Mika is a trans experimental writer from Indiana. Her debut book of poems NO TIGER drops from Apocalypse Party Press on February 15th, and she tweets about blood and military weaponry @tokyo_vamp. I first encountered Mika’s writing at Surfaces.cx, an online literary arts platform that she runs with the writer Dale Brett. Surfaces.cx seeks writing “exploring the textures of dislocation, technology burn-out, and pain.” Mika’s own writing pushes these sensibilities to extremes by mixing together the stylized violence of video games and anime with brutal contemporary warfare imagery. Carnality persists through the carnage and is complicated by constant, palpable despair. Her work isn’t about violence as much as it’s possessed by violence–haunted by it–both at intimate and global scales. It’s singular work in today’s multifarious lit scene.
I had the pleasure of corresponding with Mika via email about her work at Surfaces, NO TIGER, her unquittable drive to write, and several other topics.
Logan Berry: I’d like to start with general questions before digging into NO TIGER. How did you first get into writing?
Mika: I first got into writing in high school, I had never really cared much for English class until I was like, 16-17? Really, my first love of writing came from fanfiction and sci-fi. My dad had this old bookshelf in our basement full of old 70s and 80s military sci-fi he was always pushing on me. Shit like Starship Troopers and Armor. I was enamored with guys lugging around big weapons in faraway planets, etc. An appreciation for literature – then writing itself – came when I had Ulysses by Joyce pushed on me by a particularly favorite teacher. After that I became obsessed, I read the book twice through and couldn’t get enough of it. Then I started writing these dumb little micropoems on impulse in notebooks. That’s all it was for about a year, and then I discovered the soon-to-be disaster that was ‘alt lit’ like Tao Lin and Roggenbuck. Pending self-destruction aside, alt lit showed me there was more literature “could be” than Shakespearan sonnets and such. I made a Tumblr and began posting my small poems and actually got a small following going for a while. I even released a chapbook at one point (it was bad, never bringing it back). Ever since I’ve never been able to stop writing, it’s like a compulsion. I tried stopping several times, actively, but it never stuck. I’d always come back. I write because I have to, not because I want to
How did growing up in Indiana shape your work? Do you think it still influences your work?
I’m not sure. A lot of my earlier work, which isn’t really present or available anymore, dealt a lot with that small town ennui that overtakes you where I’m from. A lot of cigarettes outside of empty lots while listening to coyotes in the distance. Overwhelming restlessness to be found in a forgotten town. I think the lasting effect is less on my actual work now and more on how I view literature and run Surfaces. I’ve no patience for academia or people with disgusting pretense to them. The random freaks you’d meet at 2am in the only gas station open that late are more “my people” than someone comfortably in an MFA or whatever. Nobody in those types of places really reads “literature” very much, and I’ve always felt compelled to both write and run Surfaces targeted more towards the people that aren’t already embedded in literature, don’t have a stake. I want to write stuff that excites somebody that doesn’t read every new issue of the Paris Review.
To what extent do you think there’s a political dimension to your work with Surfaces and in your own writing? I ask this because though NO TIGER includes many fictive, futuristic elements – a “she/lizard jacking off to collapse,” “tiger-sharks,” and a “witchblade etching serial numbers on missing sex organs,” to name a few of my favorites – there are also references to “decades of proxy imperialism” and “war machines on an infinite battlefield” that make me think about the United States’ endless wars. I also ask this because of the hammer and sickle you used to have prominently displayed in your Twitter header.
Surfaces has never explicitly been a political project, but it comes with a political edge. While we don’t particularly seek out or avoid work based on its particular politics, from the start I’ve been sharpening it as a knife to cut through the bullshit in the indie lit scene I feel disgust towards. It’s my way of carving out a space of writers that also can’t stand an industry dominated by academia and bloodless work. This thrusts Surfaces into dangerous territory though, as the terrain of “transgressive” writing is brimming with people that have worthless and reprehensible politics. This is part of why I’m so open about mine, the hammer and sickle, and my identity. Being firm and plain about where I stand personally does more to set the tone for this scene and who orbits it than any posturing about it on our submit page would.
