Bodies, sex, drugs, queer love, capitalism, war – there's pretty much nothing that Jake Byrne won't tackle in their poetry. With back-to-back collections coming out this year and next, CanLit lovers get to witness Byrne's unvarnished, pithy, and brainy lyrics in a double dose, which is a welcome bonus from a poet whose precision and insight make their work genuinely fun to read.
First up is Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin (Wolsak & Wynn), newly out earlier this summer (Byrne's second collection will be out in 2024 with Brick Books). Moving through observations about desire, connection, and sex to searing treatments on late stage capitalism and the appropriation of queer culture—as illustrated in its sardonic title alluding to often-cynical corporate pride initiatives—the collection is fiery. It is underpinned however by an authentic longing for a gentler, less gruesome world, a more empathetic and humane system. We're sharing an excerpt today courtesy of Wolsak & Wynn, displaying Byrne's wit, their stripped-down lyric elegance, and their mic-drop-esque prowess.
Excerpt from Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin by Jake Byrne:
The Yellow Rose of Hiroshima I
Across from the A-bomb dome
Bent iron girders
I know about what happened. But today I am here to feel it
Sadness isn’t present
Why can’t I make sadness be present?
But the sun is shining and I just had a good lunch and all these roses are in bloom
Guess I have no choice but to
Accept the conditions of the present as they are
Continue to pray for
A peace that will not come
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The Wind Relapsing Into
And there was no barrier to
Picking up a beer in “foreign” script
But my fear that the untravelled slope led
Off a cliff
And here there would be no
Real consequences. No one here knew me
The world would keep spinning
whether I had one drink
Or ten, sleeping through
The afternoon with a hangover
As familiar as my locale was exotic
My thought interrupted by
A cyclist nearly clipping me
There is no correct way to live
The only thing to change was
A choice made within a binary system
Just one choice after another
A single choice like the thousand and one
I’d made before this one, my
Finger on the coin slot in the vending machine
The trail of condensation
Running down the featureless, smooth glass
Hiroshima Dome Under Night Rain
It’s Friday night in the public gym by the hypocentre’s hollow
On a treadmill that charmingly displays
The various foods I work the caloric equivalent off on it
Banana follows sugar cube
I was putting one foot in front of the other
I was going for an aesthetic that said
I could kill you if I wanted to
Our savagery was Nature’s doing
Vicious by nature
Sweetheart by choice
After choice after choice
Massive Ordnance Air Blast II
In our merciless kingdom
divided by seven deltaic rivers
thriving with green frogs
details are being investigated.
The world ends with you
and also with you.
Blowing out the candles you wish
for rain to wash your body free
of all these unoriginal sins –
as if the weather ever
gave a shit what you wanted.
Excerpt take from Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin by Jake Byrne, published by Wolsak & Wynn. Copyright Jake Byrne, 2023. Reprinted with permission.
Jake Byrne is a poet and writer based in Toronto, Canada. Their work has been published in journals and anthologies in North America. Their poem “Parallel Volumes” won CV2’s Foster Poetry Prize for 2019, and their first two books of poetry are forthcoming in 2023 with Wolsak & Wynn and in 2024 with Brick Books, respectively. Find them @jakebyrnewrites.