Phi Slama Jama

Space City Slam gives teen poets a chance to make their voices heard.

By Alice Alsup March 25, 2014

Outspoken Bean

Saturn Preliminary Slam
March 28 at 7
Leonel Castillo Community Center
2101 South Street

In a small conference room at the Smith Regional Library in the Third Ward, Lily, a girl with blond braids who cannot be older than 14, steps up to the front of the room and slams a poem with some of the most scathing social critique I’ve ever heard. When she competes in the second round, she does it again.

Lily was competing to advance to the next round of the Space City Slams, a slam poetry competition for kids 13 to 19 organized by Meta-Four Houston, a program of Writers in the Schools led by celebrated spoken word poets Outspoken Bean and Deborah ‘Deep’ Mouran. The teens’ ultimate goal is to win a place in the Space City Grand Slam, to be held at Discovery Green on April 26. The six highest-scoring teens at the final win places on the Meta-Four team that will travel to Philadelphia this July to compete in the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam.

To prepare for the international slam, the lucky six teens will attend an intensive poetry camp this summer led by Bean and Mouran. Once they make the team, practicing for BNV becomes serious work. The teens train on weekends until the end of the semester, and then four days a week until the BNV competition. “We are your part time job,” Bean tells them.

This year’s poets have a lot to live up to; last year’s squad placed first among all Texas teams at BNV. Past teams have also performed at TEDxHouston, TEDxYouth, and regularly stage “Pop Ups,” impromptu guerilla-style performances at locations throughout the city, from HEB to the Reagan High School cafeteria.

The Space City Slams are currently in the midst of the qualifying rounds. The six preliminary slams, which take place between February and April, are named after planets and stars (and, in the case of Pluto, a former planet). The next round, the Saturn preliminary, is this Friday at 7 at the Leonel Castillo Community Center and is free to attend.

Performances are scored from 0 to 10 by five judges, with the lowest and highest scores dropped and the remaining three scores averaged. No animal noises or props are allowed, including use of apparel as costume (i.e., a hoodie for a poem about Trayvon Martin). Among the judges, who are selected by Meta-Four and Writers in the Schools, are journalists, teachers, poets, and creative writing teachers.

“Meta-Four’s job is to create safe platforms for young people to be seen, heard, honored and taken seriously, using the vehicle of poetry,” Bean says. “The competition is the carrot. The rest is what they’ll gain from experience.”

Before each competition, a “sacrifice” poet gives a performance to help the judges calibrate their scores. At the March 8 event, the young woman who delivered the sacrifice was a former Meta-Four team poet named Tiffany, who performed a piece about the miseries of working at Subway.

During the competition, one of the teens froze in the middle of his poem and quickly sat down, ashamed. Outspoken Bean brought him back on stage and told him to complete the performance.

“I’m a big proponent of finishing,” Bean explains. 

Upcoming Dates for the Space City Slam Series

Saturday, April 5: Neptune Preliminary
11 a.m. at Stella Link Neighborhood Library

Tuesday, April 15: Pluto Preliminary
7 p.m. at Ensemble Theatre

Thursday, April 17: Sirius Preliminary
10am at Galena Park ISD Administration Building

Saturday, April 26: Grand Slam
6:30 p.m. at Discovery Green



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