How to Write Eunoia

By: Christian Bok

Step 1: Acquire a dictionary (preferably the Webster’s Third International Unabridged in three volumes–since it contains the most words). Enter a spelling bee, in which one of the prizes is a dictionary. Come in second by misspelling the word “wrunne,” which refers to a species of fish found in the Indian Ocean. Make sure that you misspell this word at the exact moment when a Harrier jump-jet flies overhead at low altitude, drowning out your speech. Your crucial mistake committed during this distraction wins you the dictionary.

Step 2: Wait fifteen years before embarking on this project. Feel free to do whatever you want during this hiatus, but be sure to obtain at least two degrees in English from a university of your choice. When finished, read The Black Debt by Steve McCaffery, then decide to become an avant-garde poet for a living. Make sure that you understand all the economic ramifications of this decision. Read La Disparition by Georges Perec, preferably while a friend drives you home from Yale after your attendance at a conference on visual poetry.

Step 3: While reading Perec, sniff in disgust, saying: “Pfft, I can do this.” Refer to your dictionary. Write down by hand all the words in which the only vowel is the letter A. Then write down by hand all the words in which the only vowel is the letter E. Do the same for I. Do the same for O. Go on and finish up with U. Be sure to arrange the words according to their parts of speech: nouns, verbs, etc. Go on to sort these lists into topical indices: plants, beasts, etc. Do not get bored–the drudgery only gets worse after this grueling procedure.

Step 4: Rules are important for this work–so make up lots of them. Write five stories. Make sure that each vowel appears in only one story. Each story must describe four scenarios: a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau, and a nautical voyage. Make use of rhyme wherever possible. Make sure that you exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, using at least 98% of the available repertoire. Try to minimize repetition so that, ideally, each word appears only once. Do not, under any circumstances, use the letter Y.

Step 5: Work on these stories everyday for seven years. Work only at night between the hours of 11:00 P.M and 5:00 A.M. Make the task more challenging for yourself by simultaneously completing some, if not all, of the following, optional tasks. Take two years to write a doctoral dissertation on the avant-garde writer of your choice, while working 40 hours a week at a retail outlet, preferably a rapacious monopoly disguised as a bookstore. Feel free to design some artificial languages for a couple of science-fiction television shows.

Step 6: Should you find this project to be a cakewalk, try upping the ante by applying for a grant. Apply for every level of funding. Fill out all requisite paperwork and submit excerpts of your outlandish manuscript. Wait for rejection. When received, repeat procedure. For maximum, Sisyphean effect, apply again and again at every opportunity for at least six years. To win this endurance test, you must wear down the bureaucrats by being more stubborn than they are. Be sure to excoriate each committee for its shortsighted philistinism.

Step 7: After seven years, finish the project. Get it published. Do not bother submitting it to any publisher whose editor is not already your closest, dearest friend. Do not let the publisher do any of the design. Do it all yourself. Be a pain in the ass. Go to the publisher and commandeer a computer. Be sure take at least six weeks doing all the typesetting and copyediting, then print 1000 copies. If you have followed these instructions to the letter, sell the book for $16.95 at the above-mentioned monopoly and see what happens.

Christian Bok is a Toronto based poet whose latest work, nominated for the Griffin Poetry prize, is Eunoia published by Coach House Books,