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Bitcoin Ordinals Inscription Marks First Individual Poem Sale by Sotheby's

Inscribed using Bitcoin Ordinals, Ana Maria Caballero's poem "Cord" fetched over $11,000 at auction. She speaks to SCENE about the moment.

A poem by Ana Maria Caballero sold for 0.28 Bitcoin or $11,430 at Sotheby’s. The poem by Caballero, "Cord," was featured in an online auction of Bitcoin Ordinals inscriptions called Natively Digital.

The Natively Digital collection was designed as a deep dive into the world of the NFT-like Ordinals on Bitcoin, and contained notable early inscriptions. In addition to the inscription, the buyer of “Cord” will also receive a signed print of the poem.

Michael Bouhanna, VP and Head of Digital Art at Sotheby’s, tweeted this week that “Cord” is the first-ever individual poem sold by the 280-year-old auction house, not including manuscripts and books.

The significance of the Sotheby's auction for "Cord" was not lost on Caballero, who called it an opportunity to affirm written poetry's inherent worth.

“It's an incredible opportunity to make a statement that words and language and poetry have value on [their] own,” Caballero told Decrypt after the sale. “Not with anything else attached, not with visuals, not with sound, not with any other kind of experience. Just the language of the poem, just the text of it, is what was sold.”

"Cord" will feature in Caballero’s upcoming book Mammal. Other artists in the Natively Digital auction included FAR, XCPinata, Nullish, Rudxane, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Popoki, Shroomtoshi, Des Lucréce, and Claudia Hart. One inscription tied to the “Quantum Cats” collection sold for over $250,000.

“I was in touch with Michael Bouhanna from Sotheby's because he wanted to put together a sale for Ordinals. I thought the curatorial theme should be about archeology in the blockchain,” FAR told Decrypt on Twitter. “So I thought having a poem would be interesting, and I invited Ana.”

In her writing career, Caballero has won several awards, including the Beverly International and José Manuel Arango National Poetry Prizes. Along with Kalen Iwamoto and Sasha Stiles, Caballero launched the digital poetry and NFT gallery theVerseverse in 2021.

In August, theVerseverse collaborated with the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles to create an exhibition that combined Ginsberg’s photograph with AI-generated poetry. While “Muses & Self: Photographs by Allen Ginsberg” mimicked the Beat Generation icon's style, the display drew mixed reactions from the poetry community.

“Ana explores the influence of biology on societal and cultural rituals,” Sotheby’s wrote on Twitter. “Her work unveils the reality behind romanticized motherhood, challenging the narrative of sacrifice as a virtue.”

As Caballero explained, “Cord” is written in a style of poetry called a villanelle. A villanelle is a poem with 19 lines and five stanzas, similar to a paragraph with three lines each and one stanza with four lines. A villanelle uses two repeated rhymes and two lines used multiple times.

“I love that value statement for poetry, and for verse, especially because this is a poem about motherhood; it's about pregnancy, about the body, about embodiment,” Caballero said. “So it's even more meaningful in what tends to be a very male-dominated space,” she said, adding that the auction for “Cord” received over 40 bids.

Caballero said she chose to participate in the project using a centuries-old poetic form to "pay homage to the technically complex chain that is Bitcoin, you know, that launched it all.”

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