Christian Bök

Genetically engineered poetry

Christian Bök is on the verge of finishing his current project, The Xenotext, an example of “living poetry.” For this work, Bök uses a “chemical alphabet” to translate his poem into a DNA sequence, which he implants into the genome of an unkillable bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans. Once integrated into the organism, the poem acts as a set of instructions which cause the bacterium to manufacture a protein. This response, according to the original “chemical alphabet,” is itself another text. The Xenotext therefore becomes both a durable archive for storing a poem and an operant machine for writing a poem.

The Xenotext is the focus of his CAST Visiting Artist project with Nick Montfort, Professor of Digital Media in Comparative Media Studies | Writing. Bök and Montfort have collaborated on projects since 2012, and as part of Bök’s residency, they will connect with MIT faculty, students and researchers in biosciences to advance the genetic engineering and proteomic engineering phases for The Xenotext.


Presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST).

Christian Bök is a bestselling author and one of the earliest founders of Conceptual Literature, a poetic school of avant­-garde writing.

Bök is the author of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001)—a bestselling work of experimental literature—and winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize. He has created artificial languages for two television shows: Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon. His virtuoso recitals of “sound­ poems” have earned many accolades and he has performed lectures and readings at more than 300 venues around the world in the last four years. Bök teaches at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia.

Past Events

Lecture: The Poetics of Protein 13: The Writing of Genetic Sonnets
Tuesday, November 1, 2016 / 5:30pm
Building 3, room 270

Poetry Reading: The Unkillable Poet: Excerpts from The Xenotext (Book 1)
Thursday, November 3, 2016 / 5:30pm
MIT Museum Studio + Compton Gallery, Building 10, room 150


Class Visits
CMS. 628 Advanced Identity Representation
CMS.950 Workshop
21W.750 Experimental Writing
October 31 – November 7, 2016

Studio and Lab Visits 
MIT Museum Studio + Compton Gallery
Gene-Wei Li Lab Quantitative Biology at MIT



Poetry Foundation: The Xenotext Works

News Scientist: Cryptic Poetry Written In a Microbe’s DNA

Engaget: The Prose At The End of The Universe

Arcade: The Xenotext

Wired: Recombinant Rhymer Encodes Poetry in DNA


Nick Montfort, Comparative Media Studies | Writing

MIT Museum Studio + Compton Gallery

Christian Bök. Courtesy of the artist.
Christian Bök. Courtesy of the artist.