The first work of ‘living poetry’ in the world, by the author of the bestselling book Eunoia
Internationally renowned poet Christian Bök has encoded a poem (called ‘Orpheus’) into the genome of a germ so that, in reply, the cell builds a protein that encodes yet another poem (called ‘Eurydice’). After having illustrated this idea in E. coli, Bök is planning to insert his poem into a deathless bacterium (D. radiodurans), thereby writing a text able to outlive every apocalypse, enduring till the Sun itself expires.
Book 1 of The Xenotext is an ‘infernal grimoire’ that introduces readers to the conceptual groundwork for this project. The book offers a primer in genetics, even as it revisits the pastoral heritage of poetry, updating the orphic idylls of Virgil for a new age of mythic danger – be it in the beauty of artful biogenesis, if not in the terror of global extinction.
‘The cellular “rules” that govern this extraordinary text allow Bök to create one of the most beautiful poems of our time – a poem in which the georgics of Virgil join forces with the double helix of Watson and Crick.’
– Marjorie Perloff
‘If Human reverence was slanted more toward Nature and less toward the exaltation of gods, our scriptures might have looked something like The Xenotext.’
– Peter Watts
‘Many artists seek to attain immortality through their art, but few would expect their work to outlast the human race and live on for billions of years. As Canadian poet Christian Bök has realized, it all comes down to the durability of your materials.’
– The Guardian
This book from experimental poet B k (whose collection Eunoia won the 2001 Griffin Poetry Prize) is a poetic diagram to be decoded and deciphered. B k explores genetic encoding, immortality through text, conservation of meaning, and creation and destruction with virtuoso wordplay and composition that include acrostics, sonnets, catalogues, pastorals, and incantatory repetition, among other forms. Much of the text is translation between genetic markers, from classical text to English, and through encapsulation of and commentary on both found and original poetry. B k also provides detailed discussion of each section's form and aims in the "Vita Explicata" section, which is useful given that the purposes of individual sections can be obscure until they're given context. The whole of the collection is an intriguing and adroit display of poetic and literary capability, and it ties to a larger project that's even more ambitious: B k's ongoing attempt to encode into an extremophile bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans a poem in DNA form designed to perpetuate and answer/continue itself in replication. The success of that project has yet to be determined, but the collection at least already succeeds in its aims, and is highly recommended.