Lyd Havens is a nationally touring poet and performer currently living in Boise, Idaho. The winner of the 2018 Ellipsis Poetry Prize, their work has previously been published in Winter Tangerine, Glass: a Journal of Poetry, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among others. They are the author of the chapbook I Gave Birth to All the Ghosts Here (Nostrovia! Press, 2018), and are currently working towards a BFA in Creative Writing and History at Boise State University. They were born on their due date, and have been intensely punctual to everything since.
Social Media: Website: https://www.lydhavens.com/ Twitter and Insta: @lizardhavens
1.) Your latest book I GAVE BIRTH TO ALL THE GHOSTS HERE begins with a poem entitled “Invocation for my own voice” which deals with your relationship to your own power. When do you feel most powerful? What relationship do you think writing and power have?
I grew up an incredibly anxious, shy child. Eventually, I grew out of being shy, and found that it didn’t really seem like most people wanted to listen to what I had to say. It wasn’t until I started sharing poetry with other people that I actually felt like I was being heard. Writing, and in turn performing poetry gave me permission to be loud, which was something that honestly scared me for years. I still default to being more soft-spoken in spaces I’m not 100% comfortable in. But in poetry spaces, I’m loud as hell. I’m probably even obnoxious to a certain degree, but I have the ability and even the encouragement to be that way there! Honestly, I feel the most powerful in the aftermath of poetry events, when I’m going home or washing my hands in the bathroom or whatever. Just sort of smiling to myself and being like Yeah, I just did that.
2.) Many of your books, including I GAVE BIRTH TO ALL THE GHOSTS HERE and Survive Like the Water, deal with processing and overcoming immense hurt. What role does writing play in your personal resilience and redemption?
When I first started writing poetry, I was twelve, and coping with losing my uncle to suicide and many other personal problems. After teaching a whole unit on poetry, the writing teacher I had at the time suggested I keep writing poetry so I had an outlet for all my grief and fear. Ever since then, poetry has been what gets me through the worst things I’ve ever been through. And now that I feel more heard than I did as a teenager, I’ve mostly been focusing on just writing as a means of making sure I don’t bottle shit up. In the last year I’ve written dozens of poems that are probably never going to see the light of day, because they’re for me & my healing & no one else. Poetry has become a muscle memory for me: the minute things start going south in any way, I immediately read or write a poem.
3.) You have competed in poetry slam for several years, often at the national level. How does has your background with spoken word and performance poetry impacted your writing? What lessons have you learned from these experiences?
Honestly, I would not be the writer I have become and am becoming without slam. It’s taught me so much about poetry as both a written and performing art—almost all of my poems are written to be both read internally and read aloud. It’s also taught me so much about the importance of community, and honestly just given me so many amazing opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Without slam, I wouldn’t know any of my closest friends in this world, and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to travel to so many different cities. I don’t compete in slams very often anymore, but I still help run the monthly slams here in Boise, and they’re always the highlights of my month. Truly, I owe so many of my successes, both professional and personal, to slam, and I always will.
4.) Some of your bravest poems deal with gender and your experience with, about, and around it. How have you, both personally and professionally, explored these themes?
It took me many years to fully admit to myself that I’m non-binary, but I’m really grateful that I had the language for that sort of exploration from the time I was 15 or 16. I went back and forth in my head for a while about whether I was a woman or not, mostly because the idea of coming out again was absolutely terrifying to me. It wasn’t until nearly 2 years ago that I finally just said “okay, this is who I am” and started being open about it. Most of that revelation is owed to many of my close friends, who are also non-binary or genderqueer and helped me figure it out and become comfortable with that fact about myself.
I was out for nearly a full year before I actually started writing about being non-binary, and then for a little bit it was all I could write about. Around this time last year I also associated my identity with rage after a number of incidents where I was misgendered publicly and was made to feel it was because of something I did. That rage was absolutely valid, but for months I literally could not think about being non-binary without beginning to see red. I’ve gradually unlearned most of that by now, and am really trying to associate it with joy now: I feel incredibly privileged to be out and to be supported by 98% of the people in my life, and that is a great joy in and of itself.
5.) What role does environment play in your artistic creation? How has moving from Arizona to Idaho impacted your writing?
I honestly didn’t realize just how much I write about place until somebody pointed it out to me a few months ago! But when I was eight, I traveled to Maine (where my grandmother is from) for the first time, and I remember thinking to myself, This is the complete opposite of everything Arizona is. It was green, it was lush, it was summer and I didn’t feel like my skin was about to melt off. From then on it was my favorite place, and any little story I made up in my head always took place in Maine. I was just absolutely enamored with it.
