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Poetry, delivered with an urban slam

This isn't your grandmother's poetry. To celebrate the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, the Washington Center is hosting Quest 4 the Voice '08, a spoken-word poetry slam for young people between the ages of 10 and 19 at 6 p.m...

This isn't your grandmother's poetry.

To celebrate the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, the Washington Center is hosting Quest 4 the Voice '08, a spoken-word poetry slam for young people between the ages of 10 and 19 at 6 p.m. Monday.

A poetry slam is an urbanized, competitive version of a poetry reading where expression is valued over iambic pentameter. As slam organizer Donny Morris describes it, it's "an intimate conversation with the audience."

"Poetry is usually universal," said Naomi Tamar, one the judges for the competition. "Spoken-word is more cultural."

"This is an opportunity for them to say: 'This is what I'm about, this is what I believe in, this is what I've been through,' " said Morris, who is also the co-founder of Minnesota Mantra, a spoken-word poetry group in Duluth. "What I promote is just having a voice."

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This type of poetry often challenges what Morris calls the "majority rule" of traditional values, authorities and institutions, which make slam poetry appealing to marginalized or minority groups or individuals.

Tamar has been involved in poetry instruction for young Duluthians. It's important, she said, "just to be able to share your work with others and just get your truth out there."

The contest will have five judges, who will rate poets' performances on a 1 to 10 scale. The lowest and highest scores won't count, and the average of the remaining three scores will determine who advances to the final round. Five finalists will go on to a competition in the Twin Cities, and from there, on to a national competition.

"This is for the youth," Morris said. "Around that age, kids who are into poetry are more serious and committed to it."

The poets are free to express themselves however they want. There are no restrictions on language or content.

As a representative of "the older generation," Tamar sees few differences between poets such as herself and the youthful poets who will perform on Monday.

"They're more liberated," she said. "Sometimes they make my ears burn. But they're beautiful. The art of spoken-word will always be powerful."

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