it was never going to be okay by jaye simpson is a moving collection of razor-sharp poems. Broken into four parts, part one opens with the speaker asking to be called sea glass, which is smooth, round, and beautiful. Glass is a recurring image throughout the collection, signifying both the potential to cut, and the potential to break. Indeed, simpson employs a beautiful breathy and broken line that dances across the page throughout the collection:
i was & still am
fault line & fallen leaves
fragments & fissures (“nogojiwanong // peterborough”)
There is a vulnerability throughout the collection that asks, cautiously, to be understood, seen, and to be loved:
will you tell me you love me?
clothes on, curtains & blinds open,
lights on love me? (“loving in the dark”)
There is a real necessity to love and be loved yet the speaker also seems conflicted, saying their feelings are like “daffodils and dandelions,” which are at once recurring, constantly blooming each spring, yet they are also fleeting and wandering, as they spread out their “seed carried on the breeze” (“perennial love poem”). Gardens, fruits, and flowers are another recurrent theme throughout the collection, which seem to be a place of belonging and rooting self to the speaker: “fill my sallow chest with wild strawberry & rose plants” (“the end of a friendship”). Feelings of self and belonging are worked out throughout the poems until part four where the speaker sees a real beginning to a path of growth and healing. The poem “raven” recites like a spell in which “the raven returns” and brings back to the children love, language, ceremony, and “dreams of tomorrow.” In the ultimate poem, “about the ones i want to love,” the speaker takes back their heart, which was “buried ten years ago”, in an act of revolution, self-love, and realization that the speaker wants to feel again.
simpson writes long poems with ease and grace that flow like a river. In part four, “waterways” is an evocative, flowing poem that posits to use the “body as a map, / trace the migration of my kin.” In “queer//rition” the speaker moves from queerness feeling as “interruption” and “accusation” to queerness now feeling like “decolonization,” “celebration,” and “salvation.”
These poems speak about the joyous act of becoming, although at first renewal can be painful:
do not understand that burning down does not mean the end (“waterways”).
it was never going to be okay cements simpson as an urgent and necessary queer and trans Indigenous voice. This is a collection of poems that cut like diamonds and shine like water in a revolutionary act of becoming.
Tanis Franco lives in Tkaronto. They are the author of Quarry (University of Calgary Press) and Moon Healing Escalation (Gap Riot Press)
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.