Christian Bök

Christian Bök is the author of Eunoia (2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence.

Bök is currently working on The Xenotext — a project that requires him to encipher a poem into the genome of a bacterium capable of surviving in any inhospitable environment.

Bök is a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada, and he teaches at Charles Darwin University.

Gentle on Tokyo Snow
“Protein 13” from The Xenotext
The Nocturne of Orpheus
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  1. […] Christian Bok is an experimental poet based in Darwin, Australia where he is hard at work founding a creative writing program and Darwin University. His background in avant garde literary practice informs the program he is creating but at the same time he remains fully open to students’ diverse literary backgrounds and needs. Bok is simultaneously creating artwork for a group show in September with a theme based upon materials found in office supply and hardware stores. His work, series of paintings, is informed by “a really strange painting” by Kazimir Malevich. Using paint chips from the hardware store, Bok creates collages incorporating the colors and their given names to produce large scale poems translated into colors. Recently Bok finished editing a book of essays and poetry by Canadian avant garde writers over the last 50 years titled Avant Canada. Since 2002, Bok has been working on a project titled The Xenotext for which he writes a very short poem which is then translated into a genetic sequence. The sequenced poem is then built in a lab and implanted into the genome of a bacterium, replacing part of the genetic code of the bacterium with the encoded text. Bok’s sequenced and implanted poetry causes the host to build a protein, writing a unique poem in response to the encoded and implanted one. The chosen organism is indestructible, able to withstand gamma radiation or the vacuum of space which means that these encoded poems could effectively exist forever. While Bok has yet to succeed in the implantation into the desired indestructible host, he has achieved proof of concept by implanting sequenced poems into e coli bacteria. “When critics say that poetry is dead my response of course is to build an unkillable poem,” Bok says. It is possible to extract and read back the lines written by the host organism and the action of creation causes the organism to fluoresce red. The work touches a concept that scientists have considered which is the possibility of communicating across universal distances by embedding messages into viruses and allowing them to replicate themselves. Bok designs the genetic structure and proteomic sequences himself and then receives some assistance from laboratories with the actual gene splicing. Of his work Bok says he is “trying to be a poet in the 21st century responding to the technological circumstances of [his] moment in time.” Bok writes other poems besides those sequenced into DNA. One of his works is so intricately constructed under a series of strict constraints that it took five months to complete. To hear more about this and Bok’s mind bending work with experimental poetry and DNA sequencing as well as his other pursuits, including readings of some of his companion poems to The Xenotext, listen to the complete interview. […]