Adapted and expanded from the presentation given at Entropy’s Interspecies Communication panel at Open Press, Los Angeles (October 2016).
From: Michelle Detorie (human) and Sarah Detorie (dog)
Re: Field notes on the METAFUR 
METAFUR A Fur-word. An interspecies “being with” that creates an interdimensional conveyance via poetics. Through the presences and engagements of multiple, creaturely intelligences, a quantum petaling through multivalent spectra. Sensate plasmas. Augments collaborative, co-created, intersubjectivities. Enacts a syntactical shift from a coherent singular sense of self into the complex flux of interdependence; which is to say: it’s political (feral). Can inspire clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairtemporance, and sensitivities to chimera. The occurrence of any of these effects can become more frequent, more intense, and more sustained with practice and/or an animal familiar. Examples: “I started Early – Took my Dog–” (656), by Emily Dickinson; “The Black Unicorn” by Audre Lorde.
So I’m going to be sharing some thoughts and observations about what I’m calling a METAFUR, and I’m going to wend my way there by telling you a story about going to the beach with my dog, and then I’m going to revisit several aspects of my feral poetics project. I will also be sharing two examples of poems that I consider “metafurical,” but for today’s talk I’m not going to offer much explicit additional commentary or analysis of the texts beyond claiming they are metafurical.
I also want to say thanks to Janice for asking me to be here, and to say how excited I am to be talking about this stuff because it not only feels really important in terms of how I engage my own practice as a writer and publisher, but these are ideas and intuitions that shape my being in a very deep way and help me feel through the climates of our collectives. And help me stay alive. There are always too many brutal reminders that living is an act of political activism. And living is never alone, and it is never not interspecies.
So I want to tell you a story that I hope will illustrate a key belief I have about interspecies communication, and that is that all communication is interspecies communication. I feel like you know this already, but if you don’t, maybe this story will help you remember.
This is a story that rhymes with one of the poems I’ve been thinking about for this talk, which is Emily Dickinson’s “I started Early-took my dog.” I take my dog, Sarah, to the beach, or my dog takes me to the beach, several times a week. And the beach is of course a dynamic landscape, or what I’ve come to think of as a feralscape, because it a site where the myriad layers of interspecies relating feels more palpable. It is also a scape of spatial and temporal flux. This is evident in Dickinson’s poem, too.
Now one of Sarah’s primary modes of attention when we arrive at the beach is to track the position of these large littoral rocks. Here is a picture of her engaging this practice:
Watching her, it seems clear that she is going towards some things — relating with some things. She follows her nose, moving through an olfactory scape that I can begin to detect through observation of how she directs and gathers her attention and energy (her tail broadcasts a lot of this information). I’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking about canine perception, but when I’m with Sarah, especially at the beach, I can feel it. There is no leash between us, but we are connected. The loud plume of musky kelp and beach salt smell in my own consciousness is amplified and expanded through her furry, focused realization — following smells (memories) that wave in bright, ambient layers of various weights.
I have a number of theories about why the rocks are so interesting to her, including my hunch that this behavior is actually a vestige of interspecies communication expressed through her genetics. Because Sarah is a rescue, I don’t know her ancestry, but many folks have commented that she resembles a cairn terrier, and so this attraction and attention to the rocks could be related to her great-great-great grandmothers and grandfathers tending to great piles of rocks. And this is another example of interspecies history (story) — that of domestication and selective breeding.
Because the sand goes in and out with the seasons, many of these rocks get covered up in summer and are re-exposed in winter. This is a thing I know intellectually, and I understand that it has to do with the tides, which I know have to do with the moon and how this companion body wobbles with the earth through its orbit around the sun and gently tugs at its waters (which includes, of course, our waters, too. Can you feel it?). And I can observe these sandy, seasonal shifts, but this observation of how sand moves is informed also by having read about the ways human activity has affected the amount of sand in the cycle. But that knowing came before my actual experience of this beach; just as I can tell you about it now so that you can imagine it without actually being at this beach. And that is important.
But because I visit the beach with Sarah, I am able to know this differently. Not only because I’m there in the physical, corporeal sense and thus learning about the beach through the multi-modal chambers of experience — through nose and ear and skin and mouth and eye — but because I am with her, which means I have access to her canine intelligence. I believe that together, in the combining of our intelligences, we have an expanded experience of the beach that is different from what we would experience separately.
