eunoia (n.)

Eunoia from Kaldor on Vimeo.

When I was in high school, I worked at Chapters. The whole three years I worked there, I probably sold in the neighbourhood of two dozen poetry books – and 23 of those were very likely copies of Eunoia by Christian Bök. It was a doozy of a poetry book, written to follow a near-impossible list of rules:

‘Eunoia’ is the shortest word in English to contain all five vowels, and the word quite literally means ‘beautiful thinking’. Eunoia is a univocal lipogram, in which each chapter restricts itself to the use of a single vowel.

Eunoia abides by many subsidiary rules. All chapters must allude to the art of writing. All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage. All sentences must accent internal rhyme through the use of syntactical parallelism. The text must exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98% of the available repertoire (although a few words do go unused, despite efforts to include them: parallax, belvedere, gingivitis, monochord and tumulus). The text must minimize repetition of substantive vocabulary (so that, ideally, no word appears more than once). The letter Y is suppressed.

The result is dense reading, bordering on impenetrable, but you have to respect the guy’s dedication.

Here, a sample poem from Eunoia: 

from Chapter O
(for Yoko Ono)

Loops on bold fonts now form lots of words for books.
Books form cocoons of comfort – tombs to hold book-
worms. Profs from Oxford show frosh who do post-
docs how to gloss works of Wordsworth. Dons who
work for proctors or provosts do not fob off school to
work on crosswords, nor do dons go off to dorm
rooms to loll on cots. Dons go crosstown to look for
bookshops known to stock lots of top-notch goods:
cookbooks, workbooks – room on room of how-to
books for jocks (how to jog, how to box), books on
pro sports: golf or polo. Old colophons on school-
books from schoolrooms sport two sorts of logo: ob-
long whorls, rococo scrolls – both on worn morocco.

Beautiful thinking indeed.

– Chelsea