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The Philolexian Society is Columbia University's oldest still-extant student organization, established in 1802 by associates of Alexander Hamilton in order to improve their skills in "oratory, composition and forensic discussion" (as recorded in the Columbiana archives). Information on some of the more noteworthy features of Philo can be found below.

       Surgam  |  Kilmer Bad Poetry Contest  |  Bicentennial  |  Beat Night


Surgam is the literary magazine of the Philolexian Society. This is one Philo activity that the Foundation expects to get particularly involved in, hopefully by contributing some cash to make for a nicer printing, distributing copies to our members, and archiving old issues here on the web.

In the meantime, alumni are welcome to submit stories, essays, poetry, or artwork to be considered for inclusion in the next issue of Surgam. Submissions may be sent to The Editor.

The Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest

Arguably Philo's premier event, the annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest is held each November on Columbia's campus. Kilmer was a Philolexian, having served as Vice-President of the Society when he was at Columbia early in the last century. In honor of his infamous "Trees" [ html | pdf (74k) ], and generally in the same good humor with which he invented the fictitious modernist poet Alfred Watts, Philolexians gleefully participate in three or four hours of delightfully vile verse — at times raucous, at times painful, but always entertaining.

Some Philos (notably our director, Adam Fields, our secretary, Andrew Shiner, and our occasional advisor, Jay Michaelson) have collected their own Kilmer submissions online, but there is as yet no comprehensive archive that would give you a real idea of what you're in for if you attend Kilmer. Someday we will try to put something like that here, or if we come into some money we may even try publishing a book.

The Philolexian Bicentennial

Philo's Bicentennial Dinner was held in the Rotunda of Low Memorial Library on April 11, 2002. Feel free to peruse the photo archive of Philos in their spiffy bicentennial attire.

A number of dignitaries spoke at the event, including Columbia College Dean Austin Quigley, author Walter Wager, and poet John Hollander, who was our Keynote Speaker and was awarded the first ever Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement. The event was covered by the Columbia Alumni Office, and was further discussed by undergraduate Philo Ian Sullivan (CC 2003) in a comprehensive online history project.

For your edification and entertainment, we have the transcripts of the Bicentennial speeches available here:

Message from Jacques Barzun (CC 1927)

Congratulatory Speech by Columbia College Dean Austin Quigley

Speech by our Avatar, Thomas Vinciguerra (CC 1985)

Speech by Foundation President Rachel Kahn-Troster (BC 2001)

Keynote Speech by John Hollander (CC 1950)

Remarks by Walter Wager (CC 1944)

Beat Night

As you may or may not know, Allen Ginsberg (CC 1948) was President of the Society when he was a senior at Columbia, and the Society surely served as a focal point for the small group of writers who comprised the New York beat scene.

Today, the Society holds an annual "Beat Night" in honor of its illustrious alumnus and his cohorts. More information on them may be found at a fine site entitled The Beat Page.