Kodac Harrison outside Java Monkey in Decatur.
Kodac Harrison outside Java Monkey in Decatur.

By Franklin Abbott

Not only will poet, musician and artist Kodac Harrison be this Sunday’s featured reader at Java Monkey Speaks, the iconic Decatur coffee house open mic, it will also be a passing of the torch. Harrison has hosted the poetry reading every Sunday night for more than 15 years. On Nov. 20, he’ll hand off hosting duties to another familiar face on the city’s spoken word scene, award-winning poet Theresa Davis.

Harrison hosted a series of grassroots poetry readings in Atlanta long before he created Java Monkey Speaks. His 12th Night readings featured Atlanta writers and poets including Pearl Cleage. His venues moved from a coffee shop in Inman Park to the Gravity Pub in East Atlanta to the Margaret Mitchell House. He found a permanent home when Java Monkey opened in Decatur and has presided over readings there ever since, only missing a few nights due to illness or while touring his own work. That’s over 800 evenings of open mic and featured poets, making it Intown’s  longest running, continuous poetry event.

Harrison is proud of the diversity the readings draw. His featured poets have ranged in age from 17 to 91, hailed from 18 different countries, and have been first-time poets nervously reading their first poem to U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. He remembers at least three wedding proposals made from the stage and the occasional disruption by a conservative who stumbled in to this den of the liberal arts.

Harrison said he shaped the reading to make sure that attendees have time to buy beverages and food from the coffee house. He also has a formula to keep the energy flowing and to make sure that those who come to read also come to listen out of mutual respect. Java Monkey Speaks spawned Atlanta’s first competitive poetry slam team and has become a place of importance for slam poets seeking an audience. Through Poetry Atlanta, an organization chaired by Harrison (he is passing this torch to INtown editor and poet Collin Kelley), Java Monkey has become the local poets venue for the Decatur Book Festival. Harrison and Kelley are now working on their fifth anthology of poets who have featured at Java Monkey Speaks, a project conceived of by Atlanta poet Cleo Creech and the source of a Pushcart Prize for Patricia Smith.

Harrison is giving up his role at Java Monkey partly because of where he finds himself as an older artist. His wife retired last April and they want to travel. He had double knee replacement surgery and a tremor has nudged him away from regularly performing live music. In addition to travel, he wants to spend time with his painting and maybe even get to that novel.

He leaves Java Monkey “misty eyed, with mixed emotions.”

“It’s like sending a kid to college,” Harrison said. “You have to let them go.”

The Jackson, GA native says he thought long and hard about the right time to leave.”I waited until after the election thinking it would be a celebration.” But he is confidant in his choice of a successor. He says that Theresa Davis is the same age as he was when he started the readings and that she brings great vitality and presence.

Java Monkey Speaks is held every Sunday at Java Monkey Coffee House, 425 Church St., in downtown Decatur. Sign-up for the open mic begins around 7:30 p.m. and slots fill up fast. The readings begin at 8 p.m. Come early to get your name on the list and find a seat.

Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and poet. 

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.