An Interview with Cortney Lamar Charleston, "Conversation Between Black Body and Sound"

Can you discuss the meaning of the title?

The title of my poem, “Regarding the Conversation between Black Body and Sound,” is rooted in the importance of rhythms and dance within African cultures and the wider African diaspora. Dance has always been a cathartic escapism for black peoples and something that is inseparable from our collective identity, if not individual in many cases. As an African-American, I have observed how this particular cultural artifact has repackaged itself over the years, but in essence, remained the same. Black folks dance at the house party. Black folks dance in the church. Black folks dance in the street on a good day. Black folks dance anywhere, and we do so because it is an element of freedom, something we always needed but haven’t always had, and dancethe body's conversation with sound and rhythm—was the way for us to get there even if only for a moment.

You're on a deserted island with only one poem.  Which one is it and why?

If you force me to choose (and it looks like you’re forcing me), I would say “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks. I am simply always taken by how such a brief testimony could resonate with me so strongly. Within the words, and the spaces in between them, I see so many people folks encountered in my life. I see Chicago and reality of The City, more broadly. I see what I could have been. I see, sometimes, what I am or what people think of me. And, of course, I see the fate we all meet.

 Who has been influential in your development as a poet?

In my relatively short time as an “artist,” I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many influential creators and innovators, in addition to artists whom I don’t know that have filled my world with just a little bit more beauty. So, as I think to large influencers, I have to give my respects to friends from the Excelano Project (too many accomplished and inspiring writers in the our ranks to list!), Nate Marshall, Carvens Lissaint, José Olivarez, and many other folks to name, whom I have gotten to know and witness how they compartmentalize their experiences, feelings and beliefs into potent verse. I also have to give props to my favorite hip-hop artists, from Tupac Shakur to Nas to Lupe Fiasco to Kendrick Lamar to Chance the Rapper, for showing me how to be inventive with the English language before I ever began reading more "classic" poets, and even more afterward.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I have always been a keen observer of the world around me, whether of the people in it, or the built environment, or the politics and social norms that mold people and place both. My mind is continually placed at the intersection of those three ideas, constantly negotiating and analyzing and reflecting on how they interact with one another.  There is tension there, and that tension is my inspiration to write much of what I do.