from CHAPTER I, for Dick Higgins

by Christian Bök

copyright ©Christian Bök, 2001

Writing is inhibiting. Sighing, I sit, scribbling in ink this pidgin script. I sing with nihilistic witticism, disciplining signs with trifling gimmicks — impish hijinks which highlight stick sigils. Isn’t it glib? Isn’t it chic? I fit childish insights within rigid limits, writing schtick which might instill priggish misgivings in critics blind with hindsight. I dismiss nitpicking criticism which flirts with philistinism. I bitch; I kibitz – griping whilst criticizing dimwits, sniping whilst indicting nitwits, dismissing simplistic thinking, in which philippic wit is still illicit.

Notes on the Poem

When we looked before at an excerpt from Christian Bök's Eunoia, which won the 2002 Griffin Poetry Prize, we pondered whether or not he approached his poetic output the way a gardener can produce a miniature version of a tree or shrub using the bonsai method. Are such constraints - in plants or in language - pleasing or artificial? Reactions and opinions vary. There is no denying Bök worked very hard to create this intriguing and some would say controversial univocalic, wherein each major section or chapter is comprised of words only using one vowel. In interviews, Bök has revealed that Eunoia took seven years to write. Perhaps perversely, he not only limited himself to one vowel per section, but he also inflicted some other rules on himself: each chapter had to mention the process of writing, include descriptions of a sea voyage and a banquet, and had to use 98 percent of available words and avoid repetition. Well, he gets right to it in this chapter, kicking things (see what we did there?) off with the exclamatory: "Writing is inhibiting." Why not listen to Bök read it? It does look and sound like Bök relishes performing the words, and it's as if the performance bursts the words from their imposed bounds. Not only that, but audience members sound like they're enjoying the poem and how it's being read, too. Although his demeanour is serious and he clearly attacked this poetic venture with considerable rigour, the excerpt from this chapter shows him arguing with himself about how the exercise will be received ... and slyly heading off his critics: "Isn't it glib? Isn't it chic? I fit childish insights within rigid limits, writing schtick which might instill priggish misgivings in critics blind with hindsight." Perhaps the message is to find delight in language by playing with it. However strictly you want to devise and enforce the rules of play, poetry is most assuredly up to the task.

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