No Frosts Allowed
Written by Bwog Staff
In which Bwog correspondent Hannah Goldfield discovers the delights of poetry taken unseriously.
“I have one about bestiality, to the tune of ‘Son of a Preacherman’, but I don’t want to be that bestiality girl!” said a distressed young woman as the elevator door closed and we began our ascent to the James Room on the fourth floor of Barnard Hall Thursday night. She looked up at her male companion, who towered over her. “Can I stand behind you while I read it?”
“Sure,” he replied. “But then I’ll be that bestiality girl.” And thus the tone was set, for this reporter at least, for the Philolexian Society’s 21st Annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest.
Some background: Alfred Joyce Kilmer, Class of ‘08 (1908, that is) and member of the Philolexian Society, was a popular poet in the early part of the 20th century. His best-known poem, Trees, can be read here. In 1985, Tom Vinciguerra, C’85, as part of his revival of Philo after roughly 30 years of dormancy, organized the first bad poetry contest in honor of esteemed alum Kilmer. Vinciguerra now serves as “avatar” of Philo and this year sat as a judge alongside Professors Erik Gray of the English Department and Elizabeth Scharffenberger of Classics.
The large room was packed, the dress code called for eveningwear, apparently (I didn’t get the memo), and spirits were high as the meeting was called to order. Anyone can participate in the contest, just by showing up—bad poem in hand, pride checked at the door—but be forewarned: if you do show up, either as poet or spectator, you have just earned yourself a lifetime Philo membership, whether you like it or not.
The spectacle that ensued aroused laughter and appreciative groans of disgust in equal proportion. To kick things off, poet laureate Everett Patterson, C’06, read last year’s winner, his “Lamentation Upon Surveying the Destruction of a Battlefield.” Then dozens of hands, some waving frantically, shot up from the audience and two moderators took turns selecting eager poets to present their masterpieces—er…travesties.
Trite titles included “Sin-Stained Sink,” “Ballad of Your Bigoted Grandfather,” “Meditations from the Bottom of a Well,” “Petals of Raindrops, Or, A Poem That Actually Made It Into My High School Literary Magazine,” “To a Lost Child, or, A Very Great Poem Written by Myself” and, my personal favorite: “Riddle Me This, Or, Untitled.” Content ranged from ridiculous rhymes—one poet wrote a couplet with “elf” and “MILF,” another penned the lines, “Germans are shunned by Jews like me/We make them all say oh em gee”—to melodramatic metaphor—“I need an enema of the soul/a colonic cleansing/a karmic ass-fucking so I can feel something inside.” The night perhaps peaked during the performance, complete with ragtag orchestra, of an “Espanitaliano” opera called “L’Orfeo y Selfone,” which featured a character named Verizone and commented on, among other things, the tribulations of outsourcing to India.
And then, after 10 minutes of deliberation among the judges: the winners. Two poets got Dishonorable Mentions for writing poems that were too good—one was an adorable and clever narrative called “When The New Yorker Met the Economist” that painted a love affair between two magazines—and three runners-up were rewarded with plastic kitchen tools in the shape of animals. The grand-prize winner? “Psalm,” by Yonah Lemonik, C’08, a Biblical riff about trying to sell God a set of 24 encyclopedias.