it was never going to be okay by jaye simpson

When reading jaye simpson’s debut poetry collection, the word “visceral” comes to mind.

In the final poem, “about the ones i want to love”, the speaker imagines bear cubs eating their buried heart:

i wonder if they feasted on my heart?

            you see, i wouldn’t mind that

                        i had gotten used to sharp teeth on my heart

                                    before i cut her out of my chest

                                                i even had to break a few bones to do it.

but if a cub ate my heart to grow up strong,

                                                            then i am at peace with that. (101-102)

This section provides just a taste of the bodily imagery that abounds in the rest of the collection: feeling not at home in one’s body, what it means to have one’s body colonized by another, the malleability of gender. simpson also explores themes of violence and abuse, nature and resistance. The structure of every poem is extremely engaging: simpson asks the reader to pause and think through the relationship between words, using space to emphasize certain images. Each carefully crafted piece demands a second reading, and I found myself eagerly rereading many poems immediately after finishing the book.

“I found myself eagerly rereading many poems immediately after finishing the book.”

simpson is an Oji-Cree Saulteaux Indigiqueer writer and activist, and they bring their life experience to the poetry in this collection. Much of simpson’s poetry is dark. The poems about sex work were especially challenging to read: simpson’s speaker discusses physical/sexual trauma quite vividly. As a reader, I was angry at the men in these poems who so eagerly use trans, two-spirit, and non-binary bodies for their own pleasure, soothing their own internalized anger, loneliness, and frustration. These sections are heartbreaking, but I couldn’t look away.

Among the darkness, there are classical images (Persephone, Orpheus, figures who journey to the underworld) and also deep connections to nature (strawberries and rhubarb, water). simpson explores intergenerational trauma in poems like “this woman//nookum” (41-43), as well as healing through cultural connection in “w a t e r w a y s” (90-94). I wouldn’t call simpson’s perspective negative in this collection; rather, they are realistic about the interconnectedness of dark and light in life, and the speaker in their poems describes finding hope in their chosen family, their kin, and their Indigenous community. it was never going to be okay is challenging and gripping, and I look forward to reading more from simpson, who is clearly a shining emerging poet.

jaye simpson is a Two-Spirit Oji-Cree person of the Buffalo Clan with roots in Sapotaweyak and Skownan Cree Nation who often writes about being queer in the child welfare system, as well as being queer and Indigenous. simpson’s work has been performed at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (2017) in Peterborough, and in Guelph with the Vancouver Slam Poetry 2018 Team. simpson has recently been named the Vancouver Champion for the Women of the World Poetry Slam and their work has been featured in Poetry Is DeadThis Magazine, PRISM international, SAD Mag, GUTS Magazine and Room. simpson resides on the unceded and ancestral territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), səlilwəta’Ɂɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) First Nations peoples, currently and colonially known as Vancouver, BC.

  • Publisher : Nightwood Editions (Oct. 6 2020)
  • Paperback : 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0889713820
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0889713826

Rachel Fernandes was raised in Ottawa, where she completed her Honours BA and MA in English at the University of Ottawa. She is now based in Kingston, where she is a PhD Candidate studying contemporary North American literature. Her research focuses on mixed race identity in various genres, including memoir, poetry, and the novel.
Over the last decade, she has published a smattering of poems through small presses such as In/Words, Joypuke, Coven, and Feathertale, and served on the editorial boards of The Ottawa Arts Review and The Lamp Literary Journal. She loves reading even more than she loves writing, and is excited to share and discuss new Canadian work through The Miramichi Reader.