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Morgan Hurley (ed), The Anthology Of Spam Poetry, Vértice 1925, 76 pp, $10

By Ben Myers.

It is impossible to review this fine collection without discussing my involvement in the emerging poetry sub-genre of spam poetry. It was circa 1999 that I started saving the many spam e-mails bombarding my In Box daily and began to consider them for what they were – nonsensical collections of phrases, images and plagiarised texts that contained distinct voices and flashes of genuine genius. What they were selling – Viagra, Cialis, the promise of a bigger penis, mainly – was irrelevant, yet the subject lines alone were enough to draw me in: ‘Mouthpiece Trimmings’, ‘Prolonged Tomahawk’, ‘Amaze Her Vagina With Your Hulking Cock’. Stuff like that

While there was a definite whiff of Burroughs and Gysin’s cut-up techniques to it all, these poems seemed to go one further, suggesting that they had been constructed free from human touch and arrived down the wires into my bedroom at the dawn of the 21st century. It was the poetry of the human robots ensconced in their work station hideaways in West Virginia, Budapest or Rio or Lagos, idly dreaming new and imaginative way to sell the same old shit, often pillaging existing texts across all genres to twist into new shapes. This, surely, was the type of writing Burroughs or Ballard could only have dreamed existed. This was the poetry of an unmapped dystopia, a new lexicon for a new era, the ultimate recycling of language.

Since then I’ve been re-writing, editing and occasionally publishing spam poems for my own amusement. There are no rules: some merely cut and paste the words from their e-mail and onto the page – et voila – a poem, others take the spam as a starting point and use the imagery within as a trigger, for the art-from of spam poems lies in the recipients ability to fashion mass blocks of text into something palatable and hopefully moving. Until this point I thought I was the only person with enough time on their hands to waste on such a folly. Wrong. Turns out there are thousands out there doing it on blogs and website.

One such man is Morton Hurley editor of this, The Anthology Of Spam Poetry, the world’s first-known print collection. When he first contacted me about including one of my poems I thought he was a mad-man – and, who know, maybe he is? Either way, he certainly does the subject justice. Instead of creating a collection that reflects the technological aspect and blink-and-you’ll-miss disposability of spam, Hurley has crafted a book that is traditional in all ways, except content. Within, a series of striking photo library images are juxtaposed with works entitled ‘Diarrhoea Permutation’, ‘Widow-Wail Family Life’ and ‘Die Like Frank Sinatra’, each a stand-alone abstraction contributing to great whole.

“Spam is usually pretty half-baked on it’s own and it helps to have meat organism to do some editing,” writes K Silem Mohammad in his introduction. And that perhaps is the point here: while the work within often has a clinical detached tone upon first glance, dig deeper and you’ll unearth poignancy and recurring emotions such as detachment, longing, confusion, hope and hopelessness, impotence and absurdity. All of which, I’m sure you will agree, are adjectives that could be used to describe Western societies in the infant years of this third millennia. It’s far too important a collection to be limited to 300 copies.

Best of all, spam poetry is making many reconsider what poetry is and is a rare example of aggressive marketing and advertising techniques inspiring literary works of depth and beauty. And – quite possibly – many more erect cocks the world over. Perhaps the final word should go to K Silem Mohammad:

“In the future spam-based poetry will place such a great demand on the time and energy of poets that they will have no time left to pursue their own original work, to everyone’s relief. The present volume is a welcome step in that direction.”

Ben Myers is a novelist, poet, music journalist and regular contributor to 3:AM.


First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, July 20th, 2007.