jaye simpson an Oji-Cree Saulteaux indigiqueer writer with roots in Sapotaweyak Cree Nation. they often write about being queer in the Child Welfare system, as well as being queer and Indigenous. their work has been featured in Poetry Is Dead, This 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.
it was never going to be okay is a collection of poetry and prose exploring the intimacies of understanding intergenerational trauma, Indigeneity and queerness, while addressing urban Indigenous diaspora and breaking down the limitations of sexual understanding as a trans woman. As a way to move from the linear timeline of healing and coming to terms with how trauma does not exist in subsequent happenings, it was never going to be okay tries to break down years of silence.
Interviewed by Naomi Racz.
Naomi Racz (NR): Your poetry is about foster care, being transgender, loss and grief, love, longing and desire, intimacy, sex. How did you find writing about these topics? Were your poems written over a long period of time or was it more intense?
jaye simpson (js): Some of the poems are older, some have been through many edits. Some are new, they were written earlier this year. But oftentimes I write after what I call “big feelings.” As I explored my gender and transitioned, my poetry changed. My experience of how people interacted with me changed. Through conversations with Arielle Twist I explored kinship. When I was in Banff, during a reading my mentor described my poems as erotic. I wondered, how did I now see that? I didn’t see myself as erotic. My relationship with my body changed, things are very different now.
NR: There are a number of themes that appear throughout your book, including “sharpness” and sharp objects. Even words have sharpness, like “the blade of y” in “boy.” In the opening poem “sea glass” you address this directly using the metaphor of a piece of sea glass, which was once jagged and sharp, but which has now been worn smooth. The notion that something or someone can only be loved or only deemed acceptable once their sharpness and rough edges have been smoothed makes me think of the way in which Indigenous and Black people are told to hold back their rage and anger because it’s not palatable to white people. How do you see this situation? What role might sharpness, rage, and rough edges play in the fight for queer and BIPOC justice?
js: 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.
NS: Several of your poems mention Greek mythology and in particular Persephone, what is it about the figure of Persephone and the Greek myths that you find so compelling?
js: It’s a childhood fascination. Myth is enticing to me because there is some grain of truth in it. Back then, Greek myths were truth. I’m interested in history, a history that has been destroyed, but also maintained. And I’m interested in the architecture of the story telling, and its queerness. Persephone is a name I’ve always liked. She was a neglected wife, but she was also a figure of seduction. She was wanted so much that she was stolen. I saw a parallel with the way Indigenous children are taken away, but by people who don’t want them. Demeter’s story is about kinship and connection. A lot of folks don’t know the whole story, it’s very rich. I wanted to tell this story.
NR: A number of your poems are inspired by songs. I wonder how music plays into your creative process. Do you listen to music while writing poetry? How does music inspire your work?
js: Music is an integral part of my process. As a child, the only thing I had to comfort me were my CDs. Music gave me the ability to cope. I listen to music every day, artists like Florence and the Machine and Amy Winehouse. I would think, I wish I’d written that and then I realised I could. I could interweave it with my own poetry.
NR: You’re going to be taking part in a panel discussion as part of the Victoria Festival of Authors on the power of QT2BIPOC futurisms. I wonder if you could offer a glimpse of what your vision of the future for queer and Indigenous folks might look like, and what role do you see for poetry and art?
js: My queer futurism is a future where the government buildings we walk past don’t exist, where people don’t fear for their life. It’s land back and self governance and queer joy. Poetry honors Indigenous stories, but what if we didn’t need that healing process? First and foremost, my queer futurism is about not hanging on to hope or reassurance. I hope for a future without the need for hoping.
NR: How do you feel now that your poems are out there in the world?
js: It’s surreal, I’ve wanted this for so long. It’s like a wild dream and I’m waiting to wake up. I hope to continue to create more work and tell more stories.