Interview with Michelle Detorie, author of After-Cave
Interview with Kallie Falandays
Michelle, your book After-Cave was published by Ahsahta Press in 2014. What was the writing and revising process like for you? How many different drafts did After-Cave go through and what was it like working with Ahsahta Press.
This book was composed as a type of accretion. I put down threads of text and they grew and spread and reached out to touch each other and knit together. The project went through several different phases, and a few parts broke out and became separate projects. I think of many of my projects as being related in this way -- being driven by similar inquiries and concerns. After-Cave probably went through two major revisions, but my process is so recursive that I am sure there are parts that I wrote through over and over before getting to that point. I write in a sort of trance state and retread certain passages until they feel properly mapped.
Your book is split into three sections. How were those created?
The three sections work together as a sort of triptych -- passages that flow together but are also their own discrete sequences. The first section, “Fur Birds”, is the oldest part of the book. The second section, Feralscape, was composed as a visual poem/map, and the last section, “After-Cave,” is the final chapter.
I love the voice—it is striking and feral. Where did the inspiration for this possibly human female character come from?
For many years I have been thinking about the politics of interspecies affinities and alliances. I have also been interested in the potency and authority of teen girl subjectivity -- that liminal space of perspicacity and disillusionment -- and how much is done to marginalize or trivialize those voices. I wanted to listen to those voices, and so I did. As it turned out, that voice that emerged was also creaturely. As to whether or not she is human -- that is really a way of signaling to the reader/listener that the person telling this story is coming into her own understanding of the contructedness of social categories and markers, and she is somewhat reluctant to affiliate with them. Her disclosure of her own ambivalence is thus a gesture of intimacy to the reader. She wants to tell the truth.
Which poem in this collection was written first?
There is a poem in the first section, “Fur Birds,” that begins “two/dead things,” and ends
someone is kind
to me I feel
I wrote those last four lines in 2003, and I came back to them in 2010 when I was starting to work on the other poems in that section.
My favorite poem is the one that begins "How queer the roots were!" What is your favorite poem in this collection and why?
There is a prose poem in the last section, “After-Cave,” that begins “A fox came creeping along the horizon.” That is my current favorite. I like it because it is very dense and queer. It reminds me of rich, dark soil.
The use of white space in this collection is really interesting. Was this your decision or your publishers?
Well that is how I wrote the poems, and I knew that was sort of risky because a lot of poetry books are just poems with titles that are about a page long. I thought Ahsahta would be a good fit for my manuscript because they’ve published a number of books that use the space of the page in adventurous ways. I knew FeralScape especially was a poem that publishers may not want to deal with because the text goes in different directions and there are even weird little diagrams and pictures. I’m thrilled with the way the book turned out. Janet Holmes is a book layout genius.
Some of your poems seem to be written in the voice of the female and some of the poems seem to be in the voice of a narrator. How were these different voices crafted? What came first?
I feel like we are all polyvocal, and theses different registers seemed to emerge in places where there is a sort of pivoting around the notion of audience -- who is listening? I wanted to create a sense of a sort of fluid subjectivity, both as a way to provide a take on what is happening from multiple/shifting perspectives, but also as way to wonder about the work we are always doing to see things from different vantage points. I also think of this shifting as a key aspect of adolescent subjectivity -- a suddenly heightened sense of self-consciousness and an awareness of the shed selves and shadow selves and different selves -- and how that can verge on feelings of either dissociation or prognostication.
On the Ahsahta Press website, you write that After-Cave "is a book about what it is like to be alive." What do you think the girl realizes about being alive?
I think she learns that being alive is both beautiful and painful.
In the poem that begins "It was about forgetting," you write "we are either all together or else we are / all alone." What inspired this poem? What was the writing process like for you?
There are a lot of different things happening in that poem, and it came together from multiple sites of inspiration: meditations on plastic, capitalism, work, the body. When I was doing seabird rescue, I thought a lot about plastic and trash, where it comes from and where it goes. I also thought a lot about imprinting, and had just been reading and thinking a lot about women and animals and capitalism. There is also a lot of wishing and longing in that poem.
What were you reading and thinking about when you wrote this collection?
Well, I wrote the bulk of the collection over 3-4 years, so I read and thought about various things. Over that time, I found that I returned to books and things by Alice Notley, Bhanu Kapil, CA Conrad, Donna Haraway, Elizabeth Grosz, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Fanny Howe, Paulo Freire, Anne Boyer, bell hooks, Amanda Ackerman, and Kurt Newman. & I was thinking about love, cruelty, magic, animals, capitalism, bodies, the feral, corporate crimes against humanity and nature, gender, nostalgia, ghosts, paleolithic art, language, friendship, history.
What advice do you have for poets working in or through their own collections and sending out work?
Let yourself experiment. Pursue pleasure. Practice. Read and look at art. Make mistakes. Take breaks when you need it. Go outside. Play.