Coffee, the coffice, and poetry

I came across an article on the Sydney Morning Herald website about a brilliant idea – coffee shops having a Poet in Residence.  Actually there are a lot of good ideas in the article, including  a couple I recognise from Gary Mex Glazner’s How to Make a Living as a Poet. I’ve often thought that the NZ haiku community could use the poems-on-pillows option. Of course we’d first have to get ourselves some sort of national organisation … at the moment we’re lot of regional  groups, plus Sandra Simpson’s stirling work maintaining Haiku NewZ on the NZPS website. Organising poets has way too much in common with herding cats

Speaking of which:

Couldn’t resist. Back to the SMH article. It chimed with something else I’d read about recently – the rise of the “coffice”. Apparently there’s a thriving subculture of people essentially using coffee shops as office meeting rooms, and conducting their business there.

Estatua Gonzalo Torrente Ballester Cafe Novelty SalamancaIt’s hardly a new idea – artists and writers have been using coffee shops as places to hang out and talk, as well as to write or draw – such conveient tables! – for practically as long as coffee shops have existed. But some coffee shops are happier than others to have their tables occupied by people scribbling on bits of paper all afternoon. Most are happy enough as long as you’re buying food and drink, but they do tend to get a bit grumpy if you’re there for more than a couple of hours. The etiquette is a bit tricky. If it’s ok for a couple of friends to meet and talk about poetry, is it also ok if those friends spend some of the time writing, rather than talking? What if one doesn’t buy anything, but the others do? Or if some of the people are paying one of the others for whatever they’re doing? Could I, for example, run a one-off Reading for Writing class in a coffee shop? Yes? No? How about a series of them? More ok? Less ok?

Maybe there should be some sort of sign that a business could hang up somewhere, indicating their willingness to be occupied by writers. A bit like those signs you sometimes see indicating a particular stance on cellphone use, or breastfeeding.

Or, at the very least, an underground list somewhere of coffee shops with staff who are sympathetic to bards in need …

2 Replies to “Coffee, the coffice, and poetry”

  1. Hi Joanna;

    So glad you’re welcoming of the idea of The Coffice. You raise a few interesting questions that I hope I can answer for you:

    Last week I decided I’d go work from a Starbucks in my local shopping mall; maybe catch a late movie after hours of staring at a laptop. But when I got to that location it was FULL and there were NO signs of anyone giving up their table.

    Was I angry? Yes…a bit. Was I surprised? Not entirely. As you noted in your post above, the Coffice is a phenomenon that is definitely taking off. Without getting into a history lesson that you quickly gave, the “coffee shop as community for writers, poets and others” concept has been around for almost as long as coffee the drink. (People congregated like that BEFORE coffee houses existed…but it was usually to drink alcohol. Not sure I could get back to work after a few pints for lunch.)

    What you’re asking in your post speaks to the general etiquette of working from a Coffice. If you and your readers would indulge me for a few paragraphs, I’m hoping I can explain. The etiquette isn’t that trick…but it should have some context around it.

    Last fall, the manager of my regular Coffice (Starbucks) introduced me to his district manager; she, in turn, started asking my opinion about some improvements they were hoping to make here.

    I was flattered to say the least…but it made me realize something. Some indie coffee houses don’t have the same luxury of unlimited resources that the big brand coffee companies do.

    On the one hand, I understand when indignant (or passive aggressive) indie owners create policies limiting wifi use to “maximize business goals” or to maintain their so-called community culture/atmosphere. On the other hand, these rules can adversely affect a segment of their customer base (a revenue stream!). Indie owners have to ask themselves if this is what they want.

    Do they want to alienate a customer segment (like poets, writers and others) because a few tables (or the majority of them in some cases) have been occupied by laptops, notebooks and their owners? Or can they come up with some creative solutions to avoid having those customers angrily storm out and write bad reviews or complain to their friends on Facebook and Twitter?

    Either way, they are the owners and they can do what they want with their cafes.

    Cofficers who use an indie’s free wifi also need to realize that the space they’re using is not public and not free. Not buying anything at all is just plain rude. The owners, managers and staff who allow it should be commended for their patience and understanding.

    I love working from the Coffice. I try to adhere to a standard etiquette, and so I would hate to find out that a bad element of coffee shop squatters ruined my ability to do what I and countless others love.

    So for you, Joanna, and your readers who are hoping to make the Coffice a more permanent work space, if it’s your first few times there, absolutely buy something as often as you can reasonably afford. But the more you become a regular, the more I can assure you, it won’t matter.

    Between you, your readers and me, there are days where I’ve sat with an empty coffee cup for most of the day. Truth be told, I think the staff just like me: I’m quiet, friendly, well-known among other customers, I tip often and I clean up after myself. I’d recommend you try being the same. Worst case scenario, you have to find a different location to fall in love with.

    So here’s my nutshell: Buy something. Share space if needed. Don’t be a power hog. Clean up after yourself. Be nice. Tip well. Tip often. Enjoy.

    (Welcome to The Coffice. Hope to see you more often.)

    Sam Title
    Chief Executive Cofficer

    1. Hi Sam,

      thanks for your comments – good to hear from someone who has been there and done that. It will be interesting to see how things develop here.
      Noise is one aspect that does concern me somewhat – I imagine most business meetings are reasonably quiet things. But a poetry workshop might be a bit noisier. Or possibly the opposite would be the problem – how to manage so that the noise of other customers doesn’t become an issue? But I realise that a poetry workshop is hardly the usual inhabitant of the coffice paradigm … yet.

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