Book of lonely vowels

Christian Bök’s 2001 anthology Eunoia contains five chapters that each use just one of the five vowels.

The first chapter in Canadian poet Christian Bök’s 2001 anthology Eunoia begins this way:

Awkward grammar appals a craftsman.

Eunoia – “Chapter A”

The second chapter starts as follows:

Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech.

Eunoia – “Chapter E”

Eunoia is another example of the flabbergasting genre known as constrained writing. You may remember Georges Perec’s A Void, the book written without the letter E, or Ella Minnow Pea, the book that gradually sheds letters as it unfolds. Those are both lipogrammatic novels. Specific letters are banned, and the prose must contort around them. Eunoia is the opposite: for each chapter, a specific vowel is compulsory, and all other vowels are forbidden.

It is a testament to Bök’s skill that each chapter reads (relatively) naturally, with true moments of poetic fluidity:

Ubu blurts untruth: much bunkum (plus bull), much humbug (plus bunk) – but trustful schmucks trust such untruthful stuff.

Eunoia – “Chapter U”

As if that weren’t enough, the author imposed several further constraints on the text. Every chapter contains the same themes, scenes, and events. None of these chapters contain the pseudo-vowel “Y” at all. And Bök attempted to use every single word that fit the criteria; apparently he covered about 98% of the eligible corpus.

After the five vowel chapters come some bonus materials: a chapter that uses only the letters in the world “vowels,” for example, and a list of English words that contain no vowels at all. Eunoia explores and explodes the tricky corners of English orthography in a way that delights and perplexes me.

Does each vowel have its own character and personality? Bök was not the first to make this claim, and some other time I may explore a famous French poem that plumbed the depths of vocalic identity.

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