Bad poetry, good times.

Sassy young Newsletter Editor Zoe Sottile thought the Philolexian Society was fake until last night. But, goaded on by some friends and her journalistic curiosity, she attended the Society’s 33rd Annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest. 

I’ve never felt more like a liberal arts student than arriving at Havemeyer 309 last night to listen to intentionally bad poetry.  There were multiple adults wearing bowties in the room. The leading members of the Philolexian Society wore judicial robes and periodically sipped from flasks or juuled into a Mr. Potato head. A New York Times reporter and photographer floated around the room; one of my friends asked if their presence “was a scam”.

Before the poetry began, a few old orders of business were presented. Impresario Alex Grace CC ’21 introduced the three judges: Anne Prescott, Emerita Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of English at Barnard; Christopher Baswell, joint English professor at Barnard and Columbia; and Melissa Fusco, professor of philosophy at Columbia. Members encouraged the audience to submit to the society’s literary magazine at for the chance to win cash prizes! Check it out.

Then, Thomas Vinciguerra, CC ’85, who revived Philo in the 1980s, read a brief history of Alfred Joyce Kilmer CC ‘1908 and his “trite, corny, and sentimental” poetry. The poet died in 1918. Vinciguerra proclaimed that, “he celebrated life, we celebrate him.”

Finally, it came time for the bad poems. What follows is a brief recounting of each poem. The winners are noted by stars. The poems were bad. Their performance and their poets’ dedication was impressive.

  1. Reigning Poet Laureate Alla Issa read the winning poem from last year, a reworking of Sappho’s Fragment 21 from the perspective of a SEAS boy. Oh, virginity, virginity, indeed.
  2. Impresario Alex Grace read a series of saucy limericks. There was a furry joke and also an impressive rhyme involving Allen Ginsburg and the word “pedophile”.
  3. Next up was “Gamers Rise Up”, an ode to video-game lovers that referenced Chads and incels.
  4. This poem was literally just gibberish. The only English words I got out if it were “terrible terrible bad bad”. I loved it.
  5. This poem was about fecal matter. I wrote down the phrase “my anus yeets” and “squatted like a toad”. That’s all we got folks.
  6. Noah Harouche read a lengthy piece entitled “Saint Elmo’s Fire” in which he described, in great graphic detail and with a relentless rhyme scheme, how God would smite each of the characters on Sesame Street. Spoiler alert: Big Bird gets crucified.
  7. This poem was called “Cosmos” and began with a reference to Carl Sagan’s famous series. He used the phrase “moist throbbing stardust”?
  8. This poem did not rhyme. I wrote down the word “oatmeal” and the phrase “something about Jesus”.
  9. Two poets took the stage for this performance piece, “This One’s For The Trees With The Booming Leaves”. The piece was brief but moving.
  10. Poet Laureate Alla Issa returned again with a satire of the Bible’s “Song of Solomon” revised for the age of Tinder. She notably compared the object of her affection’s teeth to an “Ivy crew team: white and very straight.”
  11. This poem, based on the fragments of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was called “Depression: An Ode”. Unfortunately, the writer was too depressed to write it.
  12. “Vlad the Inhaler” was a humorous dedication to the many substances college students put into their lungs. Notable lines: “not a blood but a juul fiend”; “shunned the neck of a person for the neck of a bong.”
  13. This poem, “Alphabet Alive”, consisted of the alphabet recited very slowly and dramatically. It was amazing. People were shouting. Afterwards, he made the shapes of the letters with his body. It didn’t rhyme but was still moving.
  14. I wrote that this poet looked “like a tiny Ansel Elgort”. He told a story about what it’s like to be a “John Jay Orange” in 5 haikus. His delivery was bold and stoic; he described the orange in question as “sweet, rotten, rhymeless”. *
  15. Michael Coiro read a piece about that great loving constant of the New York cityscape: halal cart.
  16. “The Venus of Akihabara” was a powerful, moving ode to the power of “anime titty”. “Screw 3d girls” indeed.
  17. This poem was a “modern translation” of Wordsworth’s, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”. Poor cloud!
  18. This poem involved a lot of bad puns about fruit. It was pretty bad.
  19. Bridget Craig read a poem about a dog, but not a real dog: “an imaginary dog without defining characteristics”. She then questioned why she would even write such a poem and went off on a tangent about her pet fish.
  20. This poem was a haiku.
  21. This poet read a piece called “Happy Birthday” with an impressive rhyming scheme that recalled a romantic night in a hotel room gone awry.
  22. Taia Fagerstorm read a “Portrait of College”, a compilation of her own tweets from her time in SEAS. Very #relatable.
  23. Jux read “The Duality of Orange: An Ode”, which compared orange to a “jack of all trades, were there but two trades.” *
  24. Two poets alternated in their delivery of a poem entitled “Poems Have to Rhyme, Right?”.
  25. This one was really long and its writer won a bar of soap for his efforts. The basic theme was having sex with a large-breasted tree.
  26. Isobel Shaffer read a poem called “Our American Heroes.” Notable lines: “An eagle cries”, “who will defend the children like a seatbelt defends children”, and “brown like a brown thing.” Go Isobel. *
  27. This poet satirized Horace. It was very long and he said “testicle” multiple times.
  28. Tasnia Tahsa delivered a poem about the John Jay conveyor belt. According to my notes, it was “very dramatic” and had “good imagery”.
  29. Emily DiMaulo-Milk read a poem called “Patent Pending” about her own conception, describing herself as “goo in a turkey baster.”
  30. Someone named “Spencer” read a variation of Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” in which he changed all the verbs to variations of “yeet” and all the nouns to “jawn”. This was really funny.
  31. Emilie Biggs read a dramatic piece about Aristotle’s Nicomathean Ethics entitled, “Intro to My CC Paper.”
  32. Noah Johnson wore a single glove. Notable lines from his poem about death: “I fear death, that pale fucker on his pale fucking horse” and “I have hot pockets left to fuck.”
  33. Patrick Sui read a lengthy poem about “moral depravity” entitled “A Man and His Dog”. It was very detailed and I think it was about eating dogs.
  34. My notes say that this poet wore a sweater vest and riffed off of Parmenides, the “father of ontology”.
  35. Jake Fisher read an ode to Mark Zuckerberg, that “beautiful nerd”.
  36. Tom “Roone Arledge” Eldredge read a moving piece of slam poetry, which, as he explained, is “like poetry, but from the heart.” It ended with the line “I farted in my food”.
  37. Eldredge was then joined on stage by Milan Loewer and Carl Pedersen, who read a series of short poems. The prevailing theme was fertility and motherhood. They rhymed “like a phallic man” with afghan, which was impressive.
  38. This poet made his 3rd appearance on stage to read a poem for which my only notes are a few dollar signs.
  39. I didn’t catch this guy’s name but he just wrote “‘Hope, a Rose and Me’ Something Special is Missing – An Oxford Comma” on the board and left.

At an institution where students dedicate a lot of time to being good at the things they care about, it was refreshing to spend a night celebrate students being really bad at something instead. These were some really good, well thought-out, hilarious poems.

Image via Bwogstaff