At 7 p.m. on Sunday, half an hour before the Meta-Four Houston vs. Houston VIP Send-Off Slam was set to begin, the performance space at Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH) was already nearly full of families, friends, and fans awaiting an evening of pulse-pounding, breathtaking poetry.
The Send-Off Slam, part of a yearly slate of events leading up to Meta-Four Houston’s journey to Brave New Voices International, is more family reunion than competition. It’s a chance for Houston V.I.P., the nationally acclaimed adult slam team, to give their blessing and best wishes to the youth of Meta-Four. With many former members of Meta-Four going on to join Houston V.I.P. as adults, the collaboration serves to cultivate the next generation of gifted slam poets and grow Houston’s poetry scene year by year.
When all the performing team members and judges were in place, Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, head coach of this year’s Meta-Four team and the DJ/emcee/scorekeeper of the night, kicked off the event with an introduction to the roots of slam poetry and an explanation of the slam’s format before volunteering himself as the “sacrificial poet,” the first performer of the night to brave the judges’ evaluations and the audience’s reactions.
After a joking round of all ones (with a single nine) for the sacrificial poet, the competition began in earnest. First up was Meta-Four, performing a searing group poem about school shootings and America’s seeming indifference to gun violence. Next, Houston V.I.P. sent up a single team member whose voice trembled with emotion as she performed a poem comparing black lives ended too soon to flowers ripped from the ground before being given a chance to fully bloom.
With each round came individual and group poems from both teams that covered a wide range of personal and political themes: “problem kids” in school, human trafficking in Houston, fears and phobias, and self-defining success in the face of personal challenges. The collection of performances had viewers in spellbound silence, peals of laughter, and most of all, full of shouts and snaps.
The judges were tough, and as is tradition in the slam world, audience members were quite vocal in reacting to the judges’ scores. Only one poem received not just one, but multiple scores of ten out of ten: MetaFour’s “Kill Bill,” a haunting poem about the daughter left behind in the wake of Philando Castille’s murder, and the irony of fictional characters receiving justice that real-life victims do not. The final tally was close, with only seven-tenths of a point difference, but Meta-Four emerged victorious.
This year’s send-off held a special significance, coming at the ten year mark for Meta-Four. The youth slam team was founded in 2007 by Shannon Buggs, a member of the WITS Board of Directors, after her first visit to Brave New Voices International. In the ten years since, the program has grown and evolved with collaboration from WITS Executive Director Robin Reagler, Houston Poet Laureate and former WITS Special Programs Manager Deborah DEEP Mouton, Meta-Four Coordinator Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, and Sixto Wagan. Director of the University of Houston Center for Art & Social Engagement. In addition, Brave New Voices International celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, and in the slam’s inaugural documentary-style podcast, Meta-Four will be one of three teams followed on their journey through the competition.
As the Meta-Four team jets off to San Francisco today, with their pockets full of poems and the wind of past successes at their backs, we here at WITS send our best wishes for an unforgettable Brave New Voices experience and look forward to ten more brilliant years from the bright burning star that is Meta-Four.
by Willow Curry