Japanese man...likes to write odes to...the joy of Spam

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 incongruous forces have been united in a new literary form. Welcome to the world of "Spamku".

Spamku, quite simply, are haiku about Spam, and are part of a worldwide renaissance in haiku 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 Mr 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 12 months of operation, nearly 4,000 Spamku have been posted in the Archive at http://www.naic.edu/jcho/spam/sha.html. An average of 10 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 are nostalgic memories of Spam past. Others focus on Spam's poignant, tragic character.

"For some reason people have this thing about Spam," says Mr 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. Ate three cans of Spam, wrote one American Spamku-ist:

But there's still room for Jello

I love this country!

Out to luncheon

Examples of the Spamku art ...

Spam frying in lard/ The whir of the kitchen fan/ Summer of my youth

Formless, spreadable/ Beneath contempt. Pity me!/ I am devilled Spam.

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

Can you scan a can of Spam?

As an elite and sophisticated newspaper, the Independent is keen to further the art and appreciation of Spamku.

We therefore announce Britain's first Spamku poetry competition. Only proper Haiku-form work, offered in a spirit of homage to Spam, will be considered. The runner-up will win a year's supply of pork luncheon meat and the winner will be awarded a week's supply.

Entries should be sent to the Independent and marked: Pork Luncheon Meat Poetry Festival.

.CAPT: rk,"

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