from Chapter E

Christian Bök

copyright ©Christian Bök, 2001


Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech. The
text deletes selected letters. We see the revered exegete
reject metred verse: the sestet, the tercet – even les
scènes élevées en grec
. He rebels. He sets new precedents.
He lets cleverness exceed decent levels. He eschews the
esteemed genres, the expected themes – even les belles
lettres en vers
. He prefers the perverse French esthetes:
Verne, Péret, Genet, Perec – hence, he pens fervent
screeds, then enters the street, where he sells these let-
terpress newsletters, three cents per sheet. He engen-
ders perfect newness wherever we need fresh terms.

Relentless, the rebel peddles these theses, even when
vexed peers deem the new precepts ‘mere dreck.’ The
plebes resent newer verse; nevertheless, the rebel per-
severes, never deterred, never dejected, heedless, even
when hecklers heckle the vehement speeches. We feel
perplexed whenever we see these excerpted sentences.
We sneer when we detect the clever scheme – the emer-
gent repetend: the letter E. We jeer; we jest. We express
resentment. We detest these depthless pretenses – these
present-tense verbs, expressed pell-mell. We prefer
genteel speech, where sense redeems senselessness.

Notes on the Poem

By limiting himself to one vowel per section in his acclaimed poetry work Eunoia, Christian Bök does with words what a talented gardener can do, wielding the appropriate methods, to create a bonsai tree or shrub. Does applying linguistic or horticultural constraints create beautiful poems and plants? The bonsai tradition involves growing and continual pruning so that all parts of the plant — flowers, leaves, and stems — remain in proportion as the gardener produces a miniature version of a tree or shrub. Bonsai plants are intended for viewing and admiring, and for the grower to have his or her skills and ingenuity pleasantly challenged. Christian Bök clearly challenged himself when he embarked on Eunoia, as he describes here in "A Few Thoughts on Beautiful Thinking." Not only did he limit himself to words with one vowel per section, but he made himself comply with other rules with respect to the poem's content, including alluding to the art of writing, describing "a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau, and a nautical voyage" in each section, and more. The excerpt shown here illustrates that he managed to touch on those subjects. Bök acknowledges that some might not be impressed by these poetic feats: "He lets cleverness exceed decent levels." Does he? Well, Bök self-effacingly guesses at some reactions: "We sneer when we detect the clever scheme - " Whether or not you think bonsai is an acceptable way to treat and present a plant, it does let the viewer see a tree from some very different perspectives. Do the constraints Bök applies in Eunoia do the same thing with respect to seeing the power and flexibility of language?

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