writing to know, knowing thru being, being for writing... this is me, writing about the one thing i know, which is myself... and even that is sometimes a mystery...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

beauty in the ether: an analysis of spam poetry

one thing i did a lot of this past weekend at the convention was attend some "ill" (ill in this case being a good thing, like "sick") spoken word workshops. i learned to use poetry as part of a social change movement, and to incorporate my voice into artist/activist movements.

anyway, it got me thinking about the amazing ability of student writers and activists who were even younger than i am, and how i could never have been so prolific or talented when i was that age. but i acknowledged i had never been given the outlet, the chance, the opening to express myself, never found a space in which to develop that talent, to explore its potentiality.

and it made me consider the formalities of "art" and the limits we place on products before we deem them worthy of accepting the title. art is sacred, and we reserve that distinction for the distinctive. but this is limiting, inhibits growth and progress and change and innovation. because it stymies youth such as me and the young artists i was seeing perform their art this past weekend. if we reserve "art" for the elite and the practiced and the few, we limit its transformative capabilities. we commodify it. we relegate its place and its role in the democratic process, thereby diluting its very nature. art and activism are inherently similar, and difficult to separate. so, when you limit art to the few and priveleged, you remove it from the people. it is no longer art "for the people" or for the masses, but for the consumer elite. and that is a disservice to the population, as well as to the art itself.

the formality of the creation of art itself may also be formalized to the point of limiting creation. we see this in the editing process. here, i build on the poetic philosophy of one of my favorite revolutionary poets jack kerouac (who i deem "revolutionary" not so much in his ability to affect social change, which is the way in which i usually use the term, but i believe he was revolutionary in transforming the perception of language and the role of his art in terms of a movement, the beat generation).

i, like kerouac, believe in the purity of the spontaneous. spontaneous poetics seek to build on the beauty of the moment, which i liken to surrendering oneself and one's art to the chance and probability of nature and its forces and its ability to sweep you into something greater, that in trusting some aspect of your art to something uncontrollable (nature, time, other people), your abilities may be heightened, your art gaining momentum and force from the forces surrounding you. and i didn't realize i would get so ridiculous and philosophical here, but i'm gonna go with it...

consider the process of editing. parsing down, eliminating words and phrases that may be considered ineffective, clunky, etc. but to achieve what? art? beauty? how to define what is art and what is beauty, and who says that true intent and spontaneous poetry are not these things, cannot be these things? if the laws that govern nature are inherently given to chance and therefore beauty and are undivinable by humanity, and our art can lend itself to the same powers of chance and beauty, how then can we aim to censor and distill and produce something higher, produce something more beautiful, if after all, the art that is produced purely from true intent and spontaneous chance may in fact be messages pulled from the ether?

a spectacular example: SPAM POETRY

everyone gets those annoying emails from spammers. they get so clever these days too: designing subject lines that might pertain to something of interest to you. "hello dear friend." "thank you for your time." "in need of your assistance." "Alps." (i opened that last one...) even the extremely cleverly deceptive, "[Re]:"

inside, however, just lines of gibberish. perhaps only symbols. SPAM. initiate conditioned response... move to trash. remove. block this user. delete forever.

but, i've looked at several dozen of these spam emails over the past year, and it fascinates me to discover the totally unintentional, but unmistakably and undeniably poetic nature of many of them. more often than not, spam emails are a random assortment of words and letters, loosely assembled into word pairings and phrase blocks, often with little intelligible association. "jelly spatula rhino wing." "garguntusolarnebtitude." "Komodo Nicaragua sunset." gibberish... right?...

mm, maybe not.

on further analysis, i cannot help but credit spammers with some poetic ability. for, in caring very little about their actual message, they've managed to do away with conventional restrictions on language (which would limit word combinations to those that make traditional sense), relying on chance combinations instead, which, in no longer needing to adhere to rules of grammar and word orders, taps into a realm of infinite word combination possibilities, and explores the beauty of unfettered language, language reliant on no more than chance. in doing away with concern for the message, they've managed to achieve a better realized sense of beauty. accidentally perhaps, but no less remarkable. and arguably, no less exemplary.

consider these, from the aforementioned "alps" spam email i got just the other day:
joliet bromide deprivation
cowboy affidavitdied
what do these mean? "joliet bromide deprivation?" no clue, but i know joliet is a prison in chicago... bromide an allotype of bromine, an element on the periodic table... what do these words mean when compounded together with deprivation? "indelibleleash?" an image of a stinging welt on the delicate skin on someone's neck from a tightened leather cord...

one could spend days trying to ascribe meaning to these word pairings, with little success. proper language would never allow for these pairings in daily usage, which makes it all the more refreshing and extraordinary to encounter them in my spam emails each day.

...makes me want to forego spam protection and get all my poetry in spam digest form...

compare the SPAM poetry to the following SLAM poetry (from this weekend's spoken word forum):
sunlight spirits
i taste the angst but spit it out
louder than a bomb
angel wing ribcage fluttering
comparable juxtaposition of images, but the latter with a more predictable structure of meaning bordering on contrivance, drawing from similar (perhaps too similar?) image pools, while spam poetry relies on the random, the very source of its power being the impact of such glaring and garish dissociation.

spam poetry makes me reconsider the meaning of art, whether beauty is redemption enough for art, or if it must be heightened more by message. if it's not enough simply to consider the poetic potential of moments realized, appreciate the social space one occupies in a moment, and began to value the poetic potentiality of every word and phrase, and realize the beauty of incidental moments, the overlap of time and places signifying something extraordinary in the commonplace.

spam uses random assortment of words, but in combinations i could never have dreamed or produced under even the most creative of pretenses.

it is in the complete disregard for words' meanings that a reclamation of words' beauty is re-realized.

thus, the synthesis of nuanced and truly fresh poetry, unlike any i have ever encountered.

and what's more, totally free of that daunting and overused (and now meaningless) term: "art."

to the ether and the etherealized...


  • At 2:54 PM, July 10, 2006, Blogger brian said…

    "The 21st Century"

    In the 21st Century.
    People can no longer hear,
    because they have surrendered
    their ears.
    And instead they survive
    every second by shooting
    a drug called apathy
    directly into their veins.

    In the 21st Century.
    People can no longer see,
    because they have gouged
    their eyes.
    And instead they cope
    wormlike by following
    the noise of culture
    blaring from every corner.

    In the 21st Century.
    People can no longer taste,
    because they have severed
    their tongues.
    And instead they seek
    sensations by observing
    the suffering and
    disasters of others.

    In the 21st Century.
    People can no longer feel,
    because they have flayed
    their skin.
    And instead they crave
    nourishment by rooting
    in putrid refuse
    heaped in the gutter.

    In the 21st Century.
    people can no longer care,
    because they have siphoned
    their brains.
    And instead they grope
    hopelessly for understanding
    by desperate fondling
    of the drug called apathy.

    I like this poem the best of my activist poems. SPAM poetry, I think the monkeys typing have finally found a home. The latest spam is the stock options, getting 20-30 a day!


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