note on Oulipo constraints & DNA poetry (a genomic poem)

January 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Inevitably, DNA provides an interesting model for a poem generated by means of Oulipo-esque constraints. If we think of language as arbitrary system by which the poet is written, we might model this with a series of somewhat arbitrary constraints inspired by codon-into-amino acid production; the byproduct of the writing process might look something like a chromosome in the sequenced genome of a small organism. Guillardia theta, for example, a eukaryotic nucleomorph genome, sequenced in 2001.

The four DNA acids, C G A T, in various combinations of 3, in turn produce X number of amino acids—21 in the human body—which express the organism. A DNA codon chart might be created to generate a genomic poem.

See  Christian Bök’s fascinating Xenotext Experiment; which takes the idea of poetry as DNA literally in the form of a “poetry bug,” a poem that might “‘infect’ the language of genetics.” His discussion of contagion, infection, and language as virus with reference to this project is also reminiscent of Renaissance conceptions of human interaction with the world (melancholy, love, the plague, almost anything could be contracted through the air, the eye, the ear…) now translated into our 21st century genetic paradigms, and more general interest in things ‘viral.’

I’m more interested in DNA as extended conceit or metaphor for poetry, and tracing this genealogy back to organic models for poetry and poetic production in the Romantics (Coleridge and the idea of an ‘organic’ versus mechanical poetic process; Keats’ description of poetry coming as leaves to a tree.)

But to return to the idea of a DNA codon table to generate a genomic poem: this would make an interesting book of poetry in theory: the codon table as frontispiece, followed by however many pages of the sequenced organism/poem.

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