:: Buzzwords

Five for: Ben Myers

benmyersspam.jpg

1) Spam poetry seems to be an intersection between the highest (poetry) and lowest (spam) forms of writerly endeavours. Is that a fair assessment?
Yes, I think so. I see it as a place where poetry collides with commerce, with spectacularly bizarre results.

2) When did you hit on the idea of spam poetry?
I’ve been collecting spam e-mails since around about 1999, when I got my first e-mail account at home. I thought they were intriguing because on the one hand they would try and sell you some pills to increase the size of your penis, but when you actually read the content of the mail it might include an extract of text from, say Herman Melville or Jack London or some obscure crime writer. But because the extract would be all jumbled up, it was if the text had somehow been remixed and shat out down the wires of modernity.

For my own amusement I used to save them all, then edit them down into more digestible works of poetry. Out of this mess a new language emerged, where key words or images were repeated. On an obvious level they reminded me of the cut-up works of William Burroughs, but they also recalled the lyrics of The Mars Volta, a band who create their own hybrid words to form a new lexicon that is unlike any other in rock music. Then in about 2004 I started sharing these poems by posting them on various literary websites (always under the working title Increase The Size of Your Penis). When I investigated further it turned out there were many other people doing exactly the same, with very mixed results.

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3) How do you compose your spam poetry?
Because there is no set form I can only share how I approach writing such poetry. First of all, you need to turn off your spam filter and risk an influx of viruses. Fear not though, it will be worth it: computers are replaceable, poetry is forever. Only one in ten or so spam e-mails will be of interest, so discard the boring ones and concentrate on a good one. Keep the best lines, phrases or key words, then cut it down. Keep re-reading it and sooner or later something of interest might emerge – even if it just a line or two. For example I received an e-mail entitled ‘Videos Of Girls’ that was probably advertising porn and I extracted the following line: “And in comes the sun crow, timidly / drinking sulky cat sour milk sickness.” I still don’t know what it means, but it reminded me of TS Eliot, so I kept it. I think the key to a good spam poem is not what it says, but how it makes you feel. In this instance, ‘Videos Of Girls’ makes me feel slightly suggestible.

4) What’s the best (as in worst) spam you’ve ever been sent?
It’s all relative I suppose. Just because an e-mail may have the subject line ‘Just Imagine How Nice Your Huge Dick Will Look In Her Pretty Tight Pussyhole’ doesn’t mean it’s contents are actually offensive or doesn’t contain a great poem. That’s the strange thing about spam – it’s a moral lottery. That said, I have also read some really tedious spam poetry. I think the art is in the editing, not the cutting and pasting.

5) You’ve just published a book of spam poetry. How did that come about?
I collected some of my spam poems together and sent them to the very reputable Blackheath Books. Blackheath only publish beautiful hand-made, very limited edition books, an approach which is completely at odds with the disposable nature of spam poetry, but the publisher Geraint Hughes liked them. The next thing I knew he had printed the book. He is a great poet and an unsung hero of the literary underworld and everyone should pay his website a visit.

Spam: Email Inspired Poetry by Ben Myers is available to buy now from Blackheath Books.

First posted: Wednesday, April 30th, 2008.

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  1. very intersting,this is the first time i have heard of spam poetry i must say i find the idea very interesting,mainly because i have only recently started using a computer and each time i get spam i delete them straight away without any thought of reading the content….
    anyway my thoughts have all dried up on the subject already,obviously because of my dealings with spam,but very interesting,i wish there was more i could say,but alas on this occasion this is all i have to offer….thankyou

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