CUPSI Reflection by Joshua Nguyen, Meta-Four Alum 2008-2012

Posted March 25, 2014 & filed under Notebook.


Tuesday, March 11th

My team, UT Spitshine, left the Austin Airport at about 10 am. I brought a poetry book called “Donkey Gospel” that my coach Sam Sax had given me which allowed me to pass the time on the airplane, I also had two tests to study for. My team consists of Ariana Brown and Arati Warrier, both previous TheySpeak Austin youth poets. Also on my team were Loyce Gayo and Joseph “Atlas” Flores, both on the UT Spitshine team the year before. My coaches were Sam Sax and Zachary Caballero.

When we arrived in Boulder, Colorado, for CUPSI (College Union Poetry Slam Invitational) it was the first time I experienced pleasant snow. I smiled to myself and realized how blessed I was to have poetry take me to so many places in my life. The town was quaint; everything was a hike since the altitude is so high, but every morning you would wake up and walk outside to some huge mountains.

That night, after a Whole Foods run. We spent two hours in one hotel room running out set for our preliminary bout the next day. Even though we were all tired, we still put our 100% when we ran our poems, a quality I really appreciated that I learned from growing up with Meta-Four.


Wednesday, March 12th

Our first preliminary bout was at 5 pm. The bout consisted of SUNY–New Paltz, University of Northern Colorado, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Texas–Austin. After splurging at Innisfree poetry book store and cafe, one of three poetry-only book stores in the nation, we found a nice tree on the Colorado campus to start running our set poems.

We protested before the start of the show because we felt like the judges were not diverse enough ( race and gender) and after only two minutes of searching, the emcee continued on the show, some of my teammates felt frustrated since some of our poems target a specific audience.

We won our first bout. We were blessed and grateful for the love we got after the bout, people came up to hug us and tell us how they liked our work.


Thursday, March 13th

We had more of the day to relax, our second bout did not start until 9:00 PM which was great because we had the best venue called the Gallery, which was not too big and not too small with blank white walls and great acoustics. The bout was packed with people because of the friendships we made on the trip. People came to watch us because we were honest in our poetry, and we supported the other teams as well.

The bout consisted of Brown University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and University of Texas–Austin. We won our bout again with a first place. After the bout, we got way more love from the other teams, and they said that they would come to our semifinals bout to support us.


Friday, March 14th

I woke up early (noon) to go to some of the free workshops that were being held. Zachary, Joseph, and I went to this workshop that was a discussion on how to build a poetry community on a campus. I really appreciated this workshop because I want to help the Spitshine organization on our campus grow and for us to be more known. I have plans to hold an open mic once a month to encourage our members to share their work.

I also competed in CUPSI’s first Haiku battle, and with the skills I learned from Jacob Dobson from APS, I placed 2nd! And people really loved how I could make them laugh and then go serious on a dime.

I was really excited for our semifinals bout, I was also really nervous, it was at 9 pm and the bout consisted of Macalester College, Stanford University, UT-Austin, and Yale University. The energy was crazy, the room was out of seats, and when they announced our name in the beginning, we received the largest cheers and applause. It was a very emotional bout, most of our team went so IN in our poems, they started crying. The beautiful thing was that after every poem, the team would get up and hug whoever just came off stage. It was all love.



After the bout drained us, we were just happy to be with each other, our coaches didn’t tell us the results, but we were happy , and when they were announcing who won the bout, they called our name, and there were tears, hugs, love, open mouth groans, and so much energy!

I called my former Meta-Four Houston coaches Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean and Jeremyah “The Fluent One” Payne to tell them the news and they were so excited for me. I wanted to let them know that if it wasn’t for them breaking me apart and building me up during my four years with Meta-Four Houston, that I  probably wouldn’t be at this moment, in Boulder, Colorado, knowing I was going to be on a Final stage the next day.


Saturday, March 15th

I had a great breakfast, I got in the zone, I was nervous beyond belief. I thanked God for all the friends I made over this week, we had so much support from the teams there, and it humbled me when people kept coming up to me saying my haikus were amazing. The finals bout was crazy, so many poems by teams who didn’t make finals and there was a feature by Outside Sister Poetry. Finals consisted of Montclair State University, Princeton University, UT-Austin, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Before the bout, as we do before every bout, the team came together in a huddle, and we went around and said who we were bringing on stage, I said my family, grandma, brother, and my Meta-Four family.

The poems were amazing, we went IN, and Ariana closed out our set of poems with an honest poem she read from her chapbook, it was beautiful.

Before they announced the winner, they gave out individual awards, Arati Warrier won best poem and best poet, Ariana Brown won best poet, Zachary Cabellero won best spirit, and the team won best performance as a team. We were already hype, and then all the teams were told to gather on stage, and then, we were told that we, UT Spitshine won CUPSI.


Amazing electricity.

It was the best way to win a national competition, I was blessed to have the greatest team with the best coaches with two cities on my back supporting me. I am very humbled and I have a renewed confidence in myself now. I thought about my Meta-Four Houston family back in Houston and the new family I have in Austin and how lucky I am to know both. I also learned how to be more vulnerable in my writing, a trait I have learned from my teammate Ariana Brown and from, Deborah “D.E.E.P.” Mouton, one of my past Meta-Four Houston coaches.

I was talking with The Fluent One about how I am a piece that God is playing chess with. In 2008, when I first tried out for Meta-Four Houston, I placed 8th, but then there was a time penalty for someone, and the other person couldn’t go, so I got the 6th spot on that team. It’s hard to imagine where I would be now if those two things had not happen.