it was never going to be okay

Nightwood. Mar. 2021. 96p. ISBN 9780889713826. pap. $18.95. POETRY
With a title like it was never going to be okay, it shouldn’t be a surprise that simpson’s debut is a raw, introspective portrait of trauma and healing. Detailing their experiences in foster care, living as a two-spirit trans woman, and doing the abiding work of learning love—of both the self and others—Simpson’s collection bears both the pointed clarity of reflection and the present-tense weight of emotion. Immediately notable in these poems is their precise, nimble control of language, and the rhythms take profound shape when read aloud. The poet’s background in spoken-word helps account not only for this pronounced auditory dimension to their work but also its highly narrativized form. Likewise, there’s an evident linear progression here, charting a course from early traumas, to lessons in (self-)love, to articulations of hope. The collection is at its best in its aching first half, as evidenced by the brilliant opening of “this woman//nookum*”—a poem detailing simpson’s painful relationship to their grandmother, where notions of identity abound, both immediately personal and residual of colonialist legacy: “how do i explain my queerness to the gatekeeper of my bloodline / when she flushed hers out with communion wine / & holy water?” But while the collection’s progression may be logical, the later poems aren’t punctuated with the same power, so the work seems finally to dwindle rather than crescendo.
VERDICT An emotionally wrenching and linguistically mature work that will be particularly inviting for poetry novices, but which also suffers from structural imbalances that diminish some of its power.
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