UB Post-Doc Fellow Takes Prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize

Bok cited by fans as a "self-made psychedelic genius;" work has a "chewy sound"

Release Date: June 6, 2002 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Canadian conceptual and sound poet Christian Bök, a postdoctoral fellow in the University at Buffalo Poetics Program, has been named one of two winners of the second annual Griffin Poetry Prize, Canada's most prestigious literary prize and a major international literary award.

The competition, sponsored by Canada's Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, offers a cash award of $80,000 Canadian, making it one of the most substantial poetry prizes in the world. The award is shared by two winners, one a Canadian writer and the other from outside Canada.

Bök received the prize for his book "Eunoia" (Coach House Books, 2001). The international winner, American poet Alice Notley, won for her book "Disobedience."

This year's judges were American poet Robert Creeley, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P Capen Professor of Poetry and Humanities in the UB Department of English; Canadian poet Dionne Brand, and poet Michael Hofmann of the United Kingdom.

Bök's "Eunoia," an animated piece of cyberpoetic inventiveness, was cited by the judges as "an immensely attractive work from those 'corridors of the breath' we call vowels, giving each in turn its dignity and manifest, making all move to the order of his own recognition and narrative.

"Both he (Bök) and they are led to delightfully unexpected conclusions," they wrote, "as though the world really were what we made of it."

Bök notes that "Eunoia" means "beautiful thinking" and is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels. In this contorted elegy to language, each vowel tells a story. In Chapter "e," for instance, the author might be speaking of himself when he writes, "He rebels. He sets new precedents. He lets cleverness exceed decent levels."

Chapter "e" is online at http://www.arras.net/RNG/flash/eunoia/eunoia_final.html.

"Eunoia" has been reprinted seven times, selling 6,000 copies to date -- a phenomenal success story by Canadian standards, particularly for experimental poetry -- and excerpts have appeared in several publications.

Bök also is the author of the acclaimed "Crystallography" (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia full of shimmering language and what one fan called, "roaring effects that buzz and burp with lots of attitude."

He is the author of "Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science" (Northwestern University Press, 2002) and the editor of "Ground Works: An Anthology of Canadian Experimental Fiction, 1965-1985" (House of Anansi Press, 2002).

His conceptual artworks, which include books built out of Rubik's cubes and Lego bricks, have appeared at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York City as part of the "Poetry Plastique" exhibit and in other interdisciplinary language exhibitions. He also created artificial languages for the television shows "Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict" and Peter Benchley's "Amazon."

Bök has earned many accolades for his virtuoso performances of sound poetry, particularly of Dadaist Kurt Schwitters' "Ursonate," a sonata made up of individual sounds, vowels and consonants -- many of them tongue-twisting nonsense syllables -- recited with a special intonation and dynamic rhythm, like a piece of music.

Since Schwitters prescribed no particular tempo, Bök's rendition of this most difficult work is performed in double-speed, allegedly faster than it has ever been performed before.

Bök's "Ursonate" can be heard online at the University at Buffalo's Electronic Poetry Center (EPC) at http://www.epc.buffalo.edu/sound/mp3/sp/bok/o6_bok.mp3. Also available through the EPC is Bök's Web page, http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/bok/.

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