Pop-up poetry cafe: a birthplace for flourishing poets

Ms Millie’s Pop Up Poetry Cafe, held at North Carlton’s Afro Hub, is a beautiful space that transforms undecided and inexperienced voices into standout performers.

The pop-up poetry cafe, happening on the second Saturday of every month, is simultaneously a performance space, social space and patisserie.

Creator and poet Jehnet Kaya (Jay for short), also known as Ms Millie, could not attend Melbourne’s poetry events because of her five-year-old son. Taking matters into her own hands she created a safe and inclusive space for community members to share their poetry and indulge in home-cooked sweets.

“I figured I could just get the poets to come to me,” Jay said.

The performers and audience experience a range of emotions. Photo: Brendan Bonsack.

The strength of Melbourne’s poetry scene lies in its close-knit and caring community.

“The poetry community is paramount. It’s so important on so many levels for poets. The poetry community gives – it gives comfort, support, assurance and assistance,” Jay said.

At the event, cheers and encouragement can constantly be heard in support of the performers.

“I get to listen to people perform for the first time and see them gain their voice and see their confidence climb,” Jay said.

Jay hosting Ms Millie’s at Afrohub. Photo: Brendan Bonsack.

Ms Millie’s Pop Up Cafe has been a stepping stone for many, but also for Jay herself. Encouraged by those around her, she began performing her personal poems for the first time.

Even as a child, she remembered having a penchant for food. Merging her Turkish and African American ancestry to influence her bite-sized culinary delights, Jay’s sweets are a standout to be anticipated at each pop-up poetry event.

“I’ve always had a love for sweets and poetry so I figured I could combine two of my favourite things together and make it a thing, and people responded really positively,” Jay said.

“The influence of sugar either in the form of cake or syrup drenched baklava has carried over into my adult life,” Jay said.

Ms Millies Pop Up Cafe Facebook page is punctuated by delicious and evocative descriptions of food. Consider options “varying from honey pistachio cheesecake to sweet potato pie, orange marmalade cake to cherry pie”. They fire up the imagination and materialise as a picture perfect reality.

Jay’s personal favourites are her banana cream pie and sticky date cake. She calls them her “favourite dishes” and cites the influence of her father’s African American family.

Jay has big plans for the future, hoping to expand the pop-up event into Melbourne’s first “poetisserie” – a hybrid of a patisserie and a poetry space.

Ms Millie’s next event is on the 11th of November from 7.00 pm. Click here for all the information.

Written by Devana Senanayake

Celebrating Africa Day in Melbourne

A place of innovation, the sharing of bold ideas, professional development and social transformation; this is the Pan Afrikan Poets Café.

Established in 2015 by creator and curator, Sista Zai Zanda, Pan Afrikan Poets Café (PAPC) is the home of new, cutting-edge and classic African literature. “The African literature includes spoken word performance, literary readings, theatre and vocal performances,” Sista Zai said.

When conceiving the idea for Pan Afrikan Poets Café, Sister Zai decided to replace the ‘c’ in Africa with a ‘k’ to represent knowledge. It also is spelled that way among some African history circles.

Since its inception, PAPC has staged more than 100 performances in Melbourne, and will launch in Sydney on 26 March.

Sista Zai, a radio broadcaster and broadcast trainer at 3CR community radio, explained, “It’s more than just providing a platform for African and First Nations stories because there is also the very important step of mentorship.”

In April 2017, PAPC is offering three Open Art Labs – professional development opportunities for emerging African and First Nations storytellers – at 3CR.

In these Art Labs, participants will learn how to create a three-minute story for radio and live performance. Through a selection process, ten of the Open Art Lab participants will go on to present their work to a live audience on Sunday 28 May during a PAPC live radio broadcast in celebration of Africa Day.

PAPC has partnered with 3CR to broadcast the PAPC Africa Day event live from Afro Hub, a Carlton North restaurant that is dedicated to showcasing African talent.

The PAPC Africa Day Open Art Labs and Africa Day live broadcast have been made possible thanks to a grant of $7000 from the City of Yarra. The ten artists who perform on 28 May will receive $150 as payment for both their performance and written work.

The first Open Art Lab on 15 April will be facilitated by Candy Bowers. Bowers is the co-director of Black Honey Company – winner of the Total Theatre UK Award at the Edinburgh Fringe for its sell-out show, Hot Brown Honey – and the 2017 Green Room Award nominee for her leading role in Lillith: The Jungle Girl (Brothers Grimm and Melbourne Theater Company).

When asked about the Art Labs, Candy said, “Last year I had a really hectic year and I had those moments where I got to be still and hear literature and poetry and just hear from so many different people from Aboriginal and African backgrounds that it reminded me how important it was for me”.

“You will see an old Aboriginal man and a young African woman side by side, both telling you their perspective of a part of their life and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Alia Gabres will facilitate the Open Art Lab on 29 April. Gabres is creative producer at Footscray Community Arts Centre, where she has coordinated the West Writers Forum and iconic spoken word event, One Night Stanza.

Sista Zai Zanda will run the final radio skills labs on 25-27 May. No stranger to the performing arts arena, she has facilitated creative workshops in Australia, Zimbabwe and Denmark, and curated the program for the youth zone at the Harare International Festival of the Arts – of one of Africa’s top-ten festivals, according to Afro Tourism.

Sista Zai invites all emerging African and First Nations artists to contact her for more information about the Art Labs at papoetscafe@gmail.com or to attend an information session on Saturday 01 April at 3CR Community Radio Station, 21 Smith Street, Fitzroy from 11 am to 12.30 pm.

PAPC Africa Day event live from Afro Hub – 727 Nicholson Street, Carlton North. All are welcome to attend the free event beginning at 2.30pm.

Information on other upcoming PAPC events can be found on the PAPC Facebook page. Subscribe t0 receive notifications when events are announced.

Written by Grace Evans