My own writing is definitely overtly political though, especially in the last year. I don’t label myself with any particular tendency, but I do have an especially lot of sympathy for Maoism. The work more on the front-end of NO TIGER is where the politics are more introspective than anything, dealing in gender identity and sexuality more heavily than my work tended to later on. I fixated a lot on the body and its destruction. Within the violence of that work I find a space to explore myself, a hostile and empty space with which to reconfigure myself. The latter half of NO TIGER, which was mostly from my zine PSYMORTAR, was a work fueled by radicalized anger. I used to want to join the military when I was younger – I come from a family of grunts – and in early 2019 I had begun to read more political theory that forced me to reckon with that past desire. I’ve long been intrigued by warfare, but it was only last year I really began to understand the horror of it. The piece “JDAM” was written hours after stumbling across some videos of US bombings in the Middle East. My work has always been very violent – lots of inspiration from grindhouse cinema – but in the latter half of 2019 I became obsessed with exploring forever war and imperialist violence. I saw such a deep evil in it that I couldn’t help but manipulate the themes endlessly in my work for months, which culminated in the prose piece about the Flak Wolves. There were a couple moments when writing it that I had to take breaks for my own health because it felt corrosive to even look at for a long time.
How do you feel when a work is completed? Is it cathartic?
Yes, catharsis is, in the end, what I seek with all my work. I write for myself first and foremost, as a form of release. When I finished the Flak Wolves piece, I remember sleeping for half the day right afterward. Like I had excised a demon from my soul. The violence in my work is born from a violence in my heart, and I have to get it out. If I go too long without writing I become overwhelmed with an intense restlessness. Writing it out is all I can do to calm that in myself. I hope when people read my work they get a sense of that catharsis too.
I definitely felt a sense of catharsis through the work. There’s a crescendo effect in many of the pieces where the brutality continuously builds to the final lines. Some of the final lines have a kind of resolutive effect, almost like a volta. For example, “steppe monsters” opens with a “full metal kaiju draped in ammo belts,” followed by descriptions of sinister-sounding figures attacking or preparing to attack the kaiju and several adjacently related scenes of synchronous violence. It ends with, “i will die for nothing and / i will kill for everything.” This last line unifies the montage. Nothing is solved, but everything is brought to a climax. Other pieces don’t resolve so cleanly, but they all feel like they bleed directly into the following texts. It reminds me of listening to an intense album. There’s a harsh musicality to the pieces individually and to NO TIGERS as a whole. Is your writing informed by any particular musicians or musical genres?
There’s a few artists I would say have had a deep impact on my writing, ever since I started doing it I’ve found I can only effectively write while listening to music – especially music with vocals. Like, when I was first getting started in high school, I was listening to Type O Negative constantly. Later on, it was an obscene amount of Death Grips. That’s when I really started digging my hands deep into the vocals of the music I listened to. Ride’s lyricism affected my work greatly, informing a lot of my initial explorations into abstract, harsh imagery and overwhelming aggression. The influence isn’t as stark as it used to be, but the DNA from when I first started listening to them is still there. The past couple years I’ve been listening to much more trap than anything else. A lot of PSYMORTAR works were written while listening to stuff like Apashe and JOYRYDE. It’s resulted in my work, even my prose, taking on a punchy edge where sometimes it feels like I’m writing in what feels like my equivalent of bass drops and stuff.
I don’t really track the rhythm of my work closely, I’m not typically counting syllables or rhyming things or anything like that. It’s all instinct. I determine the rhythm purely off what comes off smoothly and effectively when reading it in my head. Some people I know see the rhythmic qualities of my poetry as somewhat crude, but when writing I simply can’t bring myself to write things in certain ways. Certain rhythms, phrasings, and “mouth feel” or sounds of some words just feels so distinctly wrong to me that I can’t put it to paper. I’m writing everything based on an internal sense of flow that’s been built off writing while listening to things like hip hop and trap for years.
Death Grips definitely came to my mind as I was reading NO TIGERS. It’s fascinating how these musical works reverberate through you, your process, and your work. Something that I really enjoyed throughout the book is your use of slashes. They seem to have multiple uses at once: to imply the simultaneity of different scenes / to show multiple truths operative at once / to provide jump cuts like a montage / to ”score” the text with some rhythm. Am I getting this right?
