Spam Poetry

Last November, I began receiving a new form of spam in my inbox, consisting of nonsense text, together with an image or link advertising the usual products and services. You've probably received spam like this too. But because I read my email in an all-text mail client, the spam had the opposite of its intended effect: I never saw the images, but did see the text, which in Outlook and similar clients renders invisibly as white text on white background.

The reason spam is couched in nonsense-text has to do with statistical methods devised by the 18th century English theologian-mathematician Thomas Bayes. Bayesian filters rank each word in an email according to how likely it is to be spam. An email containing nothing but the words "Viagra, mortgage, and porn" will almost certainly be filtered out. But if the email also contains a high number of non-spam words, it can elude such filters.

The result is often striking poetry. Sometimes it reminds me of Pound, other times of the cut-ups of Burroughs or the experiments of the L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E poets. Once in a while, as with most word salads, the juxtapositions are remarkable. There are times where I even discern a narrative, hidden within the almost opaque text.

I received these spam poems between November 26 and November 30, 2003. They are truncated in some cases, but otherwise unedited. You might try reading the text very slowly, one word at a time, as a sort of visualization free of conceptual logic. Or try reading it aloud. Or you might, as Burroughs advised, allow your eyes to wander across the textual field and become caught by surprising strings of letters.
- jm

  1.        brainwashing targeting

postprocessor scum powdered acted boyishness plotting
scholastically terming sarcophagus asiatic playthings milker meddled
hurrying crept termini adverse exemplar boors crasher terrorist immature
plump teaspoon porker expressive boastings

hypoactive cradle technocrat schemer bowel messiest scantily menus
expected temporary admissible algonquin adrian evens bootlegged seated
appleton portmanteau accuser memberships midnight augustine ignorantly
booth illegalities poplar crowd

scribbles evaluations hunger angora ideolect scorch excreting bookkeeping
couching humbling illustrations braved tad metamorphism baxter
polariscope exile ignorance acetone plumbago eventuality andorra
microstore advisers excessive talkie postorder

2.        abelson crashing

scraper metallic seafood praises ethic polarography exciting advantageous
huge accuracy populated scoured practicable mien crescent ignorance
humanness crayfish ether teethe tensely anglicanism scrambles bounded
boring acerbity adulterer beckman humans metabolic scarcely
sauce midstream acolytes mayonnaise expounds idolatry adorable adhered
scorch alpheratz idiosyncratic accreditation exploit saturday hostility
televisors scantiness migrated cotyledon teachers schemers braced bible
merriest tautly tasked adagio hungriest expected actual
plumed possessional adult plunder exhaustedly expounded meteor poorer
sawtooth atreus actuating plummeting credenza correspondents poisoning
idiomatic idempotent cravat pollutes

boxing accountability expect aches millenarian evolve tech expectedly
hued scramble ethnic postgraduate country evicts meaningful poach
activator tappet hypothesizing aphrodite testifying scuttled bernhard
boost brawl pleasant existent countrymen crackles mightier
iconic sauterne midpoints bayesian ache playwrights boldness screened
practicing expunged admired countermeasure bluebush terroristic mentally
activists boxtop cotton acclaim taxicab telegraphing plundering
brainchild bogs albrecht brazing policing ethnography politico sanely
ponies practitioners memorabilia imbalances arianism
tetrafluoride menstruate bottlers bernard exogamy sane tariff
exponentiates scraps exclude barrett telltale pounder adept boyhood

3.        bound astarte

sarcasm estrange tactic seaport exerting scents memoryless playhouse
matriarch courtesies tantalum meditations humiliations bobolinks bouffant
corrupted acolytes boldest posthumous teller tar terminology boss
tantalizingly textual eunuchs blundered

alcoa posts bony booted postoffices technical adults et scalable postlude
admixed mill tautologies covenant brave evildoer icings measured alton
hypocrisy breachers math husky

4.        talkatively tallness

bluntest midsection hutch expressively tad microcomputers
tending addle tangible microscope thallophyte examiner courting atalanta
covalent baltimorean baird meanly boat hydrology pornographer boca bonder
adoptive angelica mendacious telegram

aztec aides execrate bermuda excrete baden adorable horsepower cranelike
book cracking schoolgirl cotton hyperboloidal tempters beethoven mediocre
microword hypothesis exploiter meanings huzzah postmark bootes crisscross
screams excite

explosive terse seaquake scalded adoptive abramson mercurial taking amoco
crawlers pleasant correspond meat acidic accountant critter plutonium
posy boletus poets tank boone midshipmen immediacy tame teething bangor

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Image: Mica Scalin

February 2004

God Likes New Things
Abraham Joshua Heschel

You are God in Drag
Jay Michaelson

Davening with Joe
Michael Shurkin

Josh almost gets cancer
Josh Ring

Abraham Mezrich

Shari Goldman-Gottlieb

Spam Poetry

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From previous issues:

Raphael Cohen

Shtupping in the Shadow of the Bomb
Marissa Pareles

Josh Visits the Holocaust Museum
Josh Ring