Lit @ Nite
“I used to be one of the shyest people on the planet,” said Elisa Garcia.
Sipping a coffee at a bookstore café, in winged eyeliner and Bettie Page bangs, she explained how that changed. At age 19, she went to a poetry open mic night at the Java Jungle.
“I saw a girl—she had a shaved head, she was really young, and she had this poem—it was about sexual assault,” Garcia said. “I remember standing there in line ordering a drink and just crying because what this girl had said had just moved me so much.”
Garcia thanked the poet, who advised her, “You should do poetry some time.”
She took the advice to heart.
“One day I wrote a poem, and I did it at the open mic,” she said. “And I was terrible. I had my paper in my hand. I didn’t have it memorized. I dropped my paper halfway through the poem. I couldn’t enunciate. It was bad. It was real bad. But I did it.”
She befriended people in the performance poetry scene and joined Spoken Views, a youth poetry collective. Eight years in, she coaches teen poets, organizes events, and travels to compete in slams. These days, she said, “Basically, if it’s poetry-related, chances are I’m at it or running it.”
In July, Garcia attended the inaugural Lit @ Nite, a performance poetry event with a burlesque bent for a 21-and-over audience. The event included experiments such as “audience limericks” and poets writing onstage, using words chosen by the audience. Garcia was particularly taken with one performer, Isabel Fagoaga, who experimented with notions of body image and vulnerability.
As event organizer Tee Iseminger explained, “She stood blindfolded in the audience holding some colored markers, and throughout the show, audience members came up and wrote messages or poems or verse from literary works on her body.”
Afterward, there was an open mic. Garcia felt nervous about signing up, but, she was used to pushing through jitters. She recited a poem she’d written about beauty.
“It was about the stresses society puts on humans, in general, not just men or just women, just everyone,” she said. Then, she read a piece by Portland poet Brenna Twohy, “Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them.”
“It starts off very humorous—then it gets very serious,” Garcia said. “She mentions things that women have to face because of their looks. She talks crap about the porn industry, and she mentions sexual assault and how she will not be put into that category.”
After the July event, Garcia, a meticulous planner, and Iseminger, who’s more spontaneous, met for coffee. They decided they were natural collaborators, and now Garcia is co-organizer of Lit @ Nite, which they hope will become a quarterly event.
The next installment will be mostly open-mic based. Garcia expects topics like body image and objectification will surface again, and she’ll welcome both lighthearted and serious explorations of these themes—plus whatever else comes up.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be poetry,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be burlesque. It could be storytelling. … The only thing that we aren’t allowed to do is be naked on stage. That gives artists a lot to work with right there.”