Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin, from Prototype to Launch

In this piece, poet Jake Byrne walks us through the writing process of their new collection Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin (Wolsak & Wynn). As any writer likely knows, and readers are soon to discover: writing a book is a much longer (and indeed, more painstaking) process in life than on paper.

Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin, From Prototype to Launch by Jake Byrne. A "Best of the Blog 2023" seal is in the upper-right corner.


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Writing a book makes for a strange experience. In theory, I wrote Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin from 2017 to 2023.

In practice, the book writes you. Time becomes slippery and elastic. Phrases in your notebook become rich with personal meaning, but not until years afterward.

Here’s a vague timeline of how Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin got published, from start to finish.


I am twenty. I drop out of school. I want to be a writer. I write very little, as I have other priorities at the time: drinking alcohol and taking ecstasy.

I travel alone through Eastern Europe from September to December of 2010. I visit Auschwitz, the Topography of Terror, Krakow’s Apteka pod Orlem and Jewish Ghetto, and other monuments to human horror.

I spend a lot of the trip crying, drunk, and alone.

I don’t write anything.


I decline Concordia’s offer to attend their creative writing program in favour of culinary school, which I drop out of again so I can work as a line cook.

I begin therapy but pound two beers in the alleyway before each session. Progress is limited.


My life falls apart. I can no longer justify drinking or working in kitchens. I do what anyone does in the midst of a life crisis: reapply to school. Concordia says yes for a second time. I quit drinking two weeks before I move.

With zero friends in Montreal, no idea how to make them without alcohol, and a lot to prove to myself, I make my creative writing degree my entire being.

2015 – 2016

I make friends, attend poetry readings, and write a lot of poems. This feels good; my practice gains its own momentum. I publish a few in The Puritan.

With exactly three poems published, I start introducing myself as a poet when people ask what I do.

The Brexit vote confirms my suspicions that we are headed into a dark period of history, not unlike those depicted in the museums I visited. I am therefore certain Trump will win the election.

On November 8th, 2016, I take four times my regular dose of anxiety medication, turn my phone off, and go to bed, knowing in my heart that Florida won’t flip.

I know in my heart the world will break out in nuclear war before the third season of Twin Peaks is released.

Poems from this era: Adventure Time I-II, Heir Consumptive, Balloonfest ’86, After Eight



I channel all this anxiety and despair into The Tide and a suite of poems that become the first ‘core’ of Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin. They’re very Russiagate. Frederick Seidel becomes my model; many poems written around this time are poor imitations of his style.

I graduate from Concordia and immediately leave for Banff’s Writing Studio (RIP). This feels like ‘unstoppable career momentum.’ I meet Adele Barclay. Her chapbook press, Rahila’s Ghost (RIP) wants to publish The Tide. She christens the ‘persona’ I play in the book as ‘the Doomsday Dandy.’ It sticks.

Ocean Vuong and Karen Solie say nice things about my work.

I don’t know it at the time, but this is probably the happiest I have ever been.

Poems from this era: Four-Minute Warning, Silver Needle Tea, A Bouquet of Ketchup-Flavoured Roses, Anderson, The Bomb is the Buddha of the West


I start a new job. I have to write 3,500 words per day about locksmithing and the machines that open garage doors for you. It is a very bad job. I don’t have any energy to write for myself.

One day, the title of the book appears in my brain.

I apply to eight extremely competitive writing schools in the US. I get into zero. I am convinced my writing career is over forever.

I apply to the Canada Council for the Arts, but get rejected. I’m stunned to learn I don’t make the cut-off for artistic merit.

“The poems felt a little…rough,” my grant officer tells me. I’ve called him on my lunch break. In those days, they still gave feedback. (RIP)

“It’s…a work in progress,” I say, probably less kindly than I ought to have.

“Yes,” says my granting officer, “the project you’ve applied for is. But the writing sample probably wants more of your best work in it.” Thank god for granting officers. I revise it and submit it to CALQ.

I only write two poems the entire year. Luckily, they’re okay.


Poems from this era: Cloud of Unknowing, Take Me to Church



I quit my awful job. Two days later, I get an email from CALQ, informing me I’ve won a grant. Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin is officially ‘a thing.’

I hire D.M. Bradford and Domenica Martinello for a manuscript consultation, secretly hoping they will tell me to throw it away. They don’t. D.M. tells me to go farther on the self-incrimination, to push the envelope a bit more. I still don’t know how to be vulnerable, on the page or in life.

I move back to Toronto. I’m not excited by my manuscript. The ‘new poem glow’ of the Banff bomb suite has worn off.

I have a feeling like the other shoe is going to drop, that the world is spiralling towards ruin, but I don’t know what.

Poems from this era: Equinox, 1-900-CUM-FIEND

January 1 to February 28, 2020

I get a really good flight deal to Tokyo. I figure that with all the writing I’d done on nukes, I should probably go to Hiroshima. I tell concerned family members I’m not worried about the novel coronavirus. I’ve had a deep-seated fear of dying in an influenza pandemic since I was eleven.

I send Celebrate Pride to Wolsak & Wynn the day I leave for Japan. I still think it’s awful. I am hoping the publishers reject it so I can finally work up the courage to delete the manuscript. Something inside me pushes onward regardless.

