Chris LeBlanc reviews Christian Bök

EMU student Chris LeBlanc reviews Christian Bök’s BathHouse reading from earlier this semester:

Christian Bök, author of Eunoia, as well as numerous other literary and oratory works, performed at the Sponberg Theatre on October 19, 2010. Bök, a language polymath, demonstrated his exploration of language and performance in a number of different ways.

Bök read excerpts of many chapters from Eunoia, including every vowel chapter. Bök emphasized much tone into each of these vowels. While the written chapters themselves did have somewhat of a tone, it was much more ambiguous than having it read aloud, and hearing it helped give a new perspective to it.

Bök’s interest in sound extends to other forms in his works. An avid enthusiast of beat boxing, Bök performed many of his pieces as sound poetry, translating his pieces into a cacophony of rhythmic beat boxing sounds. What seemed the most intriguing in this performance, to myself, as well as some other members of the audience, is that he literally translated his written work, and read them off his page as he performed. I have no experience or knowledge of beat boxing, and I tried and failed to fathom just how one could attempt such a feat.

The piece I found most fascinating, however, was The Xenotent Experiment. The longevity of one’s work seems to be a common interest among many artists and creators. Having one’s work immortalized, creating something that outlasts one’s life, in a sense, helps serve as a sort of preservation of the self.

Bök’s idea of creating a literary artifact that could not only transcend his life, but possibly human life as a whole, is perhaps the most insane, brilliant thing I have ever heard. Bök plans on translating genetic code into alphabetic letters, and implant a poem into perhaps the most resilient bacteria known to man. To further complicate things, he plans on writing a second poem, a response to the first, by implanting this code in such a way that when the bacteria splits, the genetic code will form the second poem.

Bök also deals with a theme of translation. One such work involved writing a coherent literary piece about Legos using only the exact same letters used in another writer’s piece. This brings up another question. What is the value of creating something if no one will ever know? If he had not told the audience about this, we would not have guessed this little fact in a million years. What is the value of creating a literary work that will outlast the human race? Even if sentient life ever did come across it, there would be know indication to know what it was, or even that it was there.

These are just a few of the questions that Christian Bök has introduced to me, and that I have been chewing on since his performance.

Daniel Turvey, Jr. reviews Christian Bök

Another EMU student review!  This time Daniel Turvey, Jr. reviews Christian Bök’s recent BathHouse reading:

How is it that one describes an event that is so auditory?  The stereotypical descriptors of such events seem hardly enough to tell about the experience.  I have read the book Eunoia by Bök and as a reader was rather unsettled by the experience.  The text was very disorienting and non-linear in fashion.  The book emphasizes the use of vowels and each vowel is a chapter which to me seemed an exercise in annoyance rather than the edge of modern literature.  Upon completing the book I felt none the better for it and certainly none the wiser.  In looking for further enlightenment I attended the Christian Bök reading.

The seats were packed and I sat un-amused waiting for the architect of my annoyance to begin.  After a brief introduction Bök took the podium.  He then proceeded to baffle the audience with a brilliantly composed and performed piece of sound poetry.  At this point, I have written off trying to find deeper meaning within the “vowels” of Eunoia and sat back to listen.  Bök then selected a piece from Eunoia to read.  In a matter of seconds I realized the point to the book.  It’s not so much the use or over-use of a particular vowel but the character of such through a very deliberate and crafted performance.  The book I had so much difficulty understanding suddenly became very clear.

Bök emphasizes the unique character traits of each vowel giving them distinct personalities.  During the course of his performace he also used various sound pieces to rivet an already captivated audience.  The only way I can describe the sound pieces is nothing short of the eighth wonder of the world; simply a marvelous auditory feast and experience to behold.

I feel no reader of Eunoia should even attempt reading the piece without listening to it being performed first.  The stumbling blocks will rapidly disappear and the book will make more sense to the first time reader.  I feel as though I am a better student and a more appreciative human being for the experience.

Stephanie Walla reviews Christian Bök

EMU student Stephanie Walla reviews Christian Bök:

The Bathhouse Reading at Sponberg Theater on October 19th featured Christian Bök who opened with a stunning performance of one of Hugo Ball’s Dada sound poetry. Afterward he began reading sections from, Eunoia, a book he wrote where each chapter has the extreme constraint of using only one vowel. “Eunoia” itself is the shortest English word to use all five vowels and means “beautiful thinking.” Bök explained that after writing each chapter, he realized that each vowel seemed to take on its own personality, which was then conveyed in how he read excerpts from each chapter. When reading his favorite section from chapter I, his voice had a lyric quality to it while excerpts from chapter O were more lighthearted and jovial, and chapter U became primal and caveman-like.

