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Does poetry matter? Think-Off wants to know

America's premier amateur philosophy contest, The Great American Think-Off, released its 2011 essay and debate question: "Does Poetry Matter?"

The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center will host this 19th annual Think-Off with live debate on June 11. The debate follows an essay contest with entry deadline of April 1. Four finalist essay writers will be selected and invited to participate in the debate in June. A $500 cash prize is awarded to each finalist as well as travel and lodging expenses.

New York Mills Regional Cultural Center is a non-profit rural art and culture organization committed to encouraging a dialogue among all Americans that considers important values and questions for our time. This year the focus is on poetry (and the broader field of all the arts). Essayists and debaters may wish to address the role of the poet (artist) in society, whether poetry (and art) can be a vehicle for change either personally or in the larger world, and in what way poetry may play a role in the creation of community, beauty, and creating new ways of perceiving the people and world around us.

To enter the competition, submit an essay of 750 words or less by April 1 (postmark date). You may send your essay in one of three ways: through the mail to Great American Think-Off, New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, P.O. Box 246, New York Mills, MN 56567 or e-mail to (no attachments) or submit on-line at There is no submission fee.

Successful contestants have grounded their argument in personal experience. The judges are looking for essays that address the value and usefulness of poetry by speaking about personal experience rather than abstract philosophical reasoning. Tell a good story that shows a firm standing on one side or the other of the question, "Does poetry matter?"

A panel of judges will select four finalists to come to New York Mills for the final debate. The names of the four finalists will be announced May 1. The audience attending the debate chooses the winner. She or he will be named "America's Greatest Thinker for 2011" and awarded a gold medallion. The second place is awarded a silver medallion and two bronze medallions go to third and fourth. Details about the contest are available at

Celebrating its 19th year, the Great American Think-Off is a national philosophy competition providing an opportunity for ordinary people to voice their opinions on some of life's more perplexing questions. Last year's question, "Do the wealthy have an obligation to help the poor?" was debated successfully by David Eckel of Clayton, N.C. David won the gold medal by arguing that we all have a responsibility to help others, but not an obligation. Other questions debated in this annual event have included "Which Should You Trust More, Your Head or Your Heart?" (2007), "Which is More Valuable to Society: Safety or Freedom?" (2005), "Is the Pen Mightier than the Sword?" (2002), "Is Democracy Fair?" (2000), "Is the Death Penalty Ethical in a Civilized Society?" (1997), and "Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?" (1998).