Before I’ve barely had a chance to process the colors in the sky — which is where my attention is usual drawn initially, Sarah has gone ahead, sniffed out, and returned with messages of the shifting rocks and elevations. She is already shaggy with sand, high on sea mist, and dotting the slick seam of sea and earth with paw prints that quickly flatten back into the sand-soup wet. Our footprints drift away and back to each other, but are barely glyphs for more than a few moments in this surface, a limpid palimpsest of ephemera. I could say this mean there is no record of our presence here, but we know better than that.
Now on this particular beach, some of the rocks are actually comprised of fossilized whale bones, and offshore, you can see several oil rigs, drilling of course for the fossil fuels that are made of creaturely ghosts. For 13, 000 years, Native Americans lived in this area, and the Chumash used asphaltum to craft a number of objects, including large boats called tomols that could cross the channel to the islands. Their life was supported by the sea, and I see the oil platform islands out there today (the nearest one is called, almost sweetly, “Holly”), through eyes that evolved first to see in water — eyes that come from the fish. And then I think about a time I fainted and read up vasovagal syncope — learning that the nerve is old and also comes from — evolutionarily speaking — the fish. And suddenly, I am standing there on the cusp of the sea thinking of our creaturely ancestors who first came ashore. So all this communication that is happening is interspecies in many ways. And so you see, very quickly, a trip to the beach becomes a very different type of trip, and in this particular instance, that trip begins because I’m there in companionship with a non-human animal.
For some time, I have been working with the concept of the “feral” as a way to wonder about non-human and interspecies poetics. I’ve called this experiment/engagement a “feral poetics,” and I have used at as a way to generate work and better articulate my own poetics, as well as a strategy for reading and discussing texts that I care about.
There are a number of writers and artists and creatures who have influenced me throughout this project, but it is the work of Bhanu Kapil that finally inspired me to articulate these ideas as a “poetics.” Personally, I was so altered and ecstatically rearranged by her book Humanimal, that I plowed through the sticky cocoon of depression and social anxiety that had encased me following an injury and subsequent back surgery, to take a workshop with her through the Summer Writing Program at Naropa. Her pedagogical strategies included bringing a ziploc bag containing her dog’s fur to class, distributing copies of beautiful assignments that she’d written by hand, and holding up a mirror to the group — inviting the person who saw herself in the mirror to share her writing next. I made my first draft of Feralscape in that workshop, and now I’m seemingly always in a space of mapping the feralscapes. (I was before then, too, but I didn’t quite realize it). The best teachers don’t give you a map. They inspire you to make them (feel them) and share them (use them). Kapil recently gave a workshop titled How to Grieve and Dream at the Same Time.
Because a feral poetics moves across species through various histories of domestication, it radically redistributes notions of subjectivity through various temporalities. I would say one of the primary effects of this is that in makes entrenched systems of inequality more visible. Which is to say it exposes the logics of these systems as invented, constructed, anthropocentric, and — I would argue — delusional.
Delusional in the sense that many of these hierarchies and taxonomies or narratives have become normalized or naturalized, codified into laws and habits of thought, despite the fact that they produce and/or hurry the conditions of death and extinction for all of us. In language, they can be expressed through laws that sanctify oppression and control in order to maintain or consolidate institutional, corporate, and ideological entities like cis-hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy; they have also sanctioned countless crimes against humanity and nature including genocide, slavery, mass incarceration, and the poisoning of the planet. For me, recognizing these logics as anthropocentrism creates the conditions for mapping into all these other constructed systems that have to do with separation, enclosure, restriction, and subjugation.
And this is where, in the past when I’ve talked about the feral, I’ve wanted to define it. But the thing about the feral is that it also resists codification. I mean that’s part of it. That’s part of what makes it wonderful. It’s not an epistemology in the traditional sense. It sort of resists a pattern-seeking, meaning-making, singular, anthropocentric intelligence, which — for me — means that it expands it. That said, it doesn’t make you comfortable. Because part of what it does is raise your sensitivities to — for simplicity’s sake — what we might call the overlap or multiplicities of boundaries: a state where we experience the fluctuating dynamics of openness and restriction. And the more that happens, the more we realize that we are always kind of in a dynamic/quantum klein bottle — simultaneously inside and outside. It’s disorienting to the senses and to reason. It opens us to the abundance of potentials and patterns, and also to the ways we make our own. It can also enhance other aspects of sensing and communicating: the limbic, the intuitive, the extrasensory, and the imaginative. But it remains political.