I write a lot of poems for the book there, as travel by this point is my most reliable ‘new poem generator.’ I think it would be for most people if it were more affordable.

One poem is just a title: A Taste for Pufferfish. Sometimes, a title spends years in search of a poem.

The day I leave Japan, I take note of the Japan Times headline that the country’s education minister has closed the schools. Huh. That’s not normal, I think to myself. The date is February 28th. Italy will go into quarantine in one week’s time.

On my taxi ride to my second cancelled flight home, I get a yes from the Canada Council for my second book. We’re so back, baby.

I arrive home and sleep. The next day I buy a lot of dried beans.

March 1, 2020 to March 7, 2021

I don’t really think I need to, or want to, write about this part.

You can think back to your own experience of this time period, if you wish.

Wolsak & Wynn say ‘yes’ in February of 2021. I thought they had rejected it and didn’t send an email. Outwardly, I am pleased. Inwardly, I am filled with dread.

Poems from this era: [ASSETS NOW IN PLAY]

March 8, 2021

Because I prep vegetables at a soup kitchen once a week, I am considered ‘on the front line.’

The N95 hurts my nose but allows me to chop onions without crying. I get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine two months before my grandparents.

I cry in a park afterward and write five poems in one day.

January – June 2022

Four years after I first applied, Celebrate Pride gets a Canada Council grant.

I go out to a bar for the first time since February 2020. I get COVID that night.

I fly to my sister’s wedding in London. No one is wearing masks in England.

I am nervous that my career will be over after I publish this book, because it’s so horrible. My interest in revisiting the Doomsday Dandy poems is nonexistent.

I know I need a ‘thesis statement’ poem. This will eventually become “Homonational Anthem,” the poem that closes the book. I take a few notes, but this poem won’t be written until the final draft.

Poems from this era: The Sun has Never Looked so Large, Chicken Hypnotism

June – December 2022

I still hate the manuscript. Liz Howard is assigned as my editor. Liz is one of my favourite living poets. I’m terrified.

She points out that it’s interesting that I write travel poetry and write so much about climate anxiety and fear of the apocalypse.

Yeah, I say. I should probably cut all the travel poems… It’s like, too privileged a genre— 

No, says Liz. That tension is interesting. In a good way.

Right, I think. I am allowed to have flaws. I can even display them sometimes.

I send a lot of neurotic emails to Noelle, Wolsak’s publisher. She answers every single one with kindness.

The title in search of a poem is now a poem. Technically speaking, it’s one of the weaker poems in the book, but it’s got a nice, sloping iambic rhythm. It’s the one I read at every stop on the tour.

I turn in a ‘kitchen-sink’ draft. I ‘remix’ The Tide. I write a few poems about that first trip to eastern Europe to ‘bookend’ the collection. I steal a trick from Jimmy Schuyler and arrange all my poems by place of composition. I make every section begin with a page of random text from Wikileaks. I have three different fonts. Liz finds this draft inconsistent.

I’m not fazed. I am an artist. I have, like, six mental illnesses.

I’m very good at getting back up after I fall.

Inwardly, I secretly allow myself to feel a little bit excited. Maybe this could be something I am proud of, even if it isn’t perfect. I no longer know how to describe the book. That excites me.

Poems from this era: Homonational Anthem, A Taste for Pufferfish, Disaster Tourism I-III

December 2022 to March 2023

I turn in my final draft. My life falls apart, for reasons unrelated to book.

Because of book I am too busy to sit with this.

There are tour dates to arrange and cover copy to edit and emails to send, and Brick wants a draft of my second book at the same time. The book feels more like something happening to me than something I’m doing.

Paul Vermeersch sends me some options for my cover. I am happy with many of them, but gasp audibly when I see the one we went with.

I am extremely humbled that people are emailing me about my poems and setting up things for me. I’m used to that myself, and these people are way more organized than I am.

I learn that next time I tour, I should start planning a year in advance.

April 2023

My cat is extremely sick with pancreatitis. I spend most of the day lying on my floor crying. The doorbell rings; the first copies of my book arrive. I stop crying to film a ‘My First Book! Unboxing’ video.

The book is so beautiful. I cry again. They put it on the nice paper and everything.

I never post the video.

May 2023

I am overjoyed that so many pals come out to my launches.

I try to focus on that feeling only, and not the occasional insecurity about who wasn’t there.

My life is still falling apart at home, but now I’m on Book Tour!!!

The show must go on. And it does.

June 2023

People really don’t want to hear you say ‘I’m exhausted!’ after they ask you how your first book tour was.

What they want you to say is “I am so happy…now that all of my dreams have come true…forever.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy, now that all of my dreams have come true forever.

But I’m also tired. Poetry doesn’t pay much, my cat needs surgery, and my just partner lost his job.

My friend Michael Russell writes me an email about what they liked about the book.

I burst into happy tears in a public washroom.

That’s the strangest part of it, ultimately.

The humbling sensation of having been read and seen by others.

That’s the part I won’t ever get jaded about.

* * *

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 (Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin) and in 2024 with Brick Books, respectively. Find them @jakebyrnewrites.