After reading his joint collection with Joshua Rizer titled Down, Down and Away, it’s clear that Jason Ryberg writes from “the bottom of the deep, murky gravel pit of [his] gut, down among the bottles and bones, the scuttled cars and sunken rowboats … in the oily dark of this forgotten underworld”—words pulled from his own poem, “STILL-LIFE WITH CATFISH, JAMES BROWN, DRAGON AND FREIGHT TRAIN.” With clever asides and sardonic quips throughout his poetry, Ryberg delivers a stream of stories through a skidrow lens that are humorous, harsh, and staggeringly candid. And don’t let the word “skidrow” lead you to the conclusion that he’s some clichéd hack who discovered Bukowski three months ago in an Intro to Poetry course at UCLA and now thinks drinking PBR with well whiskey makes one a professional “dirty old man.” The small press world is rife with such suckling sycophants, and these two couldn’t be any further from that horde of pretenders. The poetry of Joshua Rizer and Jason Ryberg reads as smooth as top-shelf scotch while still landing degenerate punches in a left-right-uppercut combo that left me floored by their aggravated honesty and dire damnation of “industries razing themselves in tail eating commerce,” to quote Rizer’s poem, “poorly stocked.” The collection is a massive middle-finger to the Catch-22 expectations thrust upon us by a society demanding we sacrifice our blood, guts, sweat, and soul in return for tinker toys, poison, and half-hearted American dreams that long ago turned into nightmares. There’s also a simplicity to the work, such as Ryberg’s suggestion (in his poem “A BETTER IDEA”) to sit outside in a rusty, old lawn chair and idle away the hours with a beer as the world spins onward—a needed moment to recharge that is often overlooked in this too-fast world. I liked the conversational tone in many of the poems, and even the poems that began to feel a little long for my taste usually ended well enough to make the journey worth my while The book itself is a handsome piece of craftwork with excellent paper stock, a professional layout, and features cover art by Rizer—a cunning depiction of the artists as two superheroes in a down-and-out world, which, so far as I’m concerned, they are. I’ve been a fan of Ryberg’s writing for a long time, and not only did this collection reaffirm my faith in his poetry, but it introduced me to Rizer’s work as well. It’s like walking in to your favorite bar and discovering it’s two-for-one all night long. That’s a tab you don’t close. Get this book in your hands as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.
Review by James H Duncan.