Case Study: SeeChange Festival 2019 Poetry Cafe

By Eliza Berlage | Blog, PoetryCafe | 1 Sep 2019 |

1. What was the poetry cafe about?

A friend invited me to attend the Seechange Jervis Bay Arts Festival on the Queen’s birthday weekend and put me up to stay. Then the festival director actually rang me and asked me about doing my typewriter poetry for the festival!

So I got a bunch of things together that I could sell: cards, frames, personalised journals and bookmarks in various styles and sizes - all with original art by my friend Georgia Clark-Sazhina who paints botanicals.

And then there was me doing my typewriter poetry.

I was given this space in the Huskisson community centre, a whole room, where I could set up my typewriter and people could ask me to write them poems. I would ask them questions, then type a poem on the spot in response to their prompts and then package it up for them to buy. 

But I didn't want to just set up a table so Georgia and I brainstormed.  

Poetry was at the centre but it was just the starting point. I wanted to create a holistic space. We decided to decorate the room with flowers and give it a real community feel with tables and chairs, instead of just having a store front. People were able to just come in and do their own poetry, I could provide them with writing guidance, or they could just hang out. It became no pressure poetry which was really great! 

The best part of the experience was little kids making up their own poetry and at one point the parents let their kids play on my typewriter. There was also a disposable polaroid camera I used to take photos and the kids got really excited about it.

Georgia and Rachel at SeeChange Festival 2019BUTTON

2. How Did you Market the POetry Cafe?

In terms of marketing there was a mixture of channels. I promoted the Poetry Cafe on my Typepolar Facebook and Instagram pages and ran a few ads using the cheapest option. Seechange also promoted my event which was really great.

On the actual day to advertise we had signs up around the community centre but we also handed out bookmarks in the room. These bookmarks seemed to travel around the festival and then other people would bring them back in which was a good way of getting more customers.

Rachel with Customers at SeeChange Festival 2019

3. What was the most memorable poem written on the day? 

One of the festival volunteers asked for an affirmation poem for her 95-year old mother, Dorothy Buckland-Fuller. She was actually a famous sociologist who fought for the rights of migrant women. When the volunteer read it, she started crying. She said she would read the poem to her mother at her nursing home. I told her I only charge $30 but she gave me $80. Buckland-Fuller passed away one month after I wrote the poem. 

Maree Ellis with Dorothy Buckland-Fuller poem at SeeChange Festival 2019

4. What was the community response to the poetry cafe?

The response was really positive. Most people wanted poems or items for occasions like birthdays. There was this one lovely guy who was a historian and he had a very long chat with my friend about the history of English poetry. But sometimes it got quite serious. There was a woman who wanted something written about her son. She had come quite a distance to visit me at the Poetry Cafe. I asked if it was for a gift and she said no, it was for herself. Her son had passed away. I said I was sorry. She was really softly spoken and really quiet. That experience really stuck with me, because you just do not know what people are going through. Overall, the festival organisers said I made a great impression and were happy to invite me back next year. 

Simon and Mum Poem SeeChange Festival 2019

5. Why should someone consider hosting a poetry cafe?

I think a Poetry Cafe is a unique experience people will talk about and cherish. It is a special unique kind of gift that you are most likely to keep and not throw away. There are many people who love giving thoughtful presents for other people. It’s also nice to just buy something thoughtful for yourself. 

A poetry cafe is a fun alternative to your standard photobooth at weddings, birthdays and festivals. The concept can also work in schools, such as being part of a poetry class or workshop. Even shopping centres that need an exciting exhibit during a busy time (such as Christmastime) will benefit from a poetry cafe. The Poetry Cafe is supposed to be a holistic experience. Not only are you supporting poetry, you're also supporting the artists who bring the words to visual life as well. 

Customer with Poem in Red Frame SeeChange Festival 2019

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My mission is simple: to connect people through the gift of wordcraft. The best way to describe my current job is to call it a hybrid of The Book Thief's proverbial "Word Shaker" and a poetic version of Humans of New York.


Email: rachel.worsley@typepolar.com.au


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