Tonight: The stakes get lyrical at the Poetry out Loud State Championships

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If we learned anything from Akeelah and the Bee, it's that spelling bees can be pretty exciting, even if the subject matter is boring -- who nedes speling anyway? That shit is for lossers. It's the do-or-die elimination format that give the bee its drama, and tonight, Poetry Out Loud takes that format and applies it to poetry, which, if we learned anything from e.e. cummings, is not boring at all and holds spelling in no high regard. And the stakes are high: Tonight's winner will get a chance to compete in the POL Nationals in Washington, D.C., this April for a pot of $20,000.

The idea, says Sheila Sears, Colorado's POL State Coordinator, is to give poetry some weight in kids' lives: "It's really about helping kids connect to classical and contemporary poetry through memorization and interpretation," she says. "The choose a poem from our anthology of over 500 poems, and they're reciting and interpreting these poems that they've chosen."

Their recitations will be judged on a number of criteria: On physical presence, voice and articulation, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding, accuracy and "grammatical appropriateness," says Sears. "They need to interpret the poet's words without sort of acting it out." The judges, meanwhile, include Ruth Ellen Kocher, Juan J. Morales, Michelle Shedro and Ken Arkind, that last one being one of our favorite fixtures in the Denver slam poetry scene (who himself has been to the Slam Nationals representing Denver a number of times). Rounding out the lineup of some of our state's finest wordsmiths is Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason, taking on hosting duties.

In spite of the starry cast, though, the highlight will still be the competitors, high-schoolers who have climbed through the ranks of classroom and then school-wide competitions to rep their school in tonight's event. "The students have three poems prepared," Sears says, "and they've been living with these selections for months at this point, so they've become really intimate with them. I think It's a different way of their being able to find a voice for things that are going on in their lives."

Or maybe they're just not into spelling. The competition starts tonight at 6 p.m. at the Lakewood Cultural Center and is free and open to the public.

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