I feel compelled to stress the political potency of the feral and of the METAFUR here, because much work has been done, and is repeatedly, continuously done, to de-politicize theses types of communication, including a tendency to quarantine them as “unreliable” or “sentimental” or “otherworldly” or “not real.” This is — quite simply — a refusal of empathy.
Access to this feral, expanded, uncomfortable state is — as I’ve already described — accessible experientially through tuning in, and coming into alignment with non-human animals. And to do this — to really commune — we do have to “be with” our creaturely companions in an intersubjective sense, and be our creaturely selves. So mutuality is a big part of this practice. But my intuition is that we are always already more receptive and expressive than we might at first realize.
For example, I have been thinking lately about vibrissae — whiskers. All primates except for humans have them. Whiskers map to very specific sensorimotor spaces in the brain. And I have wondered, why is it that I can feel someone staring at me when my back is turned? What if we humans simply have whiskers we can’t see?
Maybe language is a field where we try to do that with each other — a type of whisker radio — and working with the feral has also made me more aware of the way language is also (of course!) creaturely. We talk a lot about wanting to put our thoughts into words, but I have been wondering more and more about the ways words put their thoughts into us. Words are creatures too.
I’d like to suggest that the METAFUR brings us back into our senses, re-sensitizing us to language (our “joy”) , which is reminder that we are always already together, and companioned by many creatures.
So that brings me to the METAFUR. Within the context of a feral poetics, the METAFUR moves us in a way that is similar to a metaphor (carrying over) but enacts these dynamic, expanded states of sensitivity that have to do with experiences of interspecies communication, and also have to do with a politics that moves towards mutuality and interdependence, and in this sense also perform an act of resistance to cultures/narratives of imbalances of power: oppression, domination, control (empire, patriarchy).
I’m calling this particular effect/dynamic a METAFUR because, like a metaphor, it’s a conveyance of sorts — a thing that carries. But it’s also feral — so this carrying over happens or begins with a “being with” that is interspecies, and it’s also political in that it makes the dynamics of power/control/and interdependence more legible — which also means that it expands our temporal and spatial awareness, and thus becomes an interdimensional portal.
I will also mention here that I think it is interesting that the METAFUR echoes this history of domestication in that it is through those relationships with non-human animals that created the conditions and coincided with many significant transitions in cultures of humanity.
So these are some “field notes” about the METAFUR. In the two examples I brought to share, there are mythic/hybrid creatures — the mermaid and the unicorn. I think this is important, but I’m going to leave any explanations about why it’s important open for now. That’s because at first, I thought this talk was just going to be about mermaids and unicorns, but then I realized this engagement of METAFUR is precisely about practicing this tilt-shift operation: it isn’t just about what becomes visible/discernible when we open ourselves up to becoming more conscious of experiencing our world this way, but also that we can.
Link to I started Early – Took my Dog – (656) by Emily Dickinson
Link to The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde
Yours in fur,
Michelle & Sarah
Santa Barbara, CA
December 7, 2016
 With many thanks to Amanda Ackerman and Julia Drescher, with whom I’ve been in conversation for many years about these ideas.
 The phrase metafur, first came up in conversation with Julia Drescher while we were in correspondence for our collaboration for Like Starlings. We had been making many animal puns (“fur words”) (also see my poem “Fur birds”). In one exchange, Julia said “more metafurs soon.” In the spirit of that ongoing collaboration, I’ve returned to that word, as I return to my conversations with Julia and her brilliant work, as a carriage.
 See Amanda Ackerman’s piece in the “Yes Femmes” zine where she shares “a subliminal message (or series of messages) telling you, you are not dead.” Also see Wendy Xu’s brilliant poetry collection You Are Not Dead.
 Like Toto!
 I feel compelled to mention the 1969 oil-spill in Santa Barbara; the aftermath of that event led to the founding of “Earth Day,” and also inspired several key pieces of legislation regarding protections for the environment. Since then, a numerous catastrophic oil spills — corporate crimes against humanity and nature — have occurred. In May, 2015, the Refugio Oil Spill occurred in the Santa Barbara channel. I wrote a poem in response to that spill for Elizabeth Treadwell’s Gorgon Poetics.