Java Monkey’s poetry scene approaches 18th year, has national reputation
By Sara Amis, contributor
A weekly poetry open mic is held every Sunday at 8 p.m. on the Java Monkey patio at 425 Church St, in Decatur, and has been for almost eighteen years.
Second Sundays of the month are slam competitions; the rest are traditional open mics.
“Java Monkey Speaks, every Sunday night!” is the tag line Theresa Davis uses to begin and end each performance.
“The list” where poets sign up for their chance on stage traditionally opens at 7:30, though Davis plans to start opening it earlier in response to some recent changes.
“Originally, we went from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.,” she said. “Now we have to stop at 10 p.m., but we’ve had 17 years of an audience knowing that this is going to happen at this specific time. Eventually I’m going to move the time up because I still want those voices to be heard.”
Any given night includes a featured poet and a wild variety of others: rank newcomers, old pros, fresh talent, crowd favorites, the locally famous and the deservedly obscure. Poets have come from Albania, Columbia, and South Africa as well as all over the United States and Canada.
Davis emphasizes the importance of the Java Monkey open mic as a launching pad for some.
“Natasha Trethewey has been a part of this stage and has gone on to do amazing, amazing things,” she said.
Davis herself was the Women of the World Slam Poetry Champion in 2011, a long-time member and captain of the nationally ranked Art Amok Slam Team, and a frequent sight onstage in various venues around town as well as in classrooms teaching students about poetry.
“The first place I ever did poetry or public speaking was on this stage,” Davis said. “Kodac Harrison was the host then. Being able to do poetry here changed the trajectory of my life. I know it sounds super cliché, ‘Poetry changed my life!’ but it’s actually true, in my instance and in a lot of other poet’s instances.”
The weekly event is also a chance to experience some variety in the genre.
“It’s not just slam poetry. It’s slam poetry and every genre of poetry,” said Karen G, describing the overlapping slam and academic poetry scenes as “a web of poets” as she sits on the patio putting together bout folders for the individual World Poetry Slam.
She has been the coach for Art Amok’s winning teams, as well as board member for the Performance Poetry Preservation Project and corporate secretary for National Poetry Slam, Inc.
“I like to think of Java Monkey as a place on that map, of Atlanta and Decatur as a place in that web, and every time we send a poet out to other cities which we do, and every time poets from other cities come and feature here, which they do, it’s like we’re reinforcing that network, that web,” she said.
The weekly event is open to all viewpoints.
“This has been a very open space for poets from everywhere to come and just have five minutes to say your truth whatever it is,” Davis said, adding the caveat that being sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic is likely to get push back from her and the audience.
“I’m not going to stop you from saying whatever you’re going to say, but trust the audience is going to have something to say about it. They may boo you.”
The audience is normally cheerful, noisy, enthusiastic, and full of regulars.
Some audience members file out early after the feature poet is done and as the show winds down, but just as many stay afterward, talking intensely until they are shooed into the street.
Theresa Davis ends the night, as she does every week. “Java Monkey Speaks, every Sunday night!”
The mic will re-open for the second-Sunday poetry slam next Sunday, October 14, at 8 p.m. The sign-up list will open at 7:15 p.m.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect name. This story has been updated with the correct information.