It’s rare that a contemporary poet announces two poetry titles simultaneously (Winnipeg poet Dennis Cooley is the only recent example that comes to mind,when he had three books with two publishers appear in a single publishing season), even more rare if are paired as debuts, such as the case with Toronto poet and editor Jake Byrne’s eagerly-awaited collections Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin (Hamilton ON: Wolsak & Wynn, 2023) and The Tide (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2024). It would be curious to see how these books exist in tandem, but for now, we’ve Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin, published as part of editor Paul Vermeersch’s “A Buckrider Book” imprint. “See I never needed // The actual bomb // The bomb was an idea // We deserved what was coming // And because the idea // Prefigured the bomb // The idea of the bomb and the work of the bomb are one.” Byrne writes, as part of the extended opening poem, “A BOUQUET OF KETCHUP-FLAVOURED ROSES.” “I want spring // To bust open on my like a fistful of girls // In yellow dresses // Girls // Drooling hot blood // From full lips [.]” Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin is an ambitious collection with a wide scope, examining “the complexities of modern queer life” as well as savage indictments of “capitalism and war, and the co-opting of queer culture by them both.” This is a book of sex and swagger, big targets and large ambition, and Byrne declares their intent from the get-go. There is such a clear-headed fearlessness to these lyrics, one that is self-aware and savage, offering layers of first-person observation, reportage, document and critique. “I saw a man I vaguely wanted,” opens the poem “I SAW A MAN I VAGUELY WANTED,” offering a kind of structural throwback to a poetry from an earlier part of the prior century (alternately riffing off Robert Creeley’s “I saw a man,” perhaps, as well), “Smoking on a concrete planter / An open sore like a USB port / Amid his monochrome tattoos [.]”
Byrne writes of theatre, geography, atrocity and queerness in a layering of sections within sections, each of which feel composed from within very particular cultural and personal moments. “I just did monogamy / At the sex party,” the poem “THE SUN HAS NEVER LOOKED SO LARGE” begins, “I only had sex with two people in four hours / The sun on the train blinded me / I looked right at it / There was a crescent within its light / Now I see nothing [.]” Set just beyond opening sequence “A BOUQUET OF KETCHUP-FLAVOURED ROSES,” the first section provides the collection its title—“DISPATCHES: CELEBRATE PRIDE WITH LOCKHEED MARTIN”—and breaks down into a sequence of poem-clusters set around a variety of geographies: “OŚWIĘCIM,” “MONTREAL,” “CLEVELAND,” “HELSINKI,” “LISBON,” “TORONTO,” “BUDAPEST,” “BERLIN,” “PETERBOROUGH,” “LONDON,” “CFB WING 22 NORAD UNDERGROUND COMPLEX NORTH BAY” and “PANTEX FACILITY, AMARILLO.” Theirs is a lyric blend of dream-space and cutthroat narrative precision, wistful pondering and catty remarks, combined with an air of notebook or journal entries. “First you came for the far-right camerawomen,” Byrne writes, to open the poem “KELETI STATION,” “and I did not speak out, for I was not a fuckwit. / Now, watching the footage, it’s like a foreign film / I watched as a child in a dream, a soundtrack / of moonlight with occasional cicada.” What might this future bring, once the second of these paired collections lands, I wonder? This is a book of anxieties, desire, hardcore declarations, queerness and righteous indignation, composing rebukes as sly offhanded comments that usually find their targets. This is a book of distances, from those travelled to those between, as the piece “POEM FOR KEN” begins:
Is this a love
poem? I do not write love poetry
Do not know how
Am motivated to the page
Primarily by anxiety, despair
Occasionally a vicarious mood of luxury. But never love
Which is too intense, too fleeting.
I get swept up in its refrains.
Besides, I did not love you. We did not have time.
It would not have worked if we did.
I already have two boyfriends and live a world away.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include the poetry collections the book of smaller (University of Calgary Press, 2022) and World’s End, (ARP Books, 2023), and a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022). Oh, and he has a substack now! He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com