Michelle Detorie’s collection, After-Cave, begins with the quote: “To insist that something—someone or some being—cannot be imagined is, in fact, its own form of oppression.” This powerful quote sets up a powerful prelude to Detoire’s work. Overall, her entire work is strong and beautifully written as she creates a thought-provoking and emotional collection.
The text is divided into three sections: Fur Birds, Feralscape, and After-Cave. Fur Birds begins with a fifteen-year-old being a fifteen-year-old bird (possibly, as we’re not sure if she is human). Through this section, we experience the life of a young bird. Detoire constructs a view that is not human, but just as important; The bird thinks she is human, although she is not completely sure. Detoire deals with the philosophy of what humanity means and whether or not animals can feel just as much as humans can… the answer is quite obvious—of course they can. What is interesting is that Detoire seems to find a different form of humanity, the ability to think and feel, apart from personification. Humanity and personification: the ideas they convey are specifically catered to human feelings, and those human feelings are being projected onto an animal. Detoire takes on the challenge to illustrate a new perspective of a living being.
In the second section, Feralscape, Detorie experiments with form. The story of the possible human continues, though this time the form of the poems seem to symbolize the twists and turns of life. At the same time, there are descriptions of trees “being/ sentences that blow away” and how “some birds/ dive in the snow/to sleep.” In small poetic excerpts like these, Michelle Detorie is able to construct powerful images. She is able to shed light on the life of other beings that normally people would not. She also sheds light on the troubles of these other beings—the world she creates emphasizes the shared collective struggle and happiness.
The last section, After-Cave, involves many twists and turns. At certain points her work seems to contain heartbreak, full of loneliness. In the poems, the young girl recalls a conversation with a secondary character (a romantic partner, possibly?), and the reader is exposed to the heartache of the girl, as well as realizations of the way the world works. At one point the girl says, “You tell me that the pyramids were the product of collaboration,/innovative project management, but I know already that what made/ them was slave labor- a capsized river of bones and blood.” This also circles back to Detorie’s opening quote and ends on an inspiring note. The young girl walks into the distance and hopefully continues on. In many ways, Detoire encourages the reader to imagine and find the soul in everything around around us.
Michelle Detorie lives in Santa Barbra, California, 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, How Hate Got Hand, and Bellum Letters. 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 Barbra Arts Collaborative for her public art project, The Poetry Booth. After-Cave is her first full-length collection.