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Posted on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

Christian Bok's 'Eunoia' always pleases

By Julia Eussen


Published by Coach House Books.

This is my last post, so I wanted to end with a book that I adore. A few months ago I read "Eunoia" by Christian Bok for a class. As the back cover explains, the term "eunoia" is the shortest word in the English language to contain all five vowels and it means "beautiful thinking." This book was beautiful, and I can't gush about it enough.

Christian Bök has paid homage to the vowels by writing a book of lipograms — each chapter is a poem where only one vowel is used. What does that mean? It means that, as a reader, we get to experience stories told in a way rarely heard or so fantastical.

Chapter A follows Hassan:
Hassan asks that a vassal grant a man what manna a man wants: Alaskan crabs, alfafa salad and kasha, Malahat clams, lasagna pasta and salsa. Hassan wants Kalamata shawarma, cassabananas and taramasalata. Hassan gnaws at a calf flank and chaws at a lamb shank, as a charman chars a black bass and salts a bland carp.

And Chapter U provides a portrait of Ubu:
Ubu blurts untruth: much bunkum (plus bull), much humbug (plus bunk) — but trustful schmucks trust such untruthful stuff; thus Ubu (cult guru) must bluff dumstruck numbskulls (such chumps).

The reader is lead through war and personal drama, and carried from the past to the present. Bök often provides the narrative with his own tongue-in-cheek tone. Chapter A opens, "Awkward grammar appals a craftsman." And Chapter E begins, "Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech."

The 2009 edition contains additional poems as well, where again the substance must fit into a firm structure. This is one of the few works that I know I can read any time and I'll always enjoy it. I hope you do too!

Julia Eussen received her B.A. in English from Kansas State University. She is currently a graduate student in Eastern Michigan University's Professional Writing Program. She is also an active member of the Ann Arbor Classics Book Group and has recently begun to re-acquaint herself with good poetry. She can be reached at jeussen at emich dot edu.