The poetics of canned pork

New anthology offers meditations on SPAM

By Edvins Beitiks
"SPAM-ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf." Edited by John Nagamichi Cho. HarperPerennial. New York. $7.95. 88 pages.

Forget about settling in front of the fireplace this winter with some kind of Life is Too Much anthology of poems, sighing at the beaded drizzle on the windows. This is the poetry book you'll want in hand as storm clouds gather over the Bay.

"SPAM-ku," brainchild of Stanford grad and MIT researcher John Nagamichi Cho, offers 162 odes to Hormel's canned pigmeat by more than 40 writers, starting with John Mitchell's selection in "Americana":

Perfection uncanned

Like a beautiful redhead

Fresh from her trailer

Mitchell, a marketing writer from Belmont, was drawn to SPAM haiku through a tongue-in-pig-cheek Web site Cho set up from MIT. Thousands of poems spilled across the software wires in the first year and the total now stands at more than 10,000.

"I can't take credit for coming up with the idea," explained Cho. "I kind of threw it out on the Web and 'SPAM-ku' arrived. It took off amazingly, I got hooked on it, and the rest is history."

Cho is "the grandmaster of the form," said Mitchell, a vegetarian who has written more than 200 SPAM poems. "I consider haiku the most refined form of poetry, and there was something simultaneously lofty and ridiculous about 'SPAM-ku' that just set me off," Mitchell said. "It was an obsession."

Mitchell pointed to No. 114 in "SPAM-ku," one of his more obscure works:

The beach picnic ends.

The sand blows, the naked SPAM

Puts on a tweed coat.

"There was this chunk of SPAM sitting on the table, sand stuck to it," he said. "These thoughts... the coat... just came to me at random."

Hormel had the right to review poem selections, said Cho, so some of the more controversial ones were lost in the final run-through, including:

Using only SPAM

Grandma made some tasty treats

We set her on fire.

But other Cho favorites made the cut, including No. 100:

Black cat drags about

His pink, purloined bite of SPAM

like an extra tongue.

Book chapters include "Anticipation and Desire," "Sex and Romance," "Physics and Mathematics" and "Nature," and each section is a marvel, a shimmering look at the gobbling ooze. Those who quail at the knowledge that two thin slices of SPAM contain a third of your daily quota for saturated fats and sodium and more than 10 percent of your cholestorol needs can still turn to Cho's Web site ( for haiku contemplation.

Cho is quick to point out that many of the 5-7-5 poems in "SPAM-ku" are "senryu rather than haiku," dealing more with metre than the traditional imagery of nature. But the spirit remains the same, he said — the book still sings of the history, taste and romantic tremble of SPAM.

Here's a sampling:


Ate three cans of SPAM,

But there's still room for Jell-0.

I love this country.


Moments of pleasure:

The small noise when the seal breaks

when opening SPAM.


Fifty blocks of SPAM —

A giant PEZ dispenser

Crowned with a pig's head


Ruby rectangle

In a coruscating gel.

Jewel on my plate.


I hear the SPAM ball

It bounces — porqua, porqua.

A haiku of spring.


Rectangular plot

Of dirt among the grass blades

Where the can once was.


Tap, tap, goes the spoon

On the metal can. Inside,

Is the SPAM dancing?


Silken pig tofu,

The color of spanked buttocks

Blushing at my knife.


Take SPAM for walks.

It will gambol at your feet.

Salty-sweet plaything.


Can of SPAM looks up,

Contemplates an airliner.

Thinks, "It's just like me."


SPAM is pork shoulders:

Where is the rest of the pig?

Like one hand clapping.


What once contained SPAM

Now rusts in tall roadside weed —

Kerouac long gone.


Waxed my car with SPAM.

The finish gleams, water beads,

Hungry dogs chase it.


An empty SPAM can.

My boy makes a sea-blue boat.

Its hold smells of pork.

Copyright 1998 by the San Francisco Examiner. All rights reserved.