He then continued reading, choosing selections from the second half of Eunoia titled “Oiseau”- which is the shortest word in French to use all five vowels. Bök read the poem, “And sometimes,” which contains words using only the letter “y.” The poem looks daunting to read, but when Bök read it the words became rhythmic with so many sounds that built off of each other, escalating to sound like a whole new language. He then read Arthur Rimbaud’s poem “Voyelles,” although not the best French reading, it inspired a sequence of poems that continued to play with vowels, their positions, and sounds.

Moving on to some of his poetry, Bök read a poem titled, “Dooms Day Song.” Inspired by the death of Superman, the poem sounded a lot like an action fight sequence but it retained a certain rhythmic quality to it that made it sound like a song. His other sound poetry included a piece read in an alien language he created for a science fiction show, which sounded like a hymn.

He then explained his latest project, the xenotext experiment, where he plans on implanting a poem into an organism that will interpret it as instructions and produce a protein that will be a response poem. The particular organism he wants to use will be able to survive even the sun exploding, essentially creating a book that will last forever. He concluded the performance reading a section of “Ursonate”- a sound poem that is one of the hardest in the world to read.

Bök’s reading was inspirational and wildly entertaining. He makes his work come alive through facial expressions and tone that can’t be perceived on paper. He is inspirational and innovative, encouraging everyone to push the boundaries and change the face of writing forever.

Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Christian Bök

Grad student Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Christian Bök’s recent BathHouse reading:

Appropriately enough, Christine Hume concluded her introduction of Christian Bök with a poem she composed consisting only of the letters which make up the poet’s name. Christian then took the podium and read two Hugo Ball poems which to the uninitiated could be described as something along the lines of beat-boxing but more free form and using every object imaginable as a sound model rather than just a drum kit. He followed these with readings from his Bestselling book Eunoia, of which he promised, given the demographics of the crowd, he would read exclusively from the “naughty parts”.

He then read the Lego Poem Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit, and explained how coincidentally the permutations of the Lego creator’s patent write up matches with Democritus’ ancient outline of the theory of the atomic nature of the universe.

Very enjoyable was the series which involved a robot or computer speaking, consisting of many repetitions such as “I think so but I’m not completely sure” and “I don’t know if I’m pessimistic, I’m a giant electronic brain.” He followed this with a sung rendition of an alien hymn from the television show Earth: Final Conflict, the language of which he invented.

Christian then went on to discuss the Xenotech Project, which he outlined as implanting a poem in a bacterium specially selected to outlast just about any physical contingency over the course of millions of years, and the DNA code to be implanted would itself both be a poem and, as fully functioning genetic instructions, facilitate the creation inside the bacterium of a “Response” poem in the form of a protein. Thus the poetic DNA and the protein response would be both physically salient as well as poetically coherent and meaningful.

The Q&A following the performance was remarkably in-depth in terms of the comprehension Christian was inclined to go in answering the questions posed to him. First concerned the field of Pataphysics, the study of science that doesn’t exist. Christian explained how Pataphysics functioned in a world in which science doesn’t always realize its linguistic/metaphysical implications/impact and how poetry can be a powerful tool in engaging science to deal with these questions, though outside of Pataphysics poetry has a poor track record for engaging science and the way it’s changing our world.

He then went into greater elucidation regarding the Xenotech Experiment, giving the room a remarkably comprehensible crash course in genetics in about five minutes. He went on to describe the arduous process of isolating letter pairs to use for the poems which consisted of months and months of trial and error in order to find a series of pairs that would both permit a sensible initial poem and an intelligible response (the rigors of which being no doubt confusing to those not graced with Christian’s genetics lesson, suffice to say that in order to create a working genetic poem one has to operate in some ludicrously tight constraints that could be likened to a three dimensional crossword puzzle with a limited amount of letters and no clues).

Christian then spoke for a time about his philosophy of poetry and beauty and literary merit which he boiled down to: Making sense, looking effortless, having thematic complexity, re-readability, and finally, that it is Amazing. The amazing part he expanded upon as being unique/anomalous, as well as containing the qualities mentioned above.

We were then treated to a mini-poetry class in which Christian instructed us in how to make a quick and easy poem that wasn’t terrible. The method involved using concrete, specific nouns over vague, abstract ones, eliminating passive verbs and using verbs to make our concrete nouns do things they usually don’t, using anomalous adjectives and adverbs or better still none at all.

