ten maps of sardonic wit
atoms in space now drift
on a swift and epic storm
soft wind can stir a poem
snow fits an optic dream
into a scant prism of dew
words spin a faint comet
some words in fact paint
two stars of an epic mind
manic words spit on fate

Thanks to Stephen Burt for introducing us to the work of Michael D. Smith, a gifted talent, who definitely needs to publish his book of anagrams as soon as he can—and in fact he may want to consider sending a manuscript to BookThug, the publisher of If Language by Greg Betts, the Canadian poet who permutes all the letters in a scholarly paragraph by Steve McCaffery, doing so 56 times in order to generate a set of radically different messages.
Stephen Burt has also asked whether or not anyone has caused the output of anagram-devices to "sound like anything more than […] games"—and so I have offered, as a potential contender, my own poem Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit, originally published as an artbook exhibited at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York City for the artshow "Poetry Plastique."
Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit is a tome, whose cover, spine, pages, and words are constructed from nothing but Lego bricks (thousands of them conjoined together, each brick no bigger than a flat tile, four pegs in size). Each page is a rectangular plate of tiles, three layers thick, and the surface of each page depicts a black-and-white mosaic of words. The words spell out a line of poetry, using only the fixed array of letters in the title. The poem suggests that just as permuted atoms can create objects, so also can permuted letters create words.
I suggest that the letters of the poem become the literary variants of subatomic particles, and the book itself embodies these molecular metaphors, insofar as it too consists of discrete elements that can likewise be dismantled and recombined so as to form another modular structure. The book might easily disintegrate into granules of atomic debris, whereupon the reader can reassemble these plastic remains into an unrelated sculpture.
Give me a couple of days, and I can probably summon up some more postings on the subject of anagrams produced by poets here in my homeland….

Originally Published: October 12th, 2007

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...

  1. October 15, 2007

    Do you know if anyone bought Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit?

  2. October 16, 2007
     Christian Bök

    Takashi Murakami, the renowned Japanese artist, attended "Poetry Plastique" and purchased the book for $10,000 US. I believe that, of all the pieces in the show, mine was the only one that got sold by the gallery.

  3. October 17, 2007
     Steven Fama

    Thanks. It's a beautiful looking book, and good words too.