Turns out I’m one of seven finalists in the Poetry Slam at New Zealand WOMAD 2019, and must deliver the works on Saturday afternoon.
Every year for ten years a bunch of my family has headed for WOMAD in beautiful Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. This time there will be nine of us at this festival of world music with the usual happy multi-generation crowd.
Now there’s a new twist. Last year WOMAD ran a Poetry Slam, and I foolishly entered the slam for the following year. Ouch—that is now.
Blimey Charlie, why did I enter a poetry slam?
No idea, considering I thought slam was strictly for young people and had to have a shouty voice, a pounding rhythm, lots of swearing and a big issue. A kind of competitive rap and rant for poets without music. Now I’m not young, and these days my poems are intimate, and they all focus on old age and ageing with occasional thoughts about dying as light relief …
But wait, the personal is political and the ageing population is a hot political issue. Moreover, most of my other assumptions were wrong. (See Tarn Hood’s video, link below. Don’t be scared.) ( I am.)
Dreams of glory for any poet
Once I got used to the idea I embraced the challenge, chose my poems and decided to lift my game. I pictured myself on the little stage where the slam was held last year on a lovely hillside not far from the biggest outdoor amphitheatre. Last year there was a general audience of three or four hundred sitting in the sun, and a good sound system. Nice. And after all, how hard can it be for a someone who read poems at Nambassa Festival in 1978*? This will be a breeze and a buzz, I thought.
* (I think it was 1978)
How are the mighty fallen!
So I was disappointed to learn that this year we will perform in a different location, the Kunming Gardens, where tiny specialised events are run. I’m expecting it will be hard to make any impression. As platforms go, this one could be a challenge. The other stage seems to have disappeared off the map.
Now let’s see, where’s the upside?
- Less pressure, lower expectations.
- I’ll get to present the voice of an old person in public in a different setting.
- I’ll poke a sharp stick at the piñata of ageism.
- Maybe I’ll summon up a fitting pride in reaching the finals of the WOMAD poetry slam. It’s quite something, after all.
Update: I did it but…
I did fine, the crowd was lovely and attentive and they laughed a lot and I had lots of fun but…
- I didn’t want to win, because deep down I am not into poetry as a competitive sport. For others, heaps of fun and valuable too. It’s just not right for me. (A bit like ageing as a competitive sport, which is truly with us now: suits some, but should not be mandatory.)
- This is all happening the day after the heart-breaking massacre in Christchurch by white supremacists. WOMAD celebrates diversity, peace, tolerance, and love. I am split in two. See the next post (if I can manage it).