The poet’s readings emphasized the performance nature of poetry, his distinctive presence and delivery pronounced and enunciated. In the Q&A he demonstrated himself as someone who is extraordinarily enmeshed and dedicated to what he does and loves to discuss it at length.  Overall, Christian Bök is clearly a poet operating in a fascinating niche of his own design, and one in which he appears very much at home.

Reid Raham reviews Christian Bök

EMU student Reid Raham reviews Christian Bök ‘s recent BathHouse reading:

For a writer such as Christian Bök, the meat of the poetry is less in the content and more in the delivery and style. As such, while reading his work from a page might give an appreciation for his creativity, a few of the finer details might be lost. Bök’s writing could almost be called music: reading it is one thing, while hearing it performed is quite another. Bök himself seems to understand this, as his current fascination with sound poetry suggests – his work-in-progress “Cyborg Opera”, some of which was performed in Sponberg Theater on October 19, draws its meaning from the performance.

Indeed, the song is a central theme in many of Bök’s works. Two of the more obvious examples would be “Doomsday Song” – a dark-sounding piece filled with ‘-oom’ sounds that is meant to represent the death of Superman at the hands of the villain Doomsday – and “Alien Hymn” – a serene poem done in an alien language Bök created for science fiction guru Gene Roddenberry. Even in poems not so obviously musical, Bök’s delivery and body language evokes both band and conductor, falling into rhythmic meter with his voice while keeping time with the motions of his body.

Beyond the musical aspect of his performance, Bök’s impassioned performances lend much to his works. On paper, his collection Eunoia – a series of five poems, each composing a coherent story through the use of a single vowel per tale – is no doubt impressive; however, certain vowels have certain speeds to them, and even a careful reader might accelerate through the passages too fast – or, inversely, find the reading slow. In contrast, hearing Bök reading it aloud clearly brings out each vowel’s personality, not only through intonation but also with facial expressions and body motions. Bök’s familiarity with his own work allows him to pace the words in the intended way, and this serves to accentuate the subtleties within the poems.

Bök is no doubt one of the most creative writers in recent memory, but the full force of his works comes out in the performance. Bök’s mastery of both written and spoken language is enthralling, and his true talent appears when both are combined. His enthusiasm, raw talent, and immense control over his vocal chords ensure a stunning show that brings his writing from ‘impressively creative’ to ‘technical marvel.’ Simply put: if you enjoy a good concert, you will enjoy Christian Bök.

Elizabeth Mikesch reviews Christian Bök

EMU student Elizabeth Mikesch reviews Christian Bök’s recent BathHouse reading:

To open a reading with a speed metal version of “Ursonate” is a bold and impressionable way to wake engage an audience, despite the fact that it is not written in English. Luckily, Christian Bök’s reading given at the Sponberg theater October 19th was a lively and engaging trip through the mind of a mad scientist/ lingual genius hybrid. Bök’s work begs to be read aloud and by him. The energy that he brings to the stage translates the complexity of his often conceptual writing into a mode that educates the listener instead of baffling them.

When reading Eunoia, the author’s 2001 novel written using in chapters using only one vowel sound at a time, my eyes fought the page and I tended to be frustrated by retaining the work’s valuable sonic qualities. Bök having read the “naughty bits” of each vowel made for a clearer interpretation for what was birthed from his process of sorting through and making sense of words that fit in each vowel pile. He employed different voices and tones for each vowel, U probably being the most memorable because of its base and primal vocabulary. Each vowel representing a character gives a new meaning to what language can do when constraints are placed upon it.

Bök’s nature as a writer can be deemed as hybrid because he is seemingly as interested in mathematics and science as he is language. He is combining these disciplines by injecting a germ with a poem that he wrote. This bacteria will respond by rearranging the letters and creating new words, thus making the poem alive and responsive, alien even.

As a post-modernist, his approach to the page is one that is equal parts passion and detachment. His work reads and is heard as a well-built machine. The detail-oriented precision and almost hypothetical approach to the page makes for a truly singular experience when encountering the work and processing its bizarre and other-worldly nature.

Brandon Gorley reviews Christian Bök and CRTW faculty BathHouse readings

EMU student Brandon Gorley offers a pair of reviews, the first on Christian Bök’s recent BathHouse reading:

Every writer needs to experiment every once in a while, but I think Christian Bok must be an over-achiever – I don’t think he’s ever stopped experimenting. Having read Eunoia and a few of his other works before the show, I knew what he was talking about, but I imagine anyone walking into the show uninitiated would be pretty lost. Hearing Bok perform is a truly unique experience. First off, he performs with his entire body. He’s literally moved by his own words. I wish I could get that into my own work. Also, he has the most gorgeous pronunciation I’ve ever heard (though I guess he’d have to in order to even read his poetry). The OCD-level attention to language is also admirable. Oftentimes I’ll type with a thesaurus in my lap and I can’t come anywhere near his variety. I can’t recall the last time I wanted to look up so many words. Even if you can’t take anything else from a Christian Bok show (and you should be able to), you’re literary curiosity will be piqued. 

