Dear Philomena Tour Diaries: Art Bar – Toronto

Stop Two : Free Times Café

By Anonymous

After a quick get-together with a co-worker at Trinity Common, I rushed northbound on Augusta avenue. Making a right on College St., I arrived slightly late, to the main event of my night. The Art Bar.

A welcoming hum embraced my shy steps, as I tiptoed to the back of the venue and saw Peter Hancock in the midst of performing a piece. He was exaggerating the comedic and bringing a smile to most of the room. He comes from a stand-up background, which showed with his larger than life gestures and PG-13 humour (though the actual children in the audience didn’t seem to realise this :p). Peter closed his set with a massive shift in flow as he performed a piece relating the struggles of a Latin American favela, which he read in honour of the deceased from the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington, UK. After a set of comedic pieces, this somber ending was unexpected yet refreshing.

Following a bathroom and refreshments break, the crowd reassembled to listen to Kate Sorbara. Much more solemn in content and clearly loving dearly the land on which she grew up. Many of her poems included in some form the Burnt River, which is also the title of her chapbook. Her words speak of nature, animals and elements and how we relate to them all – if at all. Kate’s poetry can be further found on, a new online poetry journal curated by the Artbar’s own Lisa Young, which Kate promoted with glowing praise that night.

Following another 5 minute break, the crowd gathered one more time in the packed backroom for the final artist of the night. Mugabi Byenkya set the tone for his act donning a T-shirt with an image of his face on it, a pair of patchwork shorts, thigh high colourful socks and a full beard.

With a linguistic and performance style undeniably inspired by hip hop influences, he opened with a piece to introduce himself and every part of his full name, Mugabi Augustine Ateenyi Olatokumbo Byenkya. Cleverly using the refrain of Eminem’s My Name Is, Mugabi resonated with the younger cats in attendance by encouraging them to rap along with him. He then laughed at the fact that he was wearing his own face, which lightened the mood before introducing his debut novel Dear Philomena. Mugabi performed two additional poems interluded by what seemed like sporadic streams of consciousness but clearly wove his story together in an incredibly tight knit fashion. Through a poem dedicated to a friend Courtney, he spoke to the different forms and ways of grief, loss and depression. He then presented a head twisting scenario of a piece where men would live as women do, and be harassed at the club for not wanting to dance. The ending to that one I will not reveal, but it was a guaranteed mic-dropper. Intricately weaving pieces inspired by his novel and stories to introduce them, the outstanding and raw delivery left the crowd mesmerized and raised a torrent of applause by the end.

A smoke break and quick beer later, the open mic was on the floor. Some highlights included: poetry with a growling earthy voice about Hot Dogs and Pluto, a green haired and heeled beauty speaking of unhealthy love from across a subway platform, and more heartbreak from an individual named Josh.

The Artbar, an institution started in 1991 has proven itself once more welcoming to divergence in style and content, creating a convivial atmosphere for one more Tuesday in Toronto.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of the Dear Philomena Tour, happening right across the street at the Church of St-Stephen-In-The-Fields for the Shab’e’sher poetry series hosted by Banöo Zan on July 25th at 7pm.

Buy a copy of Dear Philomena for you or as a gift here:

P.S. The clear MVP of the night was Mugabi’s beard, as immortalized by this fan art:


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