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Columbia Spectator Staff

The Kraft Center roared with laughter for three hours Thursday night as students tried to prove their poetic worth—or lack thereof—at the 22nd Annual Joyce Kilmer Memorial Poetry Festival.

The Columbia Philolexian Society, Columbia's oldest student organization, held the bad poetry competition in honor of Albert Joyce Kilmer, American journalist and poet and former vice president of Columbia's Philolexian Society.

While the bad poetry performed throughout the night focused mainly on religion and love, Amitai Schlair, GS, took home the back for his poem describing how "Poetry is like sausage." Schlair, dubbed "Schmonz" by the Philolexians, went on to read about "venison villanelles" and how "things took a turn for the bratwurst."

"I'm thrilled. It has been a dream of mine since I was a freshman," Schmonz said in his acceptance address. "I am proud to have done Kilmer proud." The crowd demanded a second reading from him, after which they awarded him with a standing ovation.

Overall, the crowd was exceptionally lively, laughing, groaning, and commenting as the poetry got progressively worse—or better, some may argue.

Other crowd favorites included poems about gay pigeons, erotic German love poetry dedicated to a waitress, a comparison between love and cheese, a love of nachos, and various references to Columbia, hunger striking, calculus, and sex in the stacks.

Ellie Saxton, BC '08, spent a week writing an "Astronomically Correct Version of Dante's Paradise" for a previous class, and decided to pull it out for the night's festivities. Mikah McCabe, BC '08 and Philolexian, spent significantly less time on her entry. "I wrote it in half an hour while I was supposed to be student teaching. That's the way to do it."

Five members of the Columbia and Barnard faculty judged the "good bad poetry." The winners' work will be published in the Kilmer edition of the Philolexian Society's publication, the Surgam Literary Magazine.

The biggest prize was granted to all would-be-poets present last night—win or lose, they can call themselves lifetime members of the Philolexian Society.

Shane Ferro can be reached at

Poetry Philolexian Society