I feel similarly about Idaho. Looking at Idaho as a physical thing: it’s absolutely beautiful, but also sinister, especially the further north you go (there are white supremacists and Neo-Nazis everywhere in the U.S., but Idaho has a horrifyingly large amount of them). It’s also in many ways the complete opposite of Arizona: for starters, every river I’ve seen here actually has water in it. I think I’m just fascinated living somewhere that is quite different from the place I was born and raised in, and I’m constantly paying homage to either or both of them. Even though I don’t think I’ll ever live there again, there are so many parts of Arizona that I miss and am still enamored by. The saguaros, the heat (which is fascinatingly brutal), the haboobs, the tumbleweeds. That’s where I grew, but maybe Idaho is where I’m blooming. Both places are just as important to my poems and me.
6.) What media do you find yourself consuming most while writing? Are there particular writers, musicians, or creators that you find yourself returning to or drawing inspiration from?
I’ve been a voracious reader all my life, and I try to read just as much poetry as I write. The poets I return to the most often: Ocean Vuong, Rachel McKibbens, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Hanif Abdurraqib, Franny Choi, Safia Elhillo, Mary Ruefle, Sharon Olds, Anne Carson, Robert Hayden, W.H. Auden, Federico García Lorca, and Sappho (fun fact! I have a Sappho tattoo!).
I also feel incredibly lucky to be friends with so many phenomenal poets whose work I also return to very often: K Lange, Emily Ruth Herbster, Kate Wilson (yes, I’m going to mention you as you conduct this interview!), Dorothy McGinnis, TC Kody, L. Reeman, George Abraham, Bradley Trumpfheller, Sara Mae, Jess Rizkallah, Red Maienza, Dave Harris, Shay Alexi, Mia Willis, Devin Devine, Brandon Melendez, Tyler Brewington, Harper Jude Russet, and Topaz Winters, among so many others.
And I don’t want to go on forever, but I also listen to a lot of music that heavily influences my own writing. Most notably: Sufjan Stevens (another fun fact! I also have a Sufjan Stevens tattoo!), Hop Along, The National (I’ve been listening to their newest album on repeat recently), R.E.M., Jamila Woods (who also writes incredible poetry), Fleetwood Mac, Mitski, Hozier, Maggie Rogers, and Frank Ocean.
7.) You have often been vocal about writing happy poems. How did you begin to write poems about joy? What draws you to writing about happiness?
Personally, I value writing about joy so much mostly because I never expected to be as happy as I am today. There are certain incredibly unhappy things that I’ll probably be writing about for the rest of my life, but I’ve enjoyed finding a balance between processing trauma and reclaiming joy both in my poetry and my life. The very first happy poem I wrote was written in the back of an Uber after having a really lovely night with my best friend, and it felt like an absolute game-changer. It felt like a very small but absolutely necessary celebration, and I wanted to keep that going for as long as I could. I’m still doing it as often as I can, and hopefully I’ll just keep doing it!
8.) How does community impact your writing? What changes in the general writing community do you hope to create?
Considering I have met a majority of my favorite people in the world through community (in particular, the poetry community): my poetry has been deeply impacted, as has my whole life. The entire reason I wanted to move to Boise (where I’ve lived for three years now) is because of the community I found in a matter of days. The poems I wrote in the aftermath of that are some of the closest I hold to my heart. I also don’t think I’d be a daring writer if not for finding community, or an intentional one. I have learned so much about my craft and just about being a decent person from it.
That second question is pretty big and I’m afraid I’m not qualified to answer it, but: I am constantly thinking about ways in which writing communities can be more accessible and compassionate towards young and/or beginning writers. Whether that’s through workshops/classes that aren’t even necessarily writing related, potlucks, or even just making it clear that there are people in the community who are willing to help you however they are able. These obviously aren’t ideas that I originally came up with, but the work I see in other city’s communities makes me want to do better every single day.
9.) Aside from poetry, what creative forms do you work in? Are there styles or genres you’re hoping to try your hand at?
I only just started branching out beyond poetry, and that’s honestly mostly thanks to being in college. I took a creative nonfiction class this past spring that just solidified how much I love the genre and want to learn within it. In the upcoming fall semester I’ll be taking Intermediate Creative Nonfiction, as well as a playwriting class. Before that, though, I’m taking a fiction class later this summer—I wrote a lot of fiction as a child, but haven’t at all since, and the closer I get to this class starting the more excited I get about it! Basically, I’m gearing up to try a lot of other different genres, and it’s sort of daunting, but mostly thrilling.
10.) You and K. Lange performed “All Things Grow” together at the National Poetry Slam in 2017. Where are you growing now? What is next for you?
Right now I’m just sort of seeing where the wind takes me. I’m going into my third year of undergrad in August, and even though I really do love school, it’s also left me perpetually exhausted and rethinking my entire plan for the future. But beyond that: I’m currently working on a full-length manuscript, as well as honestly just working on myself. There have been a lot of changes in my life in the last six months, most of which have left me feeling drained and fragile. I’m not writing as much as I want to, but I am taking lots of walks, and watching lots of sunsets, and reading a lot, and trying new pasta dishes to make for dinner. I’m going to be corny as hell and say that maybe those all count as poems.