The reviews keep coming! Michael Moriarty gives his take on Christian Bök’s recent BathHouse reading:
Christian Bok’s performance in the Bathhouse reading series showcased his mastery of the voice as instrument and of sound poetry; however, his performance occasionally fell victim to the gimmicky nature of his poems and choices of constraint. His works from Eunoia were significantly enhanced in terms of humor: his dynamic and quirky stage presence helped accentuate the playful nature of the poems. Moreover, it’s difficult to imagine the sound poetry Bok read to be as enjoyable on paper as it is in person. In his sound poetry readings Bok exhibits virtuosity with an incredible range of sounds and a clear understanding of rhythm and musicality. This was especially present in his “Alien Hymn” which was written for a Sci-Fi TV show. As someone who has never been a big fan of sound poetry, I was pleasantly surprised by the degree of interest Bok’s performance elicited from me.
That said, Bok’s reading may have been more thoroughly engaging if his sound poems and dense language based poems were balanced by some kind of content with more emotional depth, social relevance, or risk. His works from Eunoia, though technically interesting, give little to care about other than the impressive feat of using only one particular vowel per section. All of the action, characters, and content of the poems, quickly begin to feel ancillary or afterthoughts to the strictures of vowel sounds, nautical references and sexual exploits. Moreover, his “Xenotext,” a story in which scientists study language as a virus, begins with an interesting premise but never seems to go anywhere and nothing seems to be at stake. The scientists find the virus. They study it. So what? His idea of injecting a poem into a bacteria sounds interesting, but the audience walks away not really knowing how the whole enterprise will be carried off, or if the grandiosity of such an idea can actually be backed up scientifically.
This is not to say that Bok’s performance did not have value. A significant highlight of the night came in the form of a conversation between Bok and a computer. I’ll attempt to describe the piece as a series of questions which the author fed into a, sort of, language generating computer – and the corresponding responses. This work exemplified Bok at his finest: at the cutting edge of technology and language, working with a strange and innovative idea, and pulling the whole thing off in a playful and tongue-in-cheek manner.
Christian Bok’s vocal abilities and drastic linguistic constraints push the boundaries of what we think poets can do on a page or stage, and the scientific elements of his performance force us to consider where the future of our linguistic craft is headed. Although his performance could benefit from more variety, his performance is worthy and worthwhile challenge for those wondering what new ground is left to cover in the world of language and sound.