The first-ever Denver Youth Poet Laureate will be chosen tonight, and along with confirmation that the winner has mastered the spoken word, the title comes with an official platform for the young artist to speak for the community. Five finalists have been chosen from several dozen who'd applied, submitting poetry in the form of audio, visual or written work, along with a resume and proposed mission statements for the Youth Poet Laureate position. Tonight those finalists will perform in front an audience as well as a panel of peer and adult judges from the poetry community, and one artist will be named Denver's first Youth Poet Laureate — taking home a scholarship, a book publishing deal, a chance to work with adult mentors and a new position as the voice of metro area youth.
"Traditionally, a poet laureate position has been viewed as like a prize, because it kind of is — it's an acknowledgement of the fact that you've done all of these great things for your community and we want to acknowledge you," says Ken Arkind, one of the people behind the creation of the program. "Laureate is kind of a job, something you have to earn why you have it. The idea is that it gives you as an artist — especially as a poet — a much higher platform to talk about change and things that are important."
According to Arkind, a nationally-acclaimed slam poet who works with youth poets as director of independent literary arts organization Minor Disturbance, the position has been in the works for a while, inspired by the success of similar honors in such cities as New York and Philadelphia. Denver's Youth Poet Laureate title will give young people a platform from which they can speak with government officials about issues affecting their city, Arkind says. "We are doing it incredibly differently then a lot of places — traditionally, this poet comes from the slam poetry community," says Arkind. "But slam can be intimidating, and it's not what a lot of people do. So our definition of what a poet laureate can be is a lot wider — you can be a rapper, a spoken word artist, a poet or even a singer-songwriter. As long as you can use creativity in some way to create change in your community and you do it in a vocal way, that works for us."
The Denver Youth Poet Lareate will get the opportunity to work with adult mentors like poet and teacher Suzi Q. Smith and poet and social worker Bobby LeFebre, learning more ways to help connect their community with the power structure. The $2,500 Russell J. Arkind Memorial Scholarship (created by an anonymous donor and named after Arkind's father) will also come with the win, along with a book deal from New York-based publisher Penmanship Books and a future book release event at Tattered Cover.
Arkind makes the importance of this position clear: "We didn't create the Denver Youth Poet Laureate because we're trying to create future artists; we're doing this so we can create future leaders."
The first Denver Youth Poet Laureate finals are at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Althea Center For the Spiritually Engaged; they're free and open to the public, and will be followed by the Denver Public Schools' Grand Slam Finals. For more information, visit the event's Facebook page.
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