Calgary poet hits U.K. bestseller list
A Calgary poet whose book won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002 has scored an hit with the U.K. publication of his book, which came seven years after its release in Canada.
Christian Bok's Eunoia, released in Britain in October, became the No. 8 seller on Amazon U.K. Christmas week, made the Times of London's list of the year's top 10 books and remains the top-selling book of poetry in Britain.
Eunoia, a word that means "beautiful thinking," was a bestseller when it came out in Canada — selling 20,000 copies when a success for a Canadian poetry book is a run of about 2,000.
Bok, a professor of poetry and creative writing at the University of Calgary, said an interview and reading he gave on BBC Radio in the U.K. seems to have sparked interest in his book.
"Now I couldn't have been more surprised by the fact that I was only speaking for maybe four or five minutes on air, but subsequently the book was bought by everyone and it has now gone on to compete with the likes of Barack Obama and Nigella's cookbook for pole position on the Christmas book list," he told CBC's Q cultural affairs show on Monday.
British readers seem to have been stirred by the book's unlikely premise — each chapter of the book features poems using a single vowel. Bok's favourite passage, for example, uses only words with the vowel "i."
"I think that the work is a kind of athletic, acrobatic jester and when people first hear about its constraints they believe the work must be impossible to accomplish and consequently, I think, people are perhaps purchasing the book out of curiosity and discovering that in fact, it does have literary merit," Bok said.
People also are attracted by the controversy surrounding the book, which was widely discussed in the blogosphere after Bok's BBC appearance.
"The book tends to polarize opinion," he said. "Poets tend to like the work a great deal … or tend to dismiss the book as the work of a charlatan indulging in a kind of literary gamesmanship."
Bok said it took seven years to write the book because of its unorthodox format.
"I really wanted to see if it was possible to say something of literary quality while hamstrung and handicapped by these really awful rules and constraints," he said.
"People realize that the language is an extremely versatile medium and it's capable of doing things unexpected and surprising."
Euonia was published In Canada in 2001 by Coach House Books. But it took another seven years to find a publisher in the U.K. — Canongate agreed to release an initial print run of 6,000 books in October. The book is now on its third print run.
Bok has yet to find a U.S. publisher.