Michelle Detorie lives in Santa Barbara, CA, where she edits Hex Presse and coordinates the Writing Center at Santa Barbara City College. She is the author of numerous chapbooks including Fur Birds (Insert Press), How Hate Got Hand (eohippus labs), and Bellum Letters (Dusie). She also makes visual poems, poetry objects, and time-based poetry. In 2007, Michelle was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship, and in 2010 she won a direct-to-artist grant from the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative for her public art project, The Poetry Booth. Her first full-length collection, After-Cave, appeared from Ahsahta Press in September. Her current project, The Sin in Wilderness, is a book-length erasure project about love, animals, and affective geography.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I’m really excited and happy about After-Cave. & I love this book. It isn’t the first book I’ve written -- it’s probably the third or fourth, but it is the first that is being put out into the world as a published book-object, so in that way it is a “first book.”
That said, I am glad that this book is the first book. It came out of my bones. I pulled out what was already there. This is of course a type of making, but much of my earlier work was more consciously crafted to look or sound a certain way and do a certain thing. With After-Cave, my work was to have the language and the shapes they made on the page honor the way the words had already grown inside my body. This required crafting and intention, but some of that was to make room for a type of risk-taking where my relationship to the language and page space was open and messy, because the way the language coalesced and sytancitically constellated and unfurled in my body-swamp was open and messy. And plastic. How do you put things that are alive and moving on that page? For the past several years I have been very preoccupied with the notion of ferality, and how feral creatures and organisms trouble and adapt . In this way, I feel like After-Cave is a feral type of writing.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I don’t know that I came to it first, and I’m less and less attached to describing my work as being a specific genre (but of course I feel that language can self-identify as a specific genre!), BUT the thing people call poetry is the thing that I have spent the most time learning about and making. That said, I do make things that could be called fiction and nonfiction. I also make visual poems and poetry objects and time-based poetry.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My process tends to be eclectic: rhizomatic, trance-based, palmipsest-y. I write a lot. Obsessions and inquiries emerge and reach and converge. I make chunks of language and arrange and re-arrange, juxtapose and shuffle, erase and repeat. Some chunks or lines come out a way and stay that way. This mostly has to do with my state of consciousness while writing. Sometimes I come back with things more intact. Other times I bring back pieces and work to discover or intuit or create ways for them to go together.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
It begins in the murk. Some things are short, but lately every single thing is part of a bigger thing. I seem to have a preference for the space of 20-40 pages.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love giving readings. I read around in my work, sometimes reading one or two lines from a section and skipping ahead and coming back. I like reading for 15 to 20 minutes. If it’s longer than that, it feels less like a reading and more like a cultivation of a ambient, verbal atmosphere. A way of filling up the air with language and space where I’m not expecting people to listen or hear every word but rather to just experience it as a sort of affective or sensory mist. This is perhaps because I myself have ADD and have experienced this at longer readings and have found it very pleasurable.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
How can we live without cruelty? Who has power? Who benefits?
I have for several years been conducting interdisciplinary research at the intersection of feminism, human/animal studies, and radical poetics. This research centers on the question of ferality and the feral, and searches out links between human writing practices and animal aesthetics -- what I call a “feral poetics,” a continuing project that meditates upon the politics of interspecies affiliations, affinities, and alliances. As a feminist, I am often concerned by the tacit acceptance of a pastoral frame in writing about nature. In my work as a poet, I have experimented with a feral poetics as way to trouble pastoralism’s duplicitous and highly gendered fantasies of nature as "wild," “pure,” “unpopulated,” and outside of historical and political time. A feral poetics destabilizes these fantasies, and feral texts articulate and recover the subjects otherwise contained or made invisible by pastoralism’s narratives of nature, nation, state, and species. Ferality is a process, not a state of being: one cannot be born feral. A creature or poetics becomes feral because it has to or because it wants to. Also, feral is not another word for “wild.”
Most of this work also somehow connects or intersects with an interest in emancipatory social projects, creating new resources in literary interventions against state violence and war, critical pedagogy, and public art.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The roles other writers play for me varies, so I don’t think there is any one answer. The writers for whom I have the deepest attachment are those who help me learn and feel, whose work documents or questions how we live in a way that helps me understand it or see it differently.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The editors with whom I’ve have the opportunity to collaborate have all been very light touch. I always appreciate it when someone shares their experience of reading my work with me, and editors can ask really good questions that help you re-think or re-see what the language is doing. With After-Cave, there is a narrator, so in some instances when there were questions it helped me wonder about whether or not the speaker would say it that way. I found that useful.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Do the work.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I would like to write more fiction and essays, but when I sit down to write I always just feel like writing poetry. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I prefer thinking about putting words together outside the concept of genre. I’ve begun thinking of my erasure project, The Sin in Wilderness, as an experimental novel. & my diary/reading notes can be very essay-ish.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
My routine is that I make notes when I can. I work full-time, so I take off one or two weeks to work on my writing in a concentrated way in January and August.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The outdoors, conversations, art, books, daydreams, dreams, my dog, trance, meditation, divination.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Pine, magnolias, wood smoke
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Definitely. Artists who’ve inspired me include Frida Kahlo, Agnes Martin, Lorna Simpson, Eva Hesse, Ana Mendieta, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker, John Cage, M.I.A., Kathleen Hanna, Chris Marker, David Lynch.
I spend a lot of time at the beach. Before I injured my back in 2010, I volunteered for three years rescuing starved, injured, and oiled seabirds through the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. A lot of what I experienced and learned in that work comes into my writing. It is also the subject of one my pamphlets with eohippus labs, How Hate Got Hand.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Alice Notley, Claudia Rankine, Emily Dickinson, Audre Lorde, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath, Bhanu Kapil, Anne Boyer, Fanny Howe, Donna Haraway, Paolo Friere, bell hooks, Jessica Smith, Julia Drescher, CJ Martin, Kurt Newman
This isn’t a complete list (all lists are inherently incomplete).
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
experience the auroras and the midnight sun
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Probably something with wildlife rescue or habitat restoration.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It made sense to me. I enjoyed it. I received encouragement at key moments.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Humanimal by Bhanu Kapil.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog
20 - What are you currently working on?
Scanning and photo editing pages from my book length erasure project, The Sin in Wilderness. Writing bitchy ghost and dragon poems. The feral poetics project. and my public art project, The Poetry Booth.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;