What is an old woman doing in the NZ WOMAD Poetry Slam finals?

Logo for New Zealand WOMAD 15-17 March 2019 TSB Bowl of Brooklands New Plymouth

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.

All about NZ WOMAD 2019


NZ WOMAD 2018 Poetry Slam. Open air venue, nice big crowd in the sun.

NZ WOMAD 2018 Poetry Slam

WOMAD festival crowd arriving in sunny Pukekura Park for a big performance in the TSB Bowl.

The big TSB Bowl filling up before a big act at NZ WOMAD 2018.

Tarn Hood slams out a poem about the huge variety and the democratic nature of slam poetry

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).

29 thoughts on “What is an old woman doing in the NZ WOMAD Poetry Slam finals?

  1. Ingrid Ward says:

    Well done – what an amazing opportunity to represent the gorgeous greying brigade. Look forward to hearing how it went.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      My hopes are low and happy that way

  2. I was at Nambassa Rachel… best wishes for this years 2019 WOMAD. Myrax

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh double wow!

  3. Sadje says:

    Congrats and all the best.

  4. You’ll be amazing! Congratulations. Once again, inspiring us all.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I think I may pass with a push

  5. rhinophile says:

    Woo hoo!

  6. This is fantastic Rachel. Best of luck (but I know you’ll be brilliant). Be sure to blog about how it all goes.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you so much, Carmel!

  7. JOY journal says:

    Poke? It is possible you could smack that pinata right off the string. 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’ll give it a go.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I certainly couldn’t listen as fast as that dear young woman could talk. I am interested if you have to talk that fast too.

  9. JT Twissel says:

    Congrats! Poets are like wine – they improve with age!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I reckon.

  10. That’s fantastic. You’re a self-deprecating fount of inspiration.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Funny:) On another note,Womad is a fine place of love diversity and tolerance on this darkest of days in New Zealand.

  11. Joared says:

    Wonderful! Glad you’ll add the perspective of an older age group. I recall attending a poetry slam in Santa Monica, California years ago with my husband — a new experience for us. We went to hear our son who was participating, were joined there by the young lady who later became his wife. My son had previously participated in some slams, won a few, in the university town where he graduated.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Then you know what I’m in for!

      1. joaredJoared says:

        My son lauded that you were doing this poetry slam. He hasn’t been engaged in the competitive slams either for a number of years though there are a few where he lives now. Thought of you immediately when I heard of this recent tragedy — just unspeakable and yet we must speak out.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Thank you for your loving message. And for your son’s delightful response.

  12. Dan Antion says:

    Congrats – carry the banner high for us aging folk.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Dan. I will do my bit.

  13. Well done!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I did do it, at least!

  14. pamela978 says:

    I’m So Happy you allowed me to find you again. I know Exactly what you mean about aging as a competitive sport.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Good detective work!

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I will email you 🙂

  15. hilarymb says:

    Hi Rachel – it sounds like you succeeded with the challenge … and I’m sure the confidence us older folk manage to exude will inspire many … and we can laugh at ourselves. Just desperate that Christchurch had to happen at all – so sad for so so many. Take care – Hilary

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