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Spam lit (also known as lit spam and literary spam) is defined as snippets of nonsensical verse and prose embedded in spam e-mail messages. Some of the snippets are original content, others are passages from public-domain works (such as Edgar Allan Poe and The Bible), and others are conglomerations of several creative public-domain works, which are often copied from the internet. Spam lit is included in spam emails selling or purporting to sell a products such as software, male enhancement pills, and computers.
Why spam lit
Initially, recipients of emails containing spam lit believed that the mails were a form of "keyword spamming".
A spammer often sends one spam message to millions of mailboxes, and if only a tiny fraction of the recipients purchase the products sold by the spammer, in percentage terms a large number of purchases and hence profit are made. On these grounds alone, it would be worthwhile for a spammer to create email texts from random literary texts.
However, spam lit exists primarily for a more insidious reason: to circumvent the powerful spam filters developed by major email providers such as Google, Yahoo, AOL. These spam filters recognize the characteristics of typical spam messages and automatically delete them.
To circumvent spam filtering, the spammer creates a Spam Lit e-mail, which might include an image (which the spam bots cannot detect) with the product name, the Spam Lit text, and a link, which directs the recipient to the spammer's choice of website.
History and reactions
The spam lit phenomenon seems to have first been noticed on 20 September 2002, on listserv.buffalo.edu. A member of the Poetics listserv first coined the term in a subject line followed by this message:
- "I'm still thinking about the ramifications of literature and art created with the delete button in mind. Jess (Glass)"
However, email recipients began noticing a spike in Spam Lit starting in late 2005 and continuing throughout 2007.
A book entitled 'Spam: E-mail Inspired Poems' by Ben Myers was published in 2008 by Blackheath Books. Myers claims to have been writing spam poems since circa 1999.
In August 2006, David Kestenbaum of NPR's Morning Edition broadcast a story on what he termed "Literary Spam." According to Kestenbaum, Paul Graham, a programmer is indirectly responsible for the current Spam Lit dilemma. Graham noticed that spammers were circumventing spam filters by purposely misspelling key words, for example replacing "I" with "1" in the word "click." According to Kestenbaum, Graham "wrote a program to find out how to best separate spam from real e-mail. To train it, he fed it a good helping of spam and a separate sample of real e-mail."
Graham discovered that his 50-line code eliminated 99% of his own spam. Soon, however, spammers discovered the works of long-dead poets and writers as yet another way to circumvent Graham's anti-spam code.
Literary uses of spam lit
Some recipients of spam lit believe that the texts possess a certain elegant and ephemeral quality, noting that even the "merged" pieces often make some kind of sense.
Modern poets often refer to spam lit as "Found poetry" and prose and sometimes even incorporate these snippets into their own work. In 2007, Post Foetry, a blog, announced a spam lit project in which writers could submit their own spam lit creations (albeit without ads).
Popular Twitter spambot @Horse_ebooks has been described as "a specific type of authored non-authorship with roots in chance operation procedures and instutitional subversion." In 2014, NYC literary magazine Twenty-Four Hours published a long poem called You Are My Anti-Spam Hero as the first installment in their Anonymous Chapbook Series.