Wednesday, September 04, 2002

It is not simply the Oulipo-derived games, impressive as they are, that makes Christian Bök’s Eunoia (Coach House, 2001) so notable, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize and, most wondrous, an avant-garde title with 8,000 copies in print within its first year of publication. (See a flash presentation of “Chapter e” here: Bök’s book’s driving pleasure lies in its author’s commitment to the oldest authorial element there is: a great passion for rigor, particularly at the level of craft.



Relentless, the rebel peddles these theses, even when vexed peers deem the new precepts ‘mere dreck’. The plebes resent newer verse; nevertheless, the rebel perseveres, 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 emergent 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. (32)


In addition to the evident wit & active sense of jest throughout, all winking meta-commentary, there are just two small moments here (“hecklers heckle” and “sense redeems senselessness”) in which a reiteration of root terms raises the possibility that another line of attack might have been posed, e.g. “even when the hecklers’ specter severed speeches.” But this alternative (for example) adds one extra character, and just might render the typesetting – every line in the title text is justified so that no paragraph ends mid-line (this rule is adhered to also in the version, which presents each paragraph in 10 lines as against Bök’s book’s 13) – impossible. Add to this an awesome ear and, well, ease awes. And it is precisely because Bök makes it all feel as natural as rain that makes us swoon. Great stuff!