From Chapter I

for Dick Higgins

 

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 shtick which might instill priggish misgiv-

ings in critics blind with hindsight. I dismiss nit-

picking criticism which flirts with philistinism. I

bitch; I kibitz — griping whilst criticizing dimwits,

sniping whilst indicting nitwits, dismissing simplis-

tic thinking, in which philippic wit is still illicit.

 

Pilgrims, digging in shifts, dig till midnight in mining

pits, chipping flint with picks, drilling schist with drills,

striking it rich mining zinc. Irish firms, hiring micks

whilst firing Brits, bring in smiths with mining skills:

kilnwrights grilling brick in brickkilns, millwrights

grinding grist in gristmills. Irish tinsmiths, fiddling

with widgits, fix this rig, driving its drills which spin

whirring drillbits. I pitch in, fixing things. I rig this

winch with its wiring; I fit this drill with its piping. I

dig this ditch, filling bins with dirt, piling it high, sift-

ing it, till I find bright prisms twinkling with glitz.

Christian Bök, “From Chapter I” from Eunoia. Copyright © 2009 by Christian Bök. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2009).

Dive in: 
  1. This excerpt is from a book-length poem called Eunoia that has five chapters, each one corresponding to a single vowel. (Eunoia is the shortest word in the English language that contains all five vowels.) What does “eunoia” mean? What do you think the relationship is between the word eunoia and the experiment of this book?
  2. Note that all of the words in this excerpt feature words that only contain the vowel I. What is the effect of hearing the same vowel sound repeated over and over? Do you feel that the vowel has a kind of personality of its own? If so how would you describe it?
  3. Who was Dick Higgins? Can you see a relationship between this artist and this poem? (Besides the fact that Dick Higgins only has the letter I in his name!)
  4. This is only the first two stanzas of Chapter I, but what is happening in this poem — what is the speaker talking about?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, would you read it quickly or slowly? Would you choose to emphasize the sound or the meaning of the words?
  6. Write a short poem, even four lines long, only using words with the letter a in them. They can have other vowels as well, but they must contain the letter a. How does it feel? Is it frustrating or fun?

Useful Links

 

Watch Christian Bök read from Eunoia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUNwHmQc9yk

 

Interview with Christian Bök about his science-fiction-worthy poetry goals: http://www.believermag.com/issues/200906/?read=interview_bok

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