From left, INtown editor and poet Collin Kelley with Kodac Harrison and poet Jon Goode at Java Monkey Speaks.
From left, INtown editor and poet Collin Kelley with Kodac Harrison and poet Jon Goode at Java Monkey Speaks.

By Collin Kelley

My first visit to Java Monkey Coffee House in Decatur was a Sunday in January of 2003. I had arrived nervously with a group of friends to read at the poetry open mic – Java Monkey Speaks – created and hosted by local musician and spoken word icon Kodac Harrison. It was my first time behind the mic in many years, but my debut collection of poetry was being published later that same year and I thought I’d better hone my performance skills.

Java Monkey would become my “second home” on Sunday nights for many years, while Kodac and I would go on to co-edit five anthologies featuring poems by Java Monkey’s featured readers, win a Georgia Author of the Year Award together, organize countless events together and I would even fill in as a host a time or two on the rare occasion illness or touring took Kodac away from Decatur on a Sunday night.

And then you blink and 15 years have passed in an instant.

Kodac retired as host of Java Monkey Speaks on Nov. 20, passing the mic to award-winning poet Theresa Davis. He’d presided over more than 800 Sundays of poetry – ranging from nervous newbies (like I was) to poet laureates like Natasha Trethewey. If you wanted to take the pulse of the city’s active spoken word and poetry scene, Java Monkey was the place to be every week. Kodac set the tone and tempo of the evening, making sure first-timers were welcomed with extra applause and encouraging them to return next week. Very rarely did he have to admonish someone for unruliness and he took delight in the occasional outrage from a conservative who had wandered into Java Monkey’s den of liberal arts. There was no censorship at the mic, so those Sunday evenings could make for quite an adult evening.

Kodac Harrison performs on Nov. 20 at Java Monkey Speaks, while new host Theresa Davis listens.

For about five years, I also never missed a Sunday at Java Monkey. It was permanently on my calendar and I arranged my own events and vacations so as not to miss it. But then life and my own work as a poet began to demand my attentions on Sunday nights. My appearances at Java Monkey became less and less, but Kodac always welcomed me back to feature when I had a new book out or just needed to “recharge” my creative energy by sitting in the audience to listen.

I was happy to be in attendance at Kodac’s wedding to the lovely Patty, be on hand for the release of his latest album of music, and watch as his drop cloths from his time as a house painter became sought-after works of art. Kodac truly is a renaissance man.

Nov. 20 was a cold, clear night at Java Monkey. I arrived early to get a seat knowing it would be a packed house. Sure enough, the line to sign up for the open mic stretched back out to Church Street and it was three-deep standing room only. Theresa Davis, who also cut her poetic teeth at Java Monkey, is a funny and charismatic host; she’s going to insure than the open mic is around for another 15 years and beyond. But the night belonged to Kodac, who performed a selection of favorite songs and music that most of us first heard on stage at Java Monkey.

As Kodac performed, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and gratitude for my friend. He believed in me and trusted me from the moment I first walked on stage 15 years ago. He’s off to enjoy his newfound retirement with travels and adventures with his wife, but he’ll still be active on the art scene in Atlanta. And when Theresa’s away, Kodac will be the official guest host at Java Monkey Speaks.

Congratulations on a job well-done, Kodac.

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.