Everyone’s a poet, including this microbe

Christian Bök is part poet, part mad scientist. He’s read the entirety of Webster’s Dictionary three times, invented a language for a sci-fi TV show, and, most recently, brushed up on his genetic engineering skills to create the world’s first “living poem.”

According to Macleans, the project, called Xenotext, is a “short stanza enciphered into a string of DNA and injected into an ‘unkillable’ bacterium, Bök’s poem is designed to trigger the micro-organism to create a corresponding protein that, when decoded, is a verse created by the organism.”

So what’s wrong with writing poetry in your Moleskine, or on a coffee-stained paper napkin at a local open mic? Nothing, I guess. But it’s clearly not enough for Bök, and his imagination — “the biggest in the room” as he calls it — is inspired by less traditional sources (more Watson & Crick than a red wheelbarrow). “I am amazed that poets will continue to write about their divorces, even though there is currently a robot taking pictures of orange ethane lakes on Titan.”

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 — Benjamin Samuel is co-editor of Electric Literature. He looks forward to the day when natural selection will be our first line of defense for bad poetry. You can find him here.

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