Thursday, November 12, 2020

jaye simpson, it was never going to be okay


my foster mother, a ccold rock of a mountain, temperamental & prone to
avalanches overhears painted nails, long locks, soft, not boy,
she cascades and i am pushed out from under the bed, dragged by my ear by

her gravity and i am forced
to stand naked. Struck as she yells


i am eight, (“boy”)

Vancouver poet jaye simpson’s book-length poetry debut is it was never going to be okay (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2020), a collection of first-person lyric performance and prose poems on trauma, queer and Indigenous identity, love and sex, family, belonging and being. These poems are emotionally raw, unflinching, revealing and erotic, working up to an appreciation of the queer and Indigenous body and self, even as simpson’s narrator works through the trauma of foster care and intergenerational trauma. “i have swallowed / wildfire flame,” they write, as part of “her. (ii.),” “arnica cardifolia, / pleaded for her to leave these hollowing bones— / bit off more than i could chew [.]” Through their poems, simpson does far more than attempt to write themselves into being: to attempt to write themselves through and beyond the worst elements of trauma and into acknowledgement, as they write in “haunting (a poem in six parts”: “i was taught by wooden spoon / that children were seen & not heard / my pale flesh must’ve been reminder / that i was burden & beast / all in one.” This book works through some difficult material, clawing its way into being. “his sweat is / pabst blue wribbon / & dispensary dust,” they write, in “r e d,” “i feel the ridged scar on his right clavicle / trace the tattoo on the lower abdomen of this narrow-hipped boy / this closeness is as near / to being wanted / as i know [.]” As simpson responds as part of an interview conducted by Naomi Racz for the Victoria Festival of Authors website:

In my poetry collection, sharpness, and sharp teeth and bones, speaks to my villain narrative. I speak out, I tell people when I don’t like something, and that has a sharpness to it. I call myself a blade, a blade will always be a blade unless it is made otherwise. But it’s about consequences, my reaction is a consequence of what someone has said. Are they then going to honor the fact that they’ve caused harm? The point in “boy” is that gender was a blade that others used to cut out pieces of me that they didn’t like. Being told to be palatable, that’s racism and violence. I wish I’d explored it a little more, but I think I spoke to that. I definitely will explore it more in future. I will explore my kinship.



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