Each chapter uses only one vowel. Not one
vowel once, but the same vowel over and over again, in real words that are
almost never repeated, formed into real sentences with real meaning.
Force language through this horrifying meat grinder, season with ribald
Canadian wit (not an oxymoron, as it turns out), and you get sentences such
as this: “Slick pimps, bribing civic kingpins, distill gin in stills,
spiking drinks with illicit pills which might bring bliss.” Or this: “Porno
shows folks lots of sordor – zoom-shots of Bjorn Borg’s bottom or Snoop
The article also details what is a simply incredible work ethic:
And the work itself? Get this: He read the 1.5 million-word, three-volume
Webster’s College Dictionary from beginning to end five times over, once for
each vowel, each time listing by hand every univocal word that used the
vowel of the moment. That took six months. It turned out to be the easy
part. Those five long lists he then sorted by parts of speech, and sorted
again into topical categories. And then he tried to write with them.
And as to the myth that all serious authors are somehow freed from the bonds of labor:
Despite the critical success of his first book, a slim volume of experimental
poetry called Crystallography, no one gave Bök an advance for his second.
“So I was working 40 hours a week at the special orders desk of a big Toronto
bookstore. Then after that job was done I’d spend 20 or more hours a week
tutoring advanced high school students in science and mathematics. Then I’d
go home and work on my PhD dissertation [on the French playwright Alfred
Jarry, a major influence on Monty Python] to about 11 o’clock or midnight,
then I’d open the files on Eunoia and work until 4 or 5 o’clock in the
morning. And I did that every day, and I did it for seven years, and I would
crash at the weekends trying to recuperate. So the book was written under a
lot of duress. It was a pretty black time, financially and emotionally.”
The article also has an excerpt and a link to audio of the author reading his work.