John Nelson, author of Where Excuses Go To Die (and a personal friend of mine), was kind enough to review my second book, AmeriKKKan Stories. John and I are kindred. I discovered his book through a mutual friend and the connection was immediate. We were both influenced by Henry Rollins and a taste for anti-authority, so to have him read my work and also review it was fantastic and I had to return the favor. Please have a look at the review I did for his book and then go read it – thank me later.
Without further adieu, here’s John’s review of my book. You can also read it and others on Goodreads. I’ll add some afterthoughts at the end. Enjoy!
Amerikkkan Stories: Hardcore Poetry – a review by author John Nelson
At age 14, the Hunter Thompson paperback I was reading nearly fell from my hands as I considered the first contraband that man ever transported. Into adulthood he’d smuggled petulant self-indulgence and a penchant for antagonism, and then he snuck ‘em into professional journalism. Picking up my book from the floor, I knew I wanted to “get better at writing. “
Inspired by the idea that skilled prose is legitimized protest, commentary, and subversive humor, I became an increasingly attentive student. I had no choice but to get better and have been throwing myself “at” writing ever since.
Rivera’s sociopolitical poetry, short stories, and essays make me think he may have come to similar conclusions, like:
• Never mind the self-pollution, Thompson’s technical brilliance is the smart prize
• Comfort zones kill
• Dachau and McDonald’s are the same
• Socrates was right: the unexamined life isn’t worth living
Cathartist Rivera offers a range that can only come from someone disfigured by a profession most of us can’t imagine. A former paramedic, Rivera’s voice is that of someone who’s seen life in wakeup calls: a gurgling shotgun wound to the chest; a human body convulsing; fumbling with a urine soaked prosthetic limb; true, wide-eyed panic; and of course, mental, spiritual, and physical surrender.
Cathartist Rivera rejects reality television, he writes, and instead collects bullets in a drawer, onto some of which he paints names. Indeed his memories are “like cigarette burns.” Why wouldn’t they be? To ride in an ambulance is to pursue blood, terror, idiocy, grief, and expiