The Xenotext: Book 1
Internationally best-sellling poet Christian Bök has spent more than ten years writing what promises to be the first example of 'living poetry.' After successfully demonstrating his concept in a colony of E. coli, Bök is on the verge of enciphering a beautiful, anomalous poem into the genome of an unkillable bacterium (Deinococcus radiodurans), which can, in turn, "read" his text, responding to it by manufacturing a viable, benign protein, whose sequence of amino acids enciphers yet another poem. The engineered organism might conceivably serve as a post-apocalyptic archive, capable of outlasting our civilization.
Book I of The Xenotext constitutes a kind of 'demonic grimoire,' providing a scientific framework for the project with a series of poems, texts, and illustrations. A Virgilian welcome to the Inferno, Book I is the "orphic" volume in a diptych, addressing the pastoral heritage of poets, who have sought to supplant nature in both beauty and terror. The book sets the conceptual groundwork for the second volume, which will document the experiment itself. The Xenotext is experimental poetry in the truest sense of the term.
In an article in The Gauntlet, Fabian Mayer discusses Christian Bök's ambitious new poetry project: inserting his poetry into bacteria. Bök explains: 'I’m genetically engineering a bacterium so it can become not only an archive for storing my poem, but can also become a machine for writing a poem in response. '
His project has taken the form of two books. The Xenotext: Book 1, due this September, is 'a book of poetry that presents information intented to provide a primer on genetics and lay the conceptual foundations for the experiment itself. '- The Gauntlet
‘If Human reverence was slanted more toward Nature and- Peter Watts
less toward the exaltation of gods, our scriptures might
have looked something like The Xenotext. ’
– Peter Watts
'With a writer like Bök (and it is fair to say that there are not many—if any—truly like him), the expectation is that whatever comes of the massive amounts of research and investigation will be delightfully confusing, simultaneously illustrative, and altogether new. '
And Luman is not left disappointed; he writes: 'Bök provides a new way into creation, by entering into the very language and vocabulary of the canvas of life itself. '- Douglas Luman
Writing about The Xenotext: Book 1, Rob McClennan writes: 'It becomes fascinating how [Christian] Bök has managed to construct poetry, let alone a multiple-volume project, around such an experiment, extending, exploring and capturing the connections between science and poetry dozens of times beyond what anyone has achieved up to this point, proving yet again just how far ahead he is of his peers. '- Rob McClennan
‘The cellular “rules” that govern this extraordinary text allow- Marjorie Perloff
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
‘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
– The Guardian