The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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The potential to produce information

Poet Christian Bök, on how constraints equal creativity:

I think that my poetics makes it viable for me to excuse a whole variety of obsessive compulsive disorders. It’s not Asperger syndrome; it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Half the battle of being a poet is trying to transform what would otherwise be dismissed as a weakness into a strength, trying to find ways in which something that should fail under other circumstances finds an ecology within which it can succeed…

I’ve put the constraints in place in part to conduct a kind of scientific experiment; I want to be surprised in a relatively rigorous way by the work that I do. I think it’s almost impossible to surprise yourself because of course you’re supposed to know everything about yourself in advance. But by adopting a series of otherwise programmatic constraints, you create a hypothetical set of controlled conditions under which an experiment can be quite literally conducted and the outcome has the potential to be surprising. In effect, it has the potential to produce information.*

Bök’s most famous book, Eunoia, restricts each chapter to a single vowel. So the “E” chapter prohibits any word with an A, I, O, or U. Here’s a short section from “I”:

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?

*P.S.: I wish I’d heard this talk, which was at the Kelly Writers House here in Philadelphia, if only to savor Bök’s punchline. It’s tremendous:

I always joke with my students that poetry couldn’t possibly be as hard as they think it is, because if it were as hard as they thought it was, poets wouldn’t do it. Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know.

December 4, 2009 / Uncategorized

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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