Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Alfred Joyce Kilmer studied at Rutgers College (now Rutgers University) and Columbia University. He was the Vice President of the Philolexian Society, which now holds the annual "Alfred Joyce Kilmer Bad Poetry Contest." Kilmer graduated in 1908 and began teaching in Morristown, New Jersey shortly after graduation. That same year, he married Aline Murray, also a poet. The Kilmers had five children.
In 1908, Joyce Kilmer began publishing poems, essays, and book reviews, and due to his success in publication, he gave up his teaching career and moved back to New York City with his family in June 1909. He worked on an edition of The Standard Dictionary, and upon the dictionary's publication in 1912, joined the staff of The New York Times Review of Books and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Kilmer became a devout Catholic in 1913 after his daughter Rose was stricken with infantile paralysis. His faith was an important aspect of his poetry.
Kilmer joined the New York National Guard in 1917 to serve in World War I. He was killed in 1918 during the Second Battle of Marne.