There’s something about coffeehouses that inspires artists. Maybe it’s the lighting; maybe it’s the background noise; maybe it’s the caffeine. It’s probably the caffeine. But at Java Monkey in downtown Decatur, Georgia, the inspiration lies with the regulars.Kodac Harrison has been doing the same thing almost every Sunday night for the past 14 years: Java Monkey Speaks, an open mic poetry night.
Harrison, the event’s founder and emcee, started out as a singer-songwriter years ago. But in recent years, he has become a local literary figure, even holding the McEver Poetry Chair at Georgia Tech for his literary works.
“Back in the 80s, critics started calling me a poet based on my songwriting,” Harrison said. “Now, I resisted that label because I said ‘I’m not a poet, I’m a songwriter.’ I’ve always revered poetry, poets.”
Although Harrison has become a professional, the open mic night is open to anyone and everyone. This means there is absolutely no censorship onstage.
“These people here need an avenue to express themselves,” he said. “They can come here; people will listen to them. They’ll applaud. There’ll be somebody in the audience that will relate to them. It’s free therapy.”
Aidan O’Reilly, who performs under the name “Little Fire,” is 18 years old and a regular poet at open mic night. He says since he is no longer in school, he comes to Java Monkey Speaks to get a sense of community.
“I come here all time, and I love reading my poetry,” O’Reilly said. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.”
Open mic nights like this one at Java Monkey have created rising stars, and this evening is a homecoming for an artist who never really left home: Theresa Davis, the daughter of award-winning Atlanta poet Alice Lovelace.
Davis is a regular on the Java Monkey Slam Poetry team, which is currently preparing for competition in the fall. Since Davis first stepped on the Java Monkey stage 13 years ago, she’s written books, been on tour and also held the 2012 McEver Visiting Chair in Writing at Georgia Tech.
“There’s something empowering about being here and knowing that the people are here because they want to be here,” Davis said about Java Monkey Speaks. “They want to hear you; they want to be heard. You know, that if you’re going to share your voice then someone’s listening to you.”
After Davis’ performance, there’s another set of open mic performers. Instead of most people leaving after they or their friends perform, like you might expect, most people actually stay until the end. Harrison keeps the energy going.
“When I think about what I love about Java Monkey, Mark Twain said once that travel is the antidote to bigotry and for me Java Monkey is the antidote to bigotry,” Harrison said as he addressed the crowd after one performance. “I run into all sorts of folks with all sorts of experiences. And that’s one reason I come back every Sunday night.”