appearing at New American Art Union, 922 SE Ankeny, Saturday July 2, 7:30 pm, $5-15 sliding
The term "sound poetry" is one that's been kicked around for at least decades, and just last week I finally bothered to learn what it means. "[It's] poetry that doesn't use words for their meaningful content, but is more like music, and arranges the sounds of language artfully," said renowned sound poet Christian Bök during a phone call from Vancouver, B.C. Curious, I visited a website that features Bök's work: www.writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Bok.html. What I discovered there was not some indulgent performance artist spewing new-age bibble-babble, but a wonderfully strange, frequently hilarious stream of vocal tricks and wordplay that was, above all else, immensely entertaining. Bök's talents are varied and impressive: he throat sings, recites lists of unrelated words at a dazzling speed, and rattles off baffling slews of gibberish designed to emulate the sounds of a Nintendo videogame.
"Right now I'm teaching myself to beatbox," continued Bök, a Calgary English professor who has published collections of poetry (Eunoia, Crystallography) and literary criticism (Pataphysics), and even created artificial languages for television shows like Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict. "I felt obliged to learn how to do it as a side effect of my most recent poetic project, which involves trying to write a nonsensical poem composed of words that are arranged purely for their phonetic character--a poem that when read aloud, sounds like electronic music."
Bök's "recent poetic project," dubbed The Cyborg Opera, will eventually materialize in book form, but is ultimately best experienced as, and designed to comment on, live performance poetry.
"Throughout history, when poets have resorted to a musical metaphor for an explanation of what they do, they typically refer to jazz. But electronic music [is] beginning [to be] the normative form that music is taking. It's very hard to imagine what a literary cognate for that form would be. But if [something is] difficult and hard, I'm going to be figuring out how to do it."