Yeah, the slashes started as an experiment with rhythm. Scalez 2717 was the first proper attempt at it. I wanted to feel out different forms of poetry that specifically played with the speed and flow which people read the work. I’m not particularly interested in more “concrete” forms of poetry, but I wanted to venture outside of the typical line break/stanza structure. In Scalez 2717, there’s a sort of urgency to it I’m trying to convey, so the slashes arose from an attempt at reconciling the way we read linearly with imagery existing in the same space, at the same moment in time. I first became interested last year with experimenting with prose poetics, starting with this piece I read called “spraycans or barbarism” on the now-defunct SOFT CARTEL written by a friend I respect deeply. I had never really been exposed to prose poetry that resonated with me until that. I specifically think about the middle of it often: “i chill with barbarians in mat-black nike airs, no laces. we hang out in underground carparks – marking up bmws with arrows – drinking clotted mares milk out of skulls – brown paper bag – talking about their fear of water.” I think the slashes I use in some of my work grew out of how Based Mountain would write his poetry.
Scalez 2717 is a helluvan opener and one of my favorites in the collection, so I’m glad you commented on this. To change subjects – would you be willing to discuss how anime, hentai, and video games factor into your process? There are a few explicit (and numerous imagistic) references these media throughout the book.
Starting with how hentai plays into my work, it’s kind of a new thing, like in the last year. There’s a peculiar abstracted sexuality present in hentai I find compelling when applied to writing, where the fantasy and subject are very malleable to the satisfaction of the audience. There’s often much attention given to one side of the fantasy being a blank slate. FLASHLAND was written like this. The space it takes place in is approximate, the subject is faceless, and there’s overall meant to be a certain ‘blurriness’ to the entire atmosphere. Funnily enough, after I published that one I got a decent amount of attention from erotica writers who had never heard of Surfaces or my work before.
On anime and video games: since I started writing, one of my main goals has been to excite people reading in the same way these things do. People get hyped watching anime or playing a video game. They’re often guided by a “rule of cool” that has a lot of utility even in “serious” writing. Flak Wolves is led along by that I think. Even if it’s bleak and unpleasant, there’s something to having cool weaponry or violence that makes the writing more engaging and addictive. I’m always out to refine more ways to make my writing more addictive.
I’ve also admired the ways in which these mediums present narratives, in particular the more “over-the-top” examples like Hellsing or Metal Gear Solid. Their ability to present extravagant approximations of reality in a way that forces you to accept their premises is something I’m always chasing after. I consider my work to be “realistic” in a sense, where even if it’s seated in a ridiculous setting or filled with abstract and intense violence it still feels as real to the reader as anything else. My work has always occurred, exists in some way, even if it doesn’t take place in our world. It’s why I write in a sort of matter-of-fact tone a lot of the time. I want to force a level of suspension of disbelief that someone would afford watching a seinen anime.
It wouldn’t work if you *winked* at your readers and played it off as irony. Even though these situations are gratifying and bizarre, the dead-eyed, stone-faced way you present these things makes it clear you’re not joking around. This makes for an aesthetically pleasing mix/tension of sensibilities: the work is at once outlandish and extreme but presented with the severity that comes from attuning to the gratuitous (sometimes hidden) violence that sustains our surroundings. Last question: are you working on anything new? What can we expect from Mika this year besides NO TIGER?
I’ve got several projects in the works trying to expand how I deliver my work. I’ve been experimenting with different formats beyond just standard poetry/prose and even the collages in NO TIGER. I’m poking around at video editing and one of my on-again off-again projects right now is a metatextual playthrough of sorts for one of the STALKER video games. I’m also trying to learn how to write html so I can finally build my own website, bought a Soviet Union domain for it and everything, haha. Beyond that I’ve got a lot more fiction I’m working on, some of it coming in my next zine project ZONEFIRE. It’s a zine further exploring the relationship of identity to the strange and esoteric, the ways in which the anomalous aspects of life can be a gate towards terrifying liberation. “Soviet Beautiful” and “Oasis Mountain Division Meets the Beast of 1,000,000 Bullets” are the titles of just a couple stories that’ll be in it. There’s more, but they’re kind of under wraps right now. This year, I’m intent on developing new delivery methods and tactics for the psychic warfare I deal in my work.
Apocalypse Party Press
Logan Berry is the author of Transmissions to Artaud (Self-Fuck), Nasim Bleeds Green (forthcoming, Plays Inverse Press) and Run-off Sugar Crystal Lake (forthcoming, 11:11 Press). His interviews and essays can be found in the Heavy Feather Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and other venues. He’s the Artistic Director of The Runaways Lab, a Chicago-based theater troupe, and he works the graveyard shift at a residential treatment facility for youth. Follow him on Twitter @lgnbrry.