Staff Writer Luken Sloan reports his thoughts and the winners of the annual Philolexian Society Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest.

As I walked into Pupin, where the contest was held, my nostrils were immediately flooded with the smell of chlorine. I enjoyed the smell, so I reluctantly went to the elevator as I had somewhere to be: Pupin 309. The elevators were sketchy, but they did their job. Once I found room 309, I was ecstatic; it was time for the Bad Poetry Contest!

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest—a contest where Columbia students vie to be deemed the best of the worst (conversely, the worst of the best, but that does not sound as impressive)—is the Philolexian Society’s grandest event. This year, the judges of the contest were legendary Columbia professor Michael Thaddeus, Columbia School of the Arts professor Sam Lipsyte, and a student duo of Sophia Simmons and Slyvia Lipsyte.

After incessant shouting for students to sign up to read their bad poems (which truly never stopped until the judges started to deliberate the winners), the ringing of an odd-sounding bell, and a brief biography of Columbia alumnus Alfred Joyce Kilmer, the contest had begun! 

The first poem read was titled “Ode to Midterms,” and it consisted primarily of screams and swears—an apt beginning considering the time of year. Following it came a poem that invoked a wave of nostalgia: “The Total Drama Island Wikipedia Page.” It told the tale of a student’s past passion of editing the Wikipedia page for the cartoon Total Drama Island. It was wholesome—until it was not: an enemy editor by the name of “TDFan_69” had ruined the life of the poet! Their glory days were over.

Next came the interesting poem of “7:13 on November the 9th,” which detailed a sticky white puddle of… shampoo. It unfortunately restrained itself from being explicitly inappropriate. 

“Comparisons,” a sonnet cycle riffing on Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18,” was then read. Instead of comparing one to a summer’s day, these three sonnets instead favored comparisons to modern art, an apple tree, and a wind-swept sea. One of the best lines came from the apple tree comparison: “thou are round and firm.” Truly some of the juiciest sweet talk out there.

The next poem contrasted significantly to the timid romantic sonnets. It was a poem about the thoughts of a transfer student, who offered rather philosophical insights into the poem’s title, “The Life of a Columbia Student.” Through poignant language consisting predominantly of curse words, which was surprisingly not a category in the contest, the poet voiced an especially impactful sentiment regarding race: “‘danger or harm,’ that’s me.” 

“Art Student Manifesto in 6 Stanzas” followed. Interestingly, this poem was not read aloud by its author (as they could not make it), so who knows if it would have been worse or better had they been there. Nevertheless, this poem was actually quite good—its pacing and rhythmic elements were good; it had a nice and consistent rhyme scheme; and it was topical. It missed the mark as it was supposed to be bad, but what else would we expect from it? After all, even the poet itself resigns to failure, noting that “I’m an art history major, so I have no job.”

Next was “Anniversary,” a surprisingly heartfelt poem about unreciprocated love in a relationship. The performance of the poet reciting the poem honestly made me question if it was a recounting of a true experience. With an emotional premise, bad poetic technique, and an outstanding acting performance, this poem was definitely a frontrunner for the title. 

After “Anniversary” was “Riddles of My Love,” a set of three riddles that parodied one of the riddles of Amir Khusrow. However, in true bad poet fashion, this was referred to at the contest as the “Tumblr mango poem.” Feel free to Google that phrase to get a feel for the poems read. Spoiler alert: the answers were the floor, a well-timed pun, and a mocha hot chocolate.

The same poet then proceeded to recite a parody of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Instead of roads, this poem, titled “The Path(s) Not Taken,” mused on “two paths diverg[ing] in a multivariable function z.” While not incredibly original—it stole the form of Frost’s poem and was inspired by a Calculus 3 midterm—it was actually quite satisfying to listen to, though that may be because Frost was a genius. I should have asked Michael Thaddeus to solve it. 

Next came “A Bad Poem,” where each and every line began with the phrase “A bad poem.” There was an awkward rhyme scheme, the form was inconsistent, and its delivery was not particularly exciting. The poem’s one flaw, or, perhaps, its only strength, was that it was self-aware: “A bad poem’s poet is no fool.” Other than that, it was exactly what I came to listen to: poetry written with the intention of being bad. 

“On The Disposal Of That Interminable Waste Which Emits From Our Metabolisms, Or, On Being Human” followed. Notably, after the title (but before the poem) was a cyclical expression of influence: “With inspiration from the poetry of Joyce Kilmer / Who was inspired by Walt Whitman / Who was inspired by America / Which was inspired by a deep loathing of Britain (and taxes!) / Which was led by King George III / Who had a rare medical condition causing his poop to be purple…” This was actually written to never end. Eventually, the poet began reciting their actual poem, which spoke on bowel movements and pooping. This poem fueled lots of giggles, for college students are just big children.

Subsequently, “Forbidden Fruit” was read. The form of this poem, the poet made sure to show us, was a crude apple. Fitting. This poem spoke on being organic instead of genetically modified or engineered like produce. The poem was actually quite wholesome. And, remember, “drug abuse is not food.”

“13 Ways of Looking At a Pizza,” by the same poet as “On the Disposal…” discussed, as one might guess, thirteen ways of looking at a pizza. It was not a particularly notable poem, though the mention of the hero “pizza rat” who “prowls” piqued my interest.

A truly interesting combination of phrases and implication then occurred: the uttering of “I found out about this [contest] late…it is a poem I wrote a year ago.” This phrase was preceded by a poem about the state of affairs in America that was well-written and effective. “How have we come to be so powerful on the outside but so weak on the inside?” it asked. I was in awe of the poem, but I asked the same question the poem began and ended with: “How did we get here?” I am not quite sure this poet understood the assignment, but I cannot give anything other than an A for effort.

Similarly, the poem after it failed at being a bad poem. Essentially a Barnard anthem, the poem was called for action in a dramatic fashion—theatrics that only a theater major could deliver. The funniest aspect of the poem arrived in a piece of irony: “I may be a GS student, but, Barnard-passing, I find this prudent.”

I will be candid. The next poem, “Irony,” was my favorite of the night. A literary magazine submission of another school, this poem (which was not judged) told the aftermath of a girl’s rejection of a guy after one week of dating—from the perspective of the heartbroken guy. The dramatic pauses, all caps shouting, and self-centered attitude of the poet (notably not the reciter) were hilarious. The poet renounced the girl he was still in love with and the “boytoy” she left him for. He realizes that he has “fallen in love with an extension of myself that I may have manufactured entirely.” Despite this, the poet, once even his cat has left him, ends the poem in an ironic anger: that others leaving him and being problems is “typical.”

Next was “Harambe Pudding.” No punches pulled, it was truly about what you think it was. A truly gruesome depiction, best summarized by “they call me Jeffrey Dahmer / how I put primates in the blender,” this poem’s main focus was on feeding Harambe pudding to the boy whose grabbing by Harambe led to the gorilla’s death. This feeding would merge the two souls into one, a mixing of life and death, of animal and human. But, to truly reinforce the poem’s real message, it ends with “human meat tastes just as good, so he might end up in my blender too.”

“Imitation Crab” was certainly a poem read at the contest. For its worth, I did not think too highly of it. This poem explained how imitation crab is made. The most notable aspect of it was that, according to the poet, the pollocks—a type of fish —commonly used to create imitation crab are basically just asleep until they are murdered and stuffed. This opinion seems slightly against animal activism. 

Of course, what would the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest be without a poem based on Kilmer’s most infamous poem, “Trees”? The only poem doing this was none other than a reading of Kilmer’s own poem starting from the bottom and reading right to left. Unfortunately, this poem was not read as if it was mirrored, and it was also not an erasure poem, which I was hoping for; perhaps I shall have to submit my own next year. It accomplished being bad, but I cannot say it was the most tasteful.

The next poem was a sixth grade middle school assignment that was supposed to be a prose biography of the founding father John Jay’s life. What resulted instead was a poor man’s version of Hamilton. It was commendable for a sixth grader, though. 

Harkening back to dark days was the poem titled “Tsktsktsktsktsk” (I am not sure how many tsks are in the title). A Notes-app story of hydroflasks, straws, turtles, and gyrating on benches, it was an enjoyable poem that ultimately culminated in a sense of lonely desperation: “Save the turtles? What about me?”

The final poem, “Cards of a Palm,” is read. It is a story about how one who hates bad poetry receives a card for a contest of bad poetry and begins to enjoy bad poetry. Eventually, the speaker loves bad poetry, sparking their frustration at becoming who they hated. The organizer of the contest was the poet, which explained quite a lot. 

With all poems read, it was time for the judges to deliberate and choose the winners. Thaddeus seemed to lead the deliberation. It made sense: he judged the content twenty years ago, and he has relevant experience in other types of rankings as well.

Finally, many minutes later, deliberation was complete. But before the winners could be revealed, a cult reading of Kilmer’s “Trees” had to be read. Everyone stood up, touched whatever part of their body they felt like touching, and recited the poem. It was the Honor Code pledge all over again.

Thaddeus then came up and said some encouraging words in reference to his previous judging of the contest: “There was some bad poetry then, so I am glad to see that standards have remained.” After this, he gave genuine, heartfelt thanks for the participation of students in a silly and enjoyable activity, especially in such a high-stress time. He ended with a few lines of the winning poem of the content hd judged in the past: “Did you know that dirt can cry? / Now I feel like mud / bad mud.” 

Sam Lipsyte also said his thanks and recited a bad poem he had read forty years ago. He then proceeded to the awards section of the contest. 

“Anniversary” received an honorable mention for performance, and both “7:13 on November the 9th” and “Forbidden Fruit” received regular honorable mentions.

Since the judges deemed there to be no adequately dirty poem, they adjusted the category to instead be based on the most disgusting. “Harambe Pudding” took home this award. The reward was a bottle of hand soap to “wash his dirty mouth.”

The sonnet cycle, “Comparisons,” won the recognition of being the best “actually good” poem. The reward was a coveted box of Sour Patch Kids.

Drumroll, please, for the main event—the best of the worst!

In third place was “A Bad Poem” by Bryan, who did not give a last name.

In second place was “The Path(s) Not Taken” by Tara Lago. 

In first place, deemed the best of the worst, was Noah Edelman’s “On The Disposal Of That Interminable Waste Which Emits From Our Metabolisms, Or, On Being Human.” 

The three winning poems can be read here.

After a fun hour and a half of listening to bad poetry, the contest was over, and a victor was crowned (figuratively, for Noah only won a box of Sour Patch Kids as well). After hearing some shockingly profound thoughts on the topics of heartbreak, love, poop, and fruit, I shall never be the same. I look forward to next year’s contest of unapologetically bad poetry!

Most of the poems read at the contest will be available in the next issue of the Philolexian Society’s literary magazine Surgam. They are also currently accepting submissions of works for the magazine, and there is money at stake for the best two works: $1500 for the best and $500 for the second best. Interested individuals should submit their works to

Judges deliberating via Bwog Staff.