With a title as haunting like I Gave Birth to All the Ghosts Here, how can you not want to read it? Boise-based poet Lydia “Lyd” Havens, has this marvelous chapbook coming out from Nostrovia! Press this November.

Lyd has ranked high in competitive spoken word competitions such as the Individual World Poetry Slam, and has published in journals such as Winter TangerineTinderbox Poetry JournalCosmonauts Avenue, and much more. Their words on the stage and on the page have been consistently captivating.

I Gave Birth to All the Ghosts Here beautifully embodies the complexities of non-binary feminine identity, gender presentation, trauma, mental health, suicide ideation, and sexual assault. I was fortunately given the opportunity to review this layered collection. From start—seriously, the cover of the book designed by poet and artist Shay Alexi is gorgeous—to finish, this chapbook of poems moved me.

One poem I want to call attention to first and foremost is “Body as landscape as moon landing.” It is rare to have any form of proper media representation of Body-focused repetitive behavior disorders (a.k.a. BFRBs). This poem is representative of the BFRB dermatillomania, which focuses on skin picking and other forms of repetitive skin contact. The way Lyd uses the moon and its craters as a metaphor for their experience with dermatillomania is well-crafted. The use that as the centerpiece when describing people’s misunderstandings with the condition and the insecurities that may come with it. I especially appreciate how it doesn’t go to Black Swan level of exploitation. As someone who struggles with with dermatillomania, it felt so nice to be seen through Lyd’s words.

Another poem to call attention to is “Ode to the last two letters of my first name.” The power of a name when it comes to our gender identity tends to have the most impact; especially for trans and gender expansive folks who often have to come to terms with whether or not to change their name in order to be feel at home in their skin. They still give credence to how they were named at birth, while also making them feel joyful and seen in their gender. When they refer to themselves as Lyd, they name how “It’s how [they] can/start introducing [themselves] without getting caught/ in [their] own throat.”

The way they touch on mental health throughout their chapbook and how it intersects with trauma and gender dysphoria doesn’t feel forced. The way they are able to write about the struggles that come with them along with the joy of gradually feeling more comfortable in their skin and feeling great about feeling alive will make you feel a lot lighter while reading.

There is often the misconception in artistic communities that the best time to create is when we’re at our worst. Lyd debunks that myth just by creating this chapbook in the first place. They make it clear that, yes, they’re not going to apologize for their sorrow; but they’re not going to apologize for their happiness and healing either.

The final poem I want to touch on is “Drowning, 2011.” It is the first poem of the second section of the chapbook, and my oh my, it was the perfect choice in setting the tone for the final half of poems for readers. In this poem, Lyd recounts their suicide attempt. The last stanza is the lead into the rest of the section’s themes of what brings them joy:

“& tonight, a thunderstorm

begins outside

and I don’t see it as an omen

Tonight, I’m sitting in my bathtub,

warm water

spilling across my skin, marveling

at how quiet it is in my head now.”

I had so many chills when I first read that.

Along with getting Lyd’s chapbook, I would strongly recommend checking out videos of their performances as well. Here’s is one of my personal favorites. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram as well, because the way they use their platform is a delight!

I Gave Birth to All the Ghosts Here is definitely worth your time. Whether you read poetry regularly, or not, be sure to grab a copy for yourself.

  • Maya Williams has her Bachelor’s in Social Work and Bachelor’s in English from East Carolina University. She also has her Master’s in Social Work and Certificate in Applied Arts and Social justice from the University of New England. She has published articles and poems on sites such as The Tempest, INTER, Black Girl Nerds, Multiracial Media, GlitterMOB, and Soft Cartel. In her spare time, she enjoys writing and performing spoken word poetry, facilitating writing workshops for youth, and watching movies/musicals.