Next, Gorley reviews the Creative Writing faculty BathHouse reading that took place in September: 

I’ve been attending college in the creative writing program for several years, but it isn’t often that I’ve been given the opportunity to hear the work of my professors. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience. I’d had classes with Christine Hume before, but we always studied the work of others. Her language was evocative and attention-grabbing, with an easy, rolling, almost sleepy tone. The listen/talk section in particular was very good. I found a connection to her work, seeing it almost a defense of laziness, certainly something that I can identify with. Also fun was the recording of another writer (sorry, I didn’t write his name down) reading her poetry. It’s always an interesting experience to hear someone else’s take on your work. The long, lolling “Lullaby” section seemed quite appropriate to the piece.

I’ve had classes with Carla Harryman, but unfortunately didn’t find her reading that moving. Nothing really caught my attention, as evidenced by my notes consisting of half a word (crossed out) and nothing else.

As the new teacher on campus, I’ve never had Rob Halpern, so it was interesting to get a look at his work. His language definitely caught my attention, an uninterrupted series of interruptions. “Shit-in-my-mouth world” and “my dreamy fuck” are terms that stick with you. I definitely wouldn’t mind taking a class with him.

Michael Moriarty reviews Christian Bök

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.

David Boeving reviews Christian Bök

Another review of Christian Bök’s recent BathHouse reading, this time by EMU student David Boeving:

Christian Bök opened his performative reading at the Eastern Michigan University’s Sponberg Theatre on the 19th of October by warming his vocal chords on stage via two covers of Dada poems that would leave most normal human beings stumbling over their syllables and gasping for air. What most people would be wholly unable to possibly read, even nonverbally, Bök performed with haste and ease. Through these poems, the Canadian author established himself immediately as a spoken force to be dealt with. This opening to his reading, quickly affirmed the author as an intense performer.

After the two initial works read, Bök proceeded to guide the audience through the furthest possibilities of the human dialect. Reading mostly from his masterpiece of conceptual and creative writing, “Eunoia,” the poet proceeded to provide the audience with an even sampling of each of the novel’s chapters, performing each in a voice that matched the ‘color’ of that individual chapter’s vowel. Along with the differing voices applied to the sections read from the divergent chapters, came also a matching physicality. Between his movements, and his tonal selection, the sections that he read (most of which seemed young and playful, as to match the audience), were brought into a new light that cannot exist on the page. This sampling of each letter’s color, greatly inspired by Arthur Rimbaud, guided the audience, both of which had and had not yet read the text, through the possible personalities of the English language.

After reading a number of translations of the poetry found the, ‘Vowels,’ section of “Eunoia,” as well as some of his more recent work (including a poem waiting to encoded on bacteria that will synthesize another poem in the form of a protein), Bök proceeded to close the reading with another work of Dadaism. According to Bök, the poem generally takes forty minutes to read, yet he claimed to be able to complete the whole in ten. Reading quickly, as he did most of the performance, the author provided the audience with a triumphant coda to the night, as it appeared that he existed immune to making any sort of mistake at all as he read a large section of the already lengthy, and tough work. At that point, the reading had come full circle, completing its tour of the authors wide range of poetic endeavors. It is easy to say that I left in sheer astonishment, and my feeling was only reaffirmed as another audience member that was existing at the same time as I said something along the lines of, “I feel like I just listened to another language for an hour.”

Vanessa Janowski reviews Christian Bök

EMU Creative Writing student Vanessa Janowski reviews the recent BathHouse reading featuring Christian Bök: 

Christian Bök came to Eastern Michigan University on October 19th 2010 at 6:30 pm in the Sponberg Theater.  The presentation was an hour long and was very interesting to listen to.  Bök did some readings from his book titled Eunoia.  Eunoia is the shortest word in the American dictionary to use all vowels.  The sections he picked to present were more humorous to listen to, rather than when I read the book.  I was able to appreciate the reading better, and it was easier to follow compared to reading it by myself.  Bök then recited some sound poems, which were impressive as to how fast he was able to say them without pausing/messing up.  I am glad I went to this Reading Event, for I learned to appreciate and to enjoy listening to Bök perform.