowels — he read through the dictionary five times to find every univowel word. He then manually separated the words into categories of verbs, nouns, etc. Bök describes the process as “very difficult, very depressing and not much fun.”
“Eunoia shows the degree to which language can thrive under all kinds of extreme conditions,” says Bök. “Like a weed, language can find a crack in which to grow . . . it finds ways to be funny, sublime, uncanny despite our desire to fully control it.”
Bök’s ingenuity transcends the borders of literature, creating a unique style that experiments with all the components of language. From syntax and diction to semantics and form, the self-described mad scientist uses brilliant experimental poetry to explore more than the typical human sentiment. Poetry can be experimental and investigative; a kind of science reaching beyond the mainstream borders of literary art.
Other Calgary writers have been invited to read poetry inspired by Eunoia.
“[It will be an] occasion we get to celebrate the achievement of other people and have a little party for the newly designed book itself,” says Bök.
The new material in the book includes a translated version of the French poem Viole by Arthur Rimbaud.
“The sonnet is a description of all the colours of the vowels,” explains Bök.
Bök expands the way one thinks about the English language and the way we perceive our forms. It would be difficult for such a project to be possible in other languages. Therefore Bök’s writing creates romanticism for the English language, proving our language is both provocative and intriguing to read and play with.