it was never going to be okay

The biannual (ish) poetry collection time has come again. I had never heard of this one before and chose it randomly from the poetry available at the library one day while I was shelving. That’s the danger of shelving time – it gives me the time to look through sections of the library with great detail that I may otherwise not venture to (or purposefully not leave myself time to venture to) and I end home bringing home books that I definitely do not have time to read on top of the rest of my unread TBR. Haha. Thankfully, at least poetry collections are short? And this one was phenomenal. So.

it was never going to be okay by jaye simpson

“i think they understand enough / when i cry out for home//land – / desperate in this diaspora: ravenous / to belong to a before.”

“…be it the malleable nature / of wanting, or the severity / of delusion: sometimes you want / to be wanted so badly / you forget yourself.”

simpson splits this collection into four sections, thematically split (at least in my understanding), into their personal history and the way it’s unavoidably intertwined with colonization and intergenerational trauma, their experience in the world/their body as a trans person, reflections on sex work and their experiences with it, and finally, a reflection on their reconnection with themselves and the earth and tradition with a hope for finding healing.   

There is an intensity of emotion in this collection that is visceral and incandescent, especially in its rage and the collected grief of both generations and of an individual. In fact, I was deeply moved by the way that simpson managed to simultaneously convey the expanse of a universal indigenous trauma with their own unique experiences with trauma, as a foster child and a queer indigenous person (and as a sex worker, though I want to make sure this comment doesn’t paint all sex work as traumatic, as that is not my intention, nor did it feel like that was simpson’s message in writing). It was both boundless and intimate. And affective.

I enjoyed the bit of play with language and form here, there was some wonderful literal and metaphorical wordplay about being a child in a closet and sea glass, about how humans are (or are seen as) beasts, a poem written in the shape of a key, and more. But in the end, the greater impact of this collection was in the themes explored and the emotionality of the communication. The gorgeous flow of words that good poetry has were absolutely present. However, it was never so much the forefront that I lost the thread of what simpson wanted the reader to feel/know. I never questioned which emotion(s) a piece should leave me with because they all hit that strongly.

The contemplation of “haunting” their family(ies), always there but never allowed in, was heart wrenching. As was the reflection on searching for love by trying to become what you think a person wants/needs, losing yourself in the process, and the inevitability of failure there. And the fact that that was learned (communicated and internalized), and nothing better was taught, and so the duality of victim and fault in that inevitability that exists is so much. Relatedly touched on, in a tragic and painful way, is the concept of disassociation and other negative coping mechanisms as unavoidable byproducts of myriad relationships without love (upbringing, structural, fetishization).

And finally, because it is so deeply the starting point for all this trauma, I find that I want to point out one more time the way simpson calls out, calls to account, the legacy of how colonial and western religious thought was forced upon indigenous people. They illustrate, with no gentling, the way families/traditions are still lost and un-whole as a result, the [unnecessary] legacy of pain and damage and forsaking of one’s own heritage that have become contemporary truth. And yet, they still end the collection with a section of poems highlighted a return to that heritage, a reclaiming and relearning that holds a well of hope for a future of reconnection and freedom. And that hope is a dream and a rescue simply in its ability to exist.  Glorious.

I think I have done this the last few times I’ve read poetry collections, so I’ll continue the trend here. There were a few poems that I particularly liked or had more reactions to or can’t quite get out of my head, so I wanted to just list those titles, for “posterity.”  Overall, all of part one just really rocked my world. “sea glass,” “teeth & sharp bones (a dialogue),” and “haunting (a poem in six parts)” are all from that first section and are really probably my favorite three from the collection. In addition, “beast,” “queer//rition,” and “about the ones i want to love,” were all especially moving. If you’ve read this, which sections or poems were your favorites?

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