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The International Writers Magazine:

EUNOIA by Christian B_k,
Coach House Books, Toronto, 2001, eighteenth printing 2005, 112 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-1552450925
Canongate Books (UK edition), 2008,
ISBN-10: 1847672396 ISBN-13: 978-1847672391

Charlie Dickinson

One given for creative work by an artist is acceptance of limits (a discipline the work itself often imposes). With his short "novella" EUNOIA, Canadian poet Christian B_k creates an extraordinary prose object using a severe constraint: Each of the five chapters in the book has only words with a common vowel.

Thus, "Chapter A" only has words with the vowel "a." Moreover, each chapter deploys at least 98% of the candidate one-vowel words in the lexicon.

So why do such a thing? Is the result worth reading? To start with the motivation for EUNOIA (which as B_k states is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels and literally means "beautiful thinking"), one might agree poets are used to working with restriction: poetic forms, meter, rhyme, and other schema so words that otherwise might not be brought together do. Interesting and often striking combinations for both meaning and sound happen.

As to whether the result is worth reading, I'd suggest poet B_k's seven years of daily labor gives the reader something that goes far beyond a random word list. Each chapter repeats such motifs as the art of writing, culinary delight, a prurient debauch, a nautical voyage, mixed with plenty of internal rhyme to celebrate ultimately the joy of the sound object each word is in itself. A comparison with the metered, but rhyming abandon of reading Dr. Seuss is not out of reach.

Every reader, of course, must decide if EUNOIA suits their reading tastes. But here's a sample from Chapter O:
"Loops on bold fonts now form lots of words for books. Books form cocoons of comfort--tombs to hold bookworms. Profs from Oxford show frosh who do post-docs how to gloss words of Wordsworth. Dons who work for proctors and 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 ..."

And so EUNOIA goes for seventy pages of text. It is a rare book by a poet that goes through eighteen printings with no signs of stopping. But B_k's tour de force with EUNOIA has a snowballing readership. With the appearance in the UK of an edition published by Canongate Books, not to mention B_k's BBC interview, we can't expect this marvelous prose creation to be out of print anytime soon.

© Charlie Dickinson November 10th 2008

What I talk about when I talk about running:
a memoir by Haruki Murakami,

Charlie Dickinson
What makes Haruki Murakami-Japanese novelist, often suggested as Japan's next Nobel Prize winner for Literature-run? Here, told in Murakami's irresistible prose style, abundant with droll humor, is the straight skinny on why this man of letters, who turns sixty next year, runs at least one marathon every year.

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