17-Syllable Art Places Meaty SPAM in Poetry's Web

Eric Zorn

friends sent Spam haiku this way
Har! column fodder!

Yes, I'm aware that the above is not, technically, haiku; that haiku--the non-rhyming Japanese poetry most often written in the three-line, five/seven/five syllabic pattern--traditionally addresses seasons, imagery in nature and the like; and that the more accurate term would be senryu, a poetic form with wider latitude.

But "haiku" will do
for now, poem snobs.

Most of us learned to write it in elementary school. The simple art taught us about syllables and economy of word and thought while it broadened our conception of poetry beyond the cadenced rhymes of Mother Goose.

Some never let go
Haiku charms them, though they age
Obsessed? You tell me.

One such devotee is John Cho, 32, known to his colleagues at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, as a mild-mannered research associate in atmospheric sciences, but known to the cyber world as the Spam Haiku Archive Master.

"I put my shoes on
but remembered far too late
My secret Spam stash."
(Tom Elliott)

Cho put up his Spam site on the World Wide Web (http://www.naic.edu/~jcho/spam/sha.html) exactly nine months ago and it now features close to 3,000 haiku contributed by those "under the influence of this enigmatic porcine muse," as Cho puts it.

"Does Spam contain tongues?
When you eat it, does it taste
you as you taste it?"
(Chris Fishel)

Spam, the famous ham-like comestible, is its own punch line here and in a generous number of other Spam-related sites on the web (Church of Spam, the Spam-Cam, John's Shrine to Spam and so on) to which one can connect directly from the Spam Archive.

"Oh, set it on fire
run it over or stab it,
Spam is immortal."
(Dawn M. Martin)

"We know it's out there and we don't necessarily like it," said a spokeswoman for Hormel Foods Corp., makers of Spam. She added, "I don't understand what it's all about, this haiku business."

"The simple pleasure
of blooming geraniums
lifts my eyes from work."
(Andreas Schoter)

Now that's a proper haiku, as found in one of a handful of serious haiku sites on the web. At their best they are like little nuggets of gold, "transmitters of the smallest manageable element of insight," as one expert wrote.

"In the late autumn
when leaves wither and fall down,
my nose crumbles off."
(Elliott C. Evans)

Now that's an improper haiku, as found in a site on the World Wide Web dedicated to haiku about leprosy. Here's another:

"We are holding hands,
our fingers intertwine--hey,
come back here with that."
(Andy Plotkin)

Cho's Spam Haiku archive links web surfers to the leprosy site and many other places for specialty haiku, including one dedicated to the late TV star Bill Bixby--

"Oh Bill, Bill Bixby
Bill, Bill Bixby, Bill Bixby
What a wacky guy"
(Mike McNally)

--one featuring movie reviews in haiku, such as this about "Leaving Las Vegas:"--

"Drunken and stumbling
If you attend, bring hankies
Punishing viewing."

--and one offering haiku about and for computer nerds--

"My ROMS, code laden
trace into the O/S now
forbidden knowledge."
(Jack Holt)

One can also find haiku about science fiction, called SciFaiku:

"Kirk argues with Spock
Scotty, an alcoholic?
Bones is just bitchy."
(Jeff Hobbs)

We have here evidence of a high-tech, haiku renaissance led by a culturally prominent luncheon loaf. I thought you should know about it.

Is this a column?
An honest day's work for Zorn?
Maybe not. Sue me.

Email: ericzorn@aol.com

Copyright 1996 Chicago Tribune Company