it was never going to be okay: a conversation with jaye simpson

On the heels of their debut book release, jaye simpson shares insights on their process and outlook as a poet

Alexis Zygan // Contributor

“A lot of these poems came from a place of not talking. Vulnerability is opening up for the first time,” shared jaye simpson as we discussed their poetry debut it was never going to be okay. simpson resides in the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), and sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) First Nations territories and has been performing spoken word since they were in university. 

Simpson has organized poetry writing workshops and had their poems published in Room Magazine, SadMag and Poetry is Dead—it was never going to be okay is their first book released on Oct. 6, 2020. The collection is organized by four sections, concluding with a poem about healing and feeling safe enough to love and be loved. Earlier passages share a glimpse into simpson’s lived experience as a two-spirit Indigenous queer who grew up in foster care. In their poem “haunting,” Simpson shares their experience as an outlier in the family unit: “have you haunted photo albums before? been the blurry phantom in the background? a sorrowful spectre?”

I love how they intertwine symbolism to describe the natural environment with haunting imagery to illustrate charming scenes and tender memories. After years of folks telling Simpson everything was going to be okay, this book of poetry is their response. It was never going to be okay is available for purchase through Harbour Publishing.

AZ: When did you begin writing poetry, and how has your process changed since then?

jaye simpson: I began writing at a young age but let me tell you, it wasn’t good poetry. I never took it all too seriously up until [I attended] university, where I realized my talent. I focused on telling stories orally, which is a traditional method for my people. When I first began to write, it was to perform. As I shifted, I began to explore how my words fell on the page.

AZ: How did you approach writing your first poetry book? 

JS: My book’s creation story has been years in the making. [It] started with rejection, which worked in my best interest. I was not ready. I gave up hope as, at the time, I was a spoken word artist up until a publishing company contacted me. I thought, why not submit to multiple publishers? I got accepted by most and selected a publisher. Once secured, I got to sit with the manuscript at Banff last year with a fantastic cohort of other inspirational poets. I took my time and did not hate my manuscript, which happens for many folks. It has been a few years process across turtle island, and I finally settled close to home.

AZ: Are you proud of any specific passage from the book?

JS: At this point, I am proud of honesty. There are poems where I am happy with the revisions. The original framework painted me in too good of a light where my participation was not. Some of my favourite poems are hard to perform because of the vulnerability. 

AZ: How has poetry helped you cope with trauma? 

JS: Healing is nonlinear. For me, poetry was more than the ability to cope. It was a way to safely tell my story because it is a real experience, and there will be hardships, but there is also joy. I wanted my poetry to be more than just my trauma—kinship, love and hope. I think there is a focus on poetry making us weep. Especially in the spoken word scene, many folks use poetry to excise their deepest scars, which is their process, but that is something I don’t do anymore. 

AZ: Would you say that your poetry has progressed in a way where you want to share more of those good moments?

JS: I think so. I always take care of my audience. If I bring the reader into a dark place, it is my job to get them back into a good place. My book has four sections, and the last section is the most hopeful. 

AZ: Are there any poems from it was never going to be okay that you enjoy performing or is the content meant for reading? 

JS: I love performing; I took theatre for over a decade, and some things do not leave you. My intention for the collection is to stand on its own and to be performed. Some of my favourites to share [are] the first poem, “sea glass,” “fever,” “bedroom hymns,” and “decolonial pu$$y.” 

AZ: Is there an overarching message you hope to share through it was never going to be okay

JS: A lot of these poems came from a place of not talking. Vulnerability is opening up for the first time. This collection is a breaking of silence and a resounding acknowledgement that I was told everything was going to be okay throughout my life, and it wasn’t. And if someone had communicated that, the healing could have happened. The collection is a big screw you to a lot of people. 

AZ: What message would you like the readers to take away?

JS: There are many different storytelling methods and so many other voices and diversity; this is only one version. To any queer Indigenous folks who want to tell their story, they should. 

AZ: Do you hope to publish more poetry books in the future? 

JS: I am working on a few literary projects. [There’s] a novel that won’t see completion for a few years. I am currently writing a collection of essays. Who knows when the next collection will be, but there is a fire for another one.

Find “it was never going to be okay” at Book Warehouse or your local bookstore

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