The Poem Meant to Outlive You

In Uncategorized on August 6, 2012 at 8:19 AM

I am both inspired and blown away by poet Christian Bök’s latest project: encoding a poem into the genetic structure of a bacterium “such that even when the cell replicates itself, the RNA will encode a second, mirroring poem.”

Stated in the article, as “Jeremy Colaneglo writes for Open Book Toronto:

In order for this experiment to work, the two sonnets need to be mutually transposable according to a “bijective” substitution-cipher, where each letter is mutually switched for another. So far, only the opening lines of these poems have been published — “any style of life / is prim…” for the first; and “the faery is rosy / of glow…” for the second. Even in these small sections you can see the substitution at work: for example, the letters E and Y are mutually correlated with each other across the two poems, so that wherever the letter E appears in one text, the letter Y appears in the other. In order to write these poems, Bök created a computer program which, when given one of the eight trillion-or-so possible ciphers, produced a list of words that were mutually transposable according to this scheme. In our interview, Bök said that the largest list produced by his program was “about 800″ words long, and the list used for his poems was “slightly more than 100.”

Hmmm. I’m sure when I get to a point in life when I want to try something like this, it will be so “done”. There will be whole libraries of petri dishes full of such poems. If the bacteria evolved into animals, we could feel clever by pointing out that their ‘walking poetry’. (Of course, I know that evolution takes millions of years.)

About ‘walking poetry’, though; maybe all living things already are.

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