celebrates product's virtues

By Richard Lloyd Parry
New York Times

TOKYO - For centuries, Japanese men of letters have recorded the passing of the seasons and the pangs of love in haiku - tiny, delicate poems of 17 syllables.

For decades, consumers all over the world have enjoyed the cruder pleasures of Spam - that pink, gelatinous pork product.

Now, courtesy of the Internet, these two seemingly incongruous forces have been united in an entirely new literary form.

Welcome to the world of "Spamku."

Spamku, quite simply, are haiku about Spam, and they are part of a worldwide renaissance in haiku which is taking place in cyberspace.

Dozens of haiku web sites have sprung up, ranging from serious literary forums in Japanese and English to more outlandish innovations.

These include "Viku" (haiku with accompanying video graphics), and "SciFaiku" (haiku with a science fiction theme), and even a site devoted to "humorous" haiku about leprosy.

But the most inventive of the lot is the Spam Haiku Archive, set up a year ago by John Nagamachi Cho, a half-Japanese scientist at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

"In the age of MTV attention spans and sound-bite news coverage, most (people) do not have the patience and discipline to channel their creative impulse into a sustained and coherent art form," writes Cho in the Spamku manifesto, posted at the site.

"The haiku form is, thus, perfect for our culture. Spam, that mysterious and irresistibly repulsive food product, has spawned a post-modern, cross-cultural literary form."

Nobody knows who invented the Spamku but, in its twelve months of operation, nearly 4000 Spamku have been posted in the Archive at http://www.naic.edu/~jcho/spam/sha.html.

An average of ten new poems are added every day; Spamku-ists include Japanese, Australians, Germans, Britons and Americans.

All contributions must adhere to the strict haiku form - three lines divided into five, seven and five syllables - but they reveal a range of complex attitudes to Spam which belie its seemingly humble status.

Some of the poems are nostalgic remembrances of Spam past, while others focus on the poignant, almost tragic character, of Spam:

"Formless, spreadable,
"beneath contempt. Pity me!
"I am deviled Spam."

"For some reason people have this thing about Spam," says Cho. "There's something intrinsically funny about it - just saying the word is enough to make people laugh."

Four out of five contributions make fun of Spam, but a minority are simple celebrations. From one American Spamku-ist:

Ate three cans of Spam
But there's still room for Jello
I love this country!

Those cans of Spam are also the inspiration for still another poetry form.

Here from the Spam limericks page at http://www.naic.edu/~jcho/spam/limericks.html is a sampling of the humorous verse the pink loaves have inspired.

First one about Spamku:

There once was a guy from Japan
Who fell in love with a blue can.
He started to use
The Web for haikus
And attracted many a fan.

Or how's about:

There was once a young lady of Rome,
Who lived in an old catacomb.
When the ghouls came to prey,
She'd keep them at bay
With an offer of Spam in her home.

And lastly, the following:

There once was a man of St. Jude,
Who tried to cook Spam in the nude.
He cooked in too long,
An unless I am wrong,
You expected this line to be lewd.

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