Interview Correspondent Olivia Hu had the pleasure of speaking to Courtney Felle, an emerging poet, essayist, editor, and political activist.
Their talk explored the many dimensions of how our identities ultimately bleed into our work as artists, within and outside of realization.
OLIVIA HU: Hi Courtney! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. To those of our readers who don’t know you, what’s a brief synopsis of you?
COURTNEY FELLE: Thank you for having me!
The best way I can describe myself currently is as an emerging writer, but truthfully I don’t know where the line between emerging and established stands. Some of my recent pieces can be found in Blue Marble Review, COUNTERCLOCK Journal, Jet Fuel Review, and Chautauqua Literary Journal, and I contribute regularly to Her Campus Kenyon and ForthWrite Magazine. I am also the Editor-In-Chief of Body Without Organs Literary Journal, and I read poetry for Helen: A Lit Mag.
As a fellow poet, the way identity interweaves into my work, personally that is, is inevitable. How do you find your own identity interacting with your writing?
I think our internal perspectives and biases influence everything we do regardless of our intent, and writing is certainly not an exception. Every piece is a product, in one sense or another, of its author’s identities and histories. Rather than trying to limit those presences (an always futile endeavor), I lean into them. I view poetry as ultimately political: a method of communicating your identity and larger experiences of your community to others, and of fostering the empathy that societies are based upon. For me, this means opening and exploring the nuances of my identities—I am a queer, chronically ill girl with a constant fascination on how the body exists in space and its implications—and transforming that into something poetic and meaningful, something that can prompt others to say, “We need to do better.”
You mentioned to me that you often explore facets of marginalized communities— including gender, illness, and queerness. How do you think that these identities shape the way you view your world? What does it mean, in this day and age, to be marginalized?
My worldview, and my poetry, usually come not from individual aspects of my identities but from their intersections. So, in the case of the body, for example, I may begin thinking about chronic pain and its effects, but this soon ties into the treatment gaps between male and female patients, the impact of age, the existence of a body that is soft but also hard in a myriad of ways. Everything is interconnected. Taking away the influence of my identities on the world takes away my world entirely.
I think this an important facet of marginalization, particularly in the modern literary community. How identities interact, and how intersectionality operates, is paramount. No marginalizations are separate from each other. There are unique experiences and communities, but they overlap, and poetry forms and discusses those connections.
As the poetry community is largely expansive, what do you think of the relationship between individual work and poets, and how they ultimately constitute the larger poetry community?
I view the current literary community as a tapestry. Individual writers weave their own, unique strings, and those strings form single images but also contribute to larger patterns and images with other strings. Writers have an obligation not only to writing their own stories but to writing parts of larger human history, opening personal and societal rifts that humankind needs to see. This means interacting with others’ work, publishing others’ work, and communicating with other artists. It means each writer is integral not only to their own work but to the entire body of work that exists in the world.
What does the body mean to you, and how does it intersect with your work and, on a grander, scale—society?
Arguably, all my work centers around this question of what the body means. The body is a distinctly political entity: it moves through the world with certain privileges, abilities, appearances, and marginalizations that influence how others view the person behind it, which in turn influences the person themselves. But it is also intimately personal, constantly present and pressing, both in conflict with its owner’s interior thoughts and the only reason its owner can transform philosophy into practical action at all. It constrains and enables, limits and opens. I think philosophy as a whole relies upon the body’s existence and aims to explore it, whether overtly or indirectly, as do politics and personal relationships. How we interact with each other, in any sense, is due to and let down by our bodies.
I heard that you are the EIC of the literary journal Body Without Organs! Can you tell me more about what your journal does, and the work it seeks?
Absolutely! I founded Body Without Organs in 2017 to create a space for distinctly teenaged writing (we accept only works from artists aged 13 to 19). I had seen so much powerful emotionality and expression coming from teen writers that I knew or read, but limited outlets for emerging teen writers to use in developing their ideas and practices. Body Without Organs is essentially the space I wish I had access to several years ago, and that I want more teen writers to have access to. We provide feedback on all pieces we reject, since our ultimate aim—in addition to publishing fantastic works from teen creators—is to foster an environment that prioritizes challenging the status quo and improving the self. We also constantly look for new ways to spread the literature and other art that we publish: we recently launched a section that showcases feature pieces from authors alongside interviews, we host bodily-themed contests including our previous “Lungs” theme and our upcoming “Ribs” theme, we publish articles featuring prompts and writing tips, and more. The aim is to create a sense of community and to encourage literary exploration.
Outside of Body Without Organs, what other poetry projects are you currently working on?
Recently, I’ve found myself returning to images of fish heads, chomping teeth, Lolita girls, and singing birds. As these poems shape around and between each other, I hope to form them into a chapbook. I am also working on a collection of essays that explore how identities exist and how we move through the world with each other, with a working title of When I Say I Am.
What a lovely talk, Courtney! Where can readers find you?
The best way to reach me is through my email! I have a small newsletter where I ask questions, offer thoughts, and provide project updates, which can be found here.
Thank you so much for talking today!
Of course! Thank you for your wonderful questions.
COURTNEY FELLE s the founder and editor-in-chief of ody Without Organs and a reader for Helen: A Lit Mag. Her writing has appeared at other publications, including Blue Marble Review, COUNTERCLOCK Journal, and Chautauqua Literary Magazine, and has been recognized by organizations such as the University of Buffalo, Brain Mill Press, and Ithaca College. She currently attends Kenyon College, studying creative writing and political science.