10 Questions with Nora Hikari
- By Edward Clifford
Listen hard! Do you cheek
a windchuckle against a cold
year? I promise you,
in a place with everyone
there is patience, and a warmth
ready to give you full home.
—from "My Heartful Songlikes," Vol. 64, Issue 2 (Summer 2023)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I don’t really remember much of how the piece went - but I like to tell people that I started writing poetry to impress girls. It was some cheesy middle school love poem confession that I slipped into her locker. I never made any copies or anything. I wrote it down once on a piece of torn and folded notebook paper and dropped it at her locker between classes, and I haven’t seen it since. I haven’t the slightest idea what it says. I imagine it wasn’t very good, haha.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I actually never really knew what I wanted to be. I had answers that I would give grown-ups, sure. But I was always kind of lying. The truth is that as a young trans girl with no idea what being trans was or meant, and very little sense of self, I was mostly unable to imagine the prospect of any kind of future. I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, but I think what I would like to be now is loving, and honest, and maybe if I can manage it, happy, now and then.
What inspired you to write this piece?
One answer is that I had been on a long stint of writing extremely bleak, depressing poetry about transphobia, and decided for my own sanity I needed to write something hopeful again. I gave myself a constraint to hopefully ease the creative process, which was that I wanted to write in a mode that was adjacent to sensical language, but something pushed a bit further out of the realm of coherence than my typical lyric voice.
Another version is that I was doing the dishes and thinking about how little I had to look forward to that day, that week, that month, when I was struck by a voice in the back of my head whispering “High hearts, little light! The welcome sky sings sudden!” and I immediately started giggling, which was maybe the first vocal sound I had made that day. I sat down on the floor in the kitchen with still somewhat soapy hands and tapped out most of the rest on my phone’s notes app.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
A phrase I come back to, over and over, is a line from Porpentine Charity Heartscape’s Psycho Nymph Exile.
“I wish there was a world for us.”
The place that influences my writing is that world. A world for us.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I don’t usually write while listening to music that has vocals - I find that it tends to cross my wires in the wrong way. Sometimes I’ll listen to classical music – I am very fond of Chopin and Beethoven – but for the most part I listen to a lot of electronic music to focus. I listen to a lot of breakcore and jungle. Lauren Bousfield is a huge artistic inspiration of mine, even though we work in entirely different mediums. I feel at home in breakcore, there’s a certain transsexual ethos to it I think. I’ve really been digging DJ Kuroneko as of late. I really like ethereal, hypnotic stuff, or breakcore that is almost violent in how expressive it is. I find it helps me settle into a headspace where I can be in a more intuitive, more emotional state.
Some staples of writing music for me are: Beethoven’s 7th, pack by DJ Kuroneko, Love Thru The Wire by hayley elizabeth, Child Protective Services Theme Song by Nero’s Day At Disneyland, and Riverrun Humbling Alegory by Lauren Bousfield.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I find that reading gets me wanting to write, and that writing gets me wanting to read – so I like to keep a little collection of some of my favorite poems onhand to chew on while getting in the mood to write. I also keep hundreds – literally hundreds – of spotify playlists sorted by mood and tone, which I will put on to get my emotional circuits online, so to speak.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
At the risk of being extremely Zoomer Transsexual, I tend to dump my first drafts into my favorite Discord servers for my friends and loved ones to pick apart. While of course I love and treasure the critique and support of my poet friends, I also specially treasure the feedback of my friends who are not poets, and my friends who do not regularly engage with poetry. It helps to keep me grounded, I think.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’ve dipped my toe into electronic music production and found it to be immensely rewarding and also extremely daunting. Many of my loved ones are incredibly skilled and talented musical artists and the things they are able to do mystify me. I think of poetry and music as kind of artistic cousins. There’s often a focus on breath, on rhythm and sound, and of course the lyric, but both are so much more than can be contained in criteria like those.
I find poetry a great avenue of personal play - it’s a realm where I feel comfortable trusting my gut, and letting myself not be in control. I feel like I have a decent sense of the rules of engagement and the conventions, which I can break and which I can bend. Music on the other hand feels like something that I cannot even begin to know how to approach to digest its creation. While I might one day dream to write an album or an EP, for now I am happy to humbly and joyfully experience the art put out by others in that realm.
What are you working on currently?
I’ve been working on my debut full-length poetry collection for a couple years now. It’s gone through a lot of Ship-of-Theseus-esque transformations, slowly mutating until it’s become several consecutive books, one shelved after another until we got to the place we are today. I’ve explored my relationship with gender a lot in my work, and therefore explored my relationships with hope and despair. My first few chapbooks tended to focus on the internal aspects of relating to and experiencing gender - the joy, the grief, the self-hatred and self-loving and becoming - as well as the immediately relational, such as experiencing the love of another transgender woman for the first time. I’ve started to move more into a realm of trying to wrestle with the societal aspects of trans identity now, in my work. It feels… Especially salient, especially urgent right now, I suppose you could say. The trans community is facing unprecedented antipathy by cisgender society at large, particularly in the realm of national legislation. It makes me a little nuts how it feels like we’re all screaming and nobody is listening.
My current manuscript is titled “THE MOST HOLY DAY OF THE TRANSSEXUAL CALENDAR,” which, for those in the know, is, of course, TDOR, or Trans Day Of Remembrance. It’s the day we grieve all of the people we lost to transphobic violence that year. It felt poignant to me that this would be our holy day. A day of sorrow and collective grieving. While I think - I hope - the things I have to say about our community and the things we’re experiencing right now are urgent, are helpful, are valuable, I can’t really say I wrote the manuscript to change hearts and minds, or to even save anybody. Maybe it’s a bit selfish, but I wrote this manuscript because I needed to to save myself. I needed some way of processing the immense grief and helplessness I have been experiencing.
What are you reading right now?
In terms of nonfiction, I’ve been reading – slowly – through “Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China, 1898-1976” by Han Suyin. I have a complicated relationship with my paternal heritage, for a number of reasons, and I felt I owed it to myself to wrestle with that a bit more.
In terms of poetry, I’ve been rereading Richard Siken’s Crush quite a bit - it’s an old comfort of mine, one of the first collections I read end-to-end, and one that never fails to move me. Siken’s urgency and vulnerability always find a way to break me down a little, in the best way. For new-er work, I’ve been reading Gabrielle Bates’ Judas Goat, which - wow, spectacular. That is a hell of a debut.
NORA HIKARI (she/her) is a Chinese and Japanese transgender poet and artist based in Philadelphia. She was a 2022 Lambda Literary fellow, and her work has been published in Ploughshares, Palette Poetry, Foglifter, The Journal, The Shade Journal, and others. Her chapbook, GIRL 2.0 (Seven Kitchens Press), was a Robin Becker Series winner. She was a reader at the 2022 Dodge Poetry Festival and a finalist for the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Award. Her chapbook The Small Lights of Her Heart is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2023, and her chapbook Let’s Burst Like Stars is forthcoming from swallow::tale press in 2024.