Conversations in the Author's Corner: Courtney LeBlanc
About the Book (via Riot in Your Throat Press):
Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart takes the reader on a journey through the injustices women face – in their careers, their daily lives, in the way they walk to their cars late at night; to smashing the patriarchy and claiming their rights over their bodies and their ideas; to a love better left remembered; to eventually finding a balance with a love that stands up and fights beside the poet.
About the Author: Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the full length collections Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart (Riot in Your Throat, July 2021), Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, March 2020), The Violence Within (Flutter Press, 2018, currently out of print), and All in the Family (Bottlecap Press, 2016, currently out of print), and a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. She blogs at WordPerv and she can be contacted at Courtney.LeBlanc2015@gmail.com .
Kiera Wolfe: Usually I end these interviews with a discussion about publication, but with you and this collection it’s where I’d love to start. For the Author’s Corner project we’re promoting authors who work with small, indie presses and you have gone as indie as they come -- starting your own press! What’s the story behind Riot In Your Throat?
Courtney LeBlanc: Yes! Pre-pandemic, my job had me travelling 50% of the time. When the pandemic hit and all travel shut down, I found myself having more time on my hands. I started thinking about what I was giving to the poetry world, and what I wanted to give back. I have a business background and a poetry background, so I thought about starting a press and what I could offer poets. There are so many voices out there -- more books than could ever be published. And I knew there was a certain kind of poetry I was looking to publish. I started the press, I opened submissions, and as a result, I’m publishing four books of poetry this year. And they are all honestly just fucking fantastic.
KW: That is so exciting! Are you publishing exclusively poetry?
CL: Yes, for now. While I read everything, I don’t have the expertise to publish anything else yet. Poetry is really what opens my heart.
KW: You open this collection with “To anyone who’s ever wondered if I’m writing about you, I am.” And your speaker often breaks the fourth wall, especially in “TO MY EX WHO ASKED IF EVERY POEM WAS ABOUT HIM” which ends with “I wish you this poem popping up first the next time you Google me.” (That poem has been distributed with takeout orders all over the city, so if he doesn’t see it on Google he might see it with his dinner.) As someone whose work is so personal, or draws so deeply from personal experience, what kinds of conversations have you had with friends, family, past partners, etc.?
CL: One of the reasons I chose that dedication is because everyone wants to think they know who a poem is about. And maybe they do, sometimes, but some poems seem intimately about one person and are actually more of a conglomeration of several people. I have to remind people that all poetry isn’t memoir. Don’t always assume a poem is 100% true. For me, almost every poem has some kernel of truth -- but you take that kernel and blow it up, and what comes of it is some version of the truth, but maybe not the whole truth. Maybe the truth from a singular point of view. There are some poems I’ve written that will never be published, because they’re intense and could be misinterpreted. But for the most part, hopefully the people in my life are confident enough in our relationships that they can be okay with that and not terrified.
KW: I love that phrasing, “all poetry isn’t memoir.” With your style in particular, that must be difficult to convince people of. Because your speaker is intimate and uniform, I always feel I have a sense of exactly who she is and that person is consistent. Was that a purposeful stylistic choice?
CL: It’s definitely a unified poetic speaker, and definitely my voice. I sometimes pull from my own experience, other times other women’s experience. Unfortunately, there’s a section in the book that talks a lot about being harassed and those events aren’t unique to one person. A lot of us face that. I hope that many people can see themselves in it.
KW: In a similar vein, with such a boldly feminist collection, would you say your audience is mostly women? And have you ever had a response from a reader, maybe a male reader, that surprised you?
CL: Yes to both. My readers are mostly women. There are a lot of women poets out there, both readers and writers, and that’s the kind of poetry I really love and identify with. I have had a couple men read my collection and say to me, I never thought of it in those terms, I didn’t realize you had experienced these kinds of things, which to me is naive. I don’t mean that in a mean way, but it’s surprising that anyone could assume that any woman has not had these experiences. It’s nice to see them think more about things and hopefully be more aware and willing to step up and change things.
KW: Thinking about the poems specifically, Eve is a figure the collection returns to often. Whether discussing female hunger, nourishment, knowledge, or most prominently, disordered eating. How do you see this biblical figure inspiring your modern work? Are there other figures you find yourself returning to artistically in a similar way?
CL: The story of Eve has always bothered me because she’s portrayed as secondary -- made of Adam’s rib. She was the one who ate the apple, who cursed them with their sin of knowledge. I wanted to give her a different voice, something that wasn’t secondary. Lilith is another powerful figure to me, Adam’s first wife who refused to be subservient and left the Garden of Eden. That’s a character I want to write more about. I’ve also tried writing Joan of Arc a few times, a couple poems about Marie Antoinette. I’m interested in those strong female characters that we can look at in a new way.
KW: Some of my favorite poems in the collections have to do with the body - the love letter to scoliosis, love as a lesion on the brain, the invasion of space that comes with assault, and, separately, the image of that starfish crumbling in bleach. Shaindel Beers touches on this too in her review, the idea that the body, especially the female body, is a “war/zone.” How do you see that awareness manifest in your work?
CL: I have a history of disordered eating and I write a lot about that. But I also try to write about loving my body. I think it’s important as women that we try to do that. It’s not always easy! It’s hard in today’s society to love your body, to have body confidence. I try to talk about my body in a different way, like with the love poem to my scoliosis. It’s something doctors discovered at 16 when it was too late to correct it. It’s not severe, but it’s limiting. I see a daily or weekly neuromuscular therapist to help me manage the pain. That’s a part of me! I’m 42 and I’d hoped that by now I would love myself alot more. But when we write about these things we bring light to them and shed some of the shame a lot of women have about their bodies -- how we feel about them, how society feels about them. By writing I can change my perspective.
KW: You mentioned in your Washington Independent Review of Books article that the resources you received from publishing in the past were not the standard you’d like to set for yourself and Riot in Your Throat. Could you talk more about what promoting a book looks like as the founder of a press?
CL: I know that the founders or Editors in Chief of most indie presses have day jobs. I’m aware that anyone who runs a press is undergoing a labor of love, none of us are making money hand over fist on this. But a lot of them are limited in what they can offer their poets and I wanted to be able to offer more. I don’t have a formal marketing or PR person, I do a lot of it myself. I work really hard to secure readings. For poets, I’m thankful I have a lot of connections -- many from Zoom readings I’ve attended during the pandemic. I get early copies of the books in the hands of people who have review websites. I really prioritize communication. Sometimes I feel like I’m being obnoxious constantly pushing these books on social media, but they’re books I really believe in. I’m obsessed with them, and that would be true even if I weren’t publishing them. I want other people to read them because I love them so much.
Watch the full interview on our YouTube channel:
About The Inner Loop: The Inner Loop is a literary reading series and network for creative writers in the Washington, D.C. metro area. We aim to create a space for both emerging and established writers to connect with their community, and to transform the written word into a shared experience through the act of reading aloud. This interview is part of our Author’s Corner campaign, promoting local authors publishing with indie presses.