Jake Byrne is a writer based in Tka:ronto, cka Toronto. Their first book of poems, Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin, is available now from Wolsak & Wynn's Buckrider Books imprint. DADDY is forthcoming with Brick Books in 2024. Find them at @jakebyrnewrites somewhere on the Internet.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook didn’t change my life very much – well, it did, but in the normal way that time changes things for you. It was nice to get a nod from the bp Nichol shortlist, but I would say my life quickly returned to what it had been previously.
Things feel a little different for this book – but I’ve felt ‘career momentum’ before that went nowhere, so I’m not going to count any chickens prior to hatching. All I will say is that it feels nice to feel so supported as I get to accomplish a dream I’ve had since childhood.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Horrific attention span. Poetry involves the types and durations of concentration I am naturally suited towards. It also is still a lot of fun. Writing prose has always felt laborious.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It takes seconds to start any particular writing project, and just as long to abandon them. Some poems come fully-formed, quickly: those are the bolt-of-lightning poems. Then there are ones that are formed over months, years, often with little active work, just my mind slowly composting an idea or image until one day it coalesces. These are the long poems I tend to end my books with.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I have no idea of telling where one book ends and another begins, other than they tend to have different ‘feels’ to them. Many of the poems in Celebrate Pride with Lockheed Martin were written at the same time as poems from DADDY, for example, but to me, there’s no way of mistaking one for the other.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy readings, as a poet I think you must MUST be down to hang out. Novelists are the industrious introverts of the literary world – for poets, all we have are our communities.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I guess, ultimately, I am only trying to answer one theoretical question, which is the question of theodicy: why does suffering exist? If God exists, why does God permit suffering and evil?
I guess I’m just kind of culturally Catholic that way.
On the level of technique, prosody trumps all other considerations for me, 99.9% of the time.
My poetics derives from sound, not from image. All considerations such as logic, fact, or whether a word is ‘best’ or not will be overturned in favour of a syllabic pattern that sounds ‘right’ to me.
The other things I am interested in are primarily the art of artifice and its corollary, sincerity and vulnerability, or the appearance thereof, and I have some very minor concrete leanings in that I prefer to think of the whole page, including its white space, as my canvas. You may continue to expect some weird grammatical and formatting stuff from me in the future.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think the role of a writer, or the role of any artist, is to both attempt to describe and reshape the reality you live in, and to encourage others to have the courage to do the same. It takes a great deal of courage to live honestly.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I consider myself a sharper editor than a writer and always have. It would be hypocritical of me to respect the process when I’m on one end of it but not the other.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
This is not a piece of advice I’ve heard, but rather one I’ve witnessed and observed: in a small industry mostly consisting of friends passing the same $500 back and forth between each other, the relationships you form are everything. Kindness and collaboration provide better returns than competition.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have no fixed writing routine. My only rule is that when I hear the call, I write it down, no matter how horrible or artless it seems in the moment.
I have long fallow periods, sometimes up to eighteen months, where I barely write at all. But the urge comes back, it always does, and then I make time for my notebook.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I’ve gone through enough of these cycles that I no longer worry about this or attempt to force it.
I redirect attention to my life and try to live it, and after a few weeks or months of that the poems start flowing again.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I grew up in a fragrance-free household, for the most part.
I guess certain soaps and cleaning products, or maybe the ginger cookies my mom made for us in the fall in the nineties.
I wear a lot of scents myself now in adulthood, so I still don’t have a fixed ‘home’ aroma!
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I’m only a poet because I couldn’t cut it as an actor, novelist, rockstar, playwright, director, or painter.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Everything is grist for the mill, but I’ve always been someone interested in responding to the art of others, and that includes
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The path of least resistance. Bookworm child, author adult. Oh and the fact I had a really really powerful experience of being the day I wrote my first word, which is probably the most vivid memory I have from my early life.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Great book? A Queen in Bucks County by Kay Gabriel.
Great film? I’ve been having one of my little obsessions about David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and have watched it about thirty times since November of 2022. One day I will simply grow tired of it and never watch it again.
19 - What are you currently working on?
Surviving my debut book tour. I have three to four book ideas ready to go but I think I’m going to need a period of rest and recovery before I can start thinking about those.