SPAM by Ben Myers; reviewed by Aleathia Drehmer
What attracted me to Ben Myers’ book of email inspired poetry called SPAM was the curiosity to see if he could create something from vacuous spam emails. I heard him read a poem from this chapbook on the Blackheath Books Myspace page and it furthered my desire to dig into the rest of the collection.
As with all the other publications to come from Blackheath Books, I was delivered a well-made chap that feels great in the hand. These books are assembled and crafted by the editor, and all are printed on 100% recycled paper or largely made from post-consumer waste paper. It gives them a very down to earth texture while still feeling decadent.The lettering on the cover shows two beautifully flourished letters that sandwich two simpler ones as if this were a nod to the fact that Ben Myers will attempt to construct beauty from trash.
There are 41 poems in this collection and not all of them hit the nail on the head for me. Some feel slightly contrived and forced, but that was expected to some degree given the subject of inspiration. However, in this book, I found half of the poems to be gems that dug deep and stretched beyond the layers of spam email. Such poems as The Widow Man and The Monkey and Mouthpiece Trimmings are sharp, crisp slices of life. Ben tackles religious ideas in Cave Candles at Dawn and the effects of war in Our Boys Abroad.
Ben is at his sharpest when tackling the bitter and darker sides of love in the poems Cairo, All You Lovers Out There, Nice To See You Again, and Make Your Marriage Work. I personally felt these were the strongest pieces and where he makes a statement about how the type of inspiration is less important than what it inspires in the end. There were times when I was reading this collection that I could not tell what the spam email might have been about, and frankly, I didn’t care. The clever ones cut like cold knives in a killer’s hand.
Ben Myers is worth the purchase just to see what can be done when inspired in unusual ways. He touches on religion, sex, greed, war, marriage, losses, and politics. There is a little bit of everything in here for each of us. I admire his willingness to open up to something different and step away from normal modes of operation and stretch. I think this is the only way a writer can truly grow.