Last night was a good night to be bad at poetry. Columbia’s best bad poets shined up their shoes (*not really), did their hair (*ish), and broke out their tuxes (*in one case, yes) for terrible poetry’s biggest night of the year: the Philolexian Society’s 27th annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Bad Poetry Contest. Bwog’s expert on rhythm and rhyme, Claire Friedman, attended.
As I sat in Havemeyer 309, peeling off multiple coats and cursing the weather gods, I felt that I had stumbled into the world’s strangest, quirkiest family reunion. People were shouting, singing, hugging, calling to their peacock-feather-adorned friends to sign them up to read next, all over the steady sound of last minute entries being scratched into journals. Over the course of the night, I came to two conclusions. The first is that bad poetry takes talent, timing, and an exaggerated sense of rhyme. The second is that I will never be as gutsy as the poets who stood up to read their terrible masterpieces. Although the crowd was receptive and friendly, I discovered that bad poetry readings are like stand-up comedy acts; they’re all or nothing. While I find this concept terrifying, I am so glad that the poets who read last night gave it everything.
I should rewind a bit. After all, what exactly is a Bad Poetry Contest? How does one go about judging such an event? While I still cannot answer the second question, I think the first is best answered with a line from one of last night’s pieces: “I hope you enjoyed hearing this poem because you can’t un-hear it.” For one night, in the confines of a Havemeyer lecture hall, bad poetry became an art form. This was not your simple “cat-sat-bat” bad poetry, not your “roses are red” bad poetry. No, these poets did something much more impressive; they were good at being so outrageously bad. After all, I think we can all agree that it takes considerable talent to recite a poem entitled “Back that Ass Up Into My Heart” with a straight face.
The night continued with enough terrible verse to last a lifetime, even including a poem in sign language about umbrellas and improv that turned out to be surprisingly raunchy. At the contest’s end, however, Stephen Blair walked away with first prize for his poem, “#Atwitter,” a play on Edgar Allen Poe’s “the Raven” featuring a man whose Twitter has been spammed. With first and second honorable mentions were, respectively, Maria Lomaka’s “Around the World in Eighty Delegates” and Eli Grober’s “There’s a Guy Behind You and He’s Going to Shoot You, Here Let Me Warn You with a Poem.”