With irony and subversive simplicity, Mikhail addresses themes of war, exile, and loss, using forms such as reportage, fable, and lyric. Though her poetry records the traumas of war and exile, she has also spoken to the effects of censorship on her work. In an interview with Cathy Linh Che for the New Directions blog, Mikhail observed, “In Iraq, there was a department of censorship with actual employees whose job was to watch ‘public morals’ and decide what you should read and write. Every writer needed approval first before publishing. That’s why I used a lot of metaphors and layers of meanings. This was probably good for my poetry but, still, you do not want to use such figures of speech just to hide meanings. Here, in America, a word does not usually cost a poet her life. However, speech is sometimes limited to what is acceptable according to public norms. So, in Iraq, text precedes censorship. In America, censorship precedes the text.”
Mikhail’s honors include the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing. She lives in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and has taught at Michigan State University.