The Spam Dagger
an old, new-to-you, verse form by John Griogair Bell
Here’s some things you don’t know about me, either because you don’t know me or you don’t really know me.
First, I was the kind of kid that refused to play “Cowboys and Indians” because I thought it was an awful and cruel thing. Instead, in order to agree to play, I convinced everyone that we should instead be “Sandmen and Runners”. Yep. That was me.
Second, it may now come as no surprise, when I was in high school, I wanted to write haiku, but didn’t want to appropriate the culturally specific form. Most people, I suspect, “know” that a haiku is a three line poem with a 5 – 7 – 5 syllable pattern. You may not know that Aleister Crowley was responsible for introducing readers of New York’s Vanity Fair to the Hokku. And, whilst Crowley talks about the form having a “mood”, my understanding is that traditionally they have a connection to a season (a kigo). But, I wanted to create some new post-modern form of my own. And, thus, a friend and I invented what we called the Spam Dagger.
Now you know more about me than you did before.
Here is a sample selection of my very own artisanal, free-range Spam Daggers from a vintage, unpublished, juvenilian (in the sense of something I wrote when young, not something written in satire … or are they?) collection called A Pen of a Different Colour (or, more literally, the contents of my Blue Notebook where I kept everything). In fact, this material is so vintage and so rare that it doesn’t even appear on my own website!
I had an idea, but I couldn't remember, does that mean I forgot? (254-mpc-ul)
Knife in my back, scapula and scapula say so-long, as my vision fades to black (13-492-76-52-222-4a)
I know, you know, so why don't we know? (43-61-mx546)
Fingers of fuzzy fur, peach fuzz, and polyester fibres (98606-m2blez-901)
The rain beats down on my head, fluorescent lights give me a headache, and the sun is diving below the horizon (943-262-mlls57)
The dog bites me, I bite the dog, we bite each other (641-c9mxz)
I have a feeling, a hunger that is not mine, a hunger from somewhere in my mind (12-23-zx15)
The black cowl, under silver bowls, with a daisy in her hair (5493afs-s6354)
I have to tell you, I was essentially told at the time by a number of people, that “The dog bites me” is a veritable classic of the form.
The idea is that there are, usually, three short-ish “clauses” which, often, comment on each other. Then, instead of the whole being written to evoke a particular mood or season, there is a line of, apparently, random letters and numbers, perhaps, in groups separated by hyphens.
Whilst there is a surface reading of each Spam Dagger, there is also a meaning for the poet which is suggested by the plain words that can be read. However, there is also an cipher of letters and numbers which are intended to encode some meaning specific to the very moment the writing was made for the very person who did the writing; and that layer of meaning is likely indecipherable, even if it is there. And, I can attest, I do not now really remember my own personal, in the moment, ciphers, and that is as it should be. It’s just fine that way and a built-in possibility that is working by design.
Back in the day, the cypher was invariably limited to what could be typed. This was in the days before emoticons, so those also never appeared, and I don’t think punctuation was ever used, other than hyphen. Nowadays, unless one were going to follow the conventions of the form at the time it was created, I imagine that the cypher part of the form could include anything that could be presented in Unicode, so, as difficult as it is to suggest and accept, I suppose that means even emoji and other ฬเɭ๔ภєรร might appear in newly written Spam Daggers. But, my recollection from the time is that the cipher line was just letters and number grouped by hyphens.
For me, often, certain letters and numbers meant certain people or ideas, but also there’s a kind of synesthesia to them where they are many layered in and of themselves with thoughts, ideas, feelings, and other meanings.
And, now you also know about the Spam Dagger!
If you give it a go, consider sending yours in.
John Griogair Bell is the enigmatic super-villain, known only, to some, as Librarian.
So, what have you got for the Zine? Send something for the Hermetic Library Zine!
Hermetic Library, PO Box 368, Moberly, MO 65720, US