"With their moles and their drolls and their hard luck lives/ Their greasy noses like curly fries/ They spark a twinkle in my eyes/ At least I am not them."
The dulcet tones of Ben Kopit, CC '02, and the 15th Annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Bad Poetry Contest, sponsored by the Philolexian Society, flowed last night from the Kraft Center.
Students, alumni and guests battled for the honor of Poet Laureate--the award given to the worst poet of the night. Contestants read original works that were judged by four professors spanning the humanities department.
"This event is the best of Columbia," said Rachel Kahn-Troster, BC '01, the evening's moderator. "It's serious and funny and really bizarre and it brings all aspects of the campus together."
Former Philolexian Society member Thomas Vinciguerra gave an opening speech about Kilmer, the famed poet and Columbia Alumnus for whom the event is named.
"Kilmer celebrated life. We celebrate him," Vinciguerra said.
Kilmer is praised for poetry that is irreverent and creative. The poems presented in his honor certainly fit that description.
This year's poems were presented on subjects ranging from cell phones to Ewan McGregor to the 1980s to Captain Crunch and Olestra. Two poets even created a formula for "terrible" post-modernist poetry.
A common theme was the recent presidential election, which inspired many a haiku, ode, and even a parody of the Gilligan's Island theme song.
"Clytamnestra, you ate my chad. / Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad," sang Nathaniel Daw, CC '96, to the theme of Giligan's Island.
The event traditionally draws many alumni back to campus. Kahn-Troster noted that it is the Philolexian Society's biggest event of the year, and attracts students who aren't part of the society.
The Philolexian Society is dedicated to improving the rhetorical skills and literary awareness of its members. The group holds witty debates every Thursday night.
To the alumni of the society, this event evokes nostalgia of their days at 116th and Broadway.
"I was a Philo as an undergrad," recalled Ken Ehrenberg, CC '93 and GSAS '02. "Kilmer was always one of the highlights." He said that the audience has always been very "receptive and appreciative" of the poems.
Shoshanna Greenberg was the triumphant laureate for her poem "Patience, And a Mulberry Leaf Become a Silk Gown," which moved audiences with, "Suddenly I realized I can bend my knee to my outstretched arm. Such is life."
Three runners-up were also crowned by the adjudicators. Professor of Renaissance and Medieval Literature Julia Crawford, one of the judges, congratulated the crowd by saying, "Everyone was incredibly bad."
Third runner-up honors went to Amanda Sneider CC '02. Shaun Hanson, CC '02 garnered the second runner-up accolades, and Ben Kopit CC '02 came away with the first runner-up prize.
Those attending were pleased with the display. "I am extremely glad I came," Shelby Peak, BC '03, said. She added that she "resonated" with several of the poems.
The festival concluded traditionally with a reading of Kilmer's most famous poem, "Trees: I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree."