Issue 11
Monday, 04 July 2016
Charles Darwin University
Dr Christian Bok’s Xenotext Project: an attempt to make a literary work to outlast the human race
Dr Christian Bok’s Xenotext Project: an attempt to make a literary work to outlast the human race

World class poet joins teaching team

By Patrick Nelson

Charles Darwin University is celebrating the success of having secured the services of an internationally acclaimed writer to the School of Creative Arts and Humanities.

Renowned “experimental poet” and award-winning Canadian author Dr Christian Bok starts today as lecturer in literary studies.

Head of School Professor Brian Mooney said Dr Bok was a highly creative thinker whose work sat at the cutting edge of literature and science.

“This is a real coup for Charles Darwin University and for writers, poets and others throughout the Northern Territory who have a passion for the English language and literature,” Professor Mooney said.

“Dr Bok will teach two courses in creative writing in Semester 2 and also will be responsible for founding a program in creative writing.”

Something of Dr Bok’s talent and personality was revealed in 2002 when he won Canada’s $60,000 Griffin Poetry Prize, for the book Eunoia.

The best-seller contains five chapters (entitled “A”, “E”, “I”, “O” and “U”) in which the letter in the title is the only vowel used throughout that chapter. For example, Chapter A starts: “Awkward grammar appals a craftsman. A Dada bard as daft as Tzara damns stagnant art and scrawls an alpha …”

Dr Bok also continues to work on a scientifically ambitious project in which he is trying to encode a poem into the genome of a germ (Deinococcus radiodurans), in a bid to create “a living poem”.

Dr Bok discusses the experiment in his book The Xenotext: Book 1, where he explains that the project consists of a sonnet (called Orpheus), which, when translated into a gene and then integrated into a cell, causes the cell to “read” the poem, interpreting it as an instruction for building a protein whose sequence of amino acids encodes yet another sonnet (called Eurydice).

“The organism not only becomes an archive for storing my poem, but also becomes a machine for writing a poem in response,” Dr Bok said.

“By putting my poem into this organism, I could conceivably write a book that might outlast … civilisation.”