How Christian Bök made a bacterium write poetry to him

Canadian poet Christian Bök has worked for 14 years to make E. coli talk back to him, in the form of poetry. And now that he's succeeded, he's far from finished with the project.

Watch our animated explanation of how it works — and how it could outlive us all

Poet Christian Bök is putting words in E. coli

6 years ago
The Canadian experimental writer has been working for 14 years to make living organisms read his poetry to him, and his dream has finally become a reality. 2:53

Poet Christian Bök (pronounced "book") has been writing poetry for years. In 2001, his book Eunoia won the Griffin Poetry Prize for best new collection by a living Canadian. And he's always been a conceptual poet, thinking about poetry in terms that range from Lego to the Rubik's Cube to radically new invented languages.

But with The XenotextBök has taken poetry a step further — he's found a way to make a bacterium, E. coli, talk back to him. 

In this segment, which artist Carolyn Tripp (an Exhibitionist in Residence alum) has animated, Bök explains his meticulous process to CBC Arts, and why Bök's process may be the only way that our words will still exist, in a billion years.

Christian Bök will be appearing at Ottawa's Versefest on March 20th, and at the Edmonton Poetry Festival that runs April 19-20.

Watch Exhibitionists Sundays at 4:30pm (5 NT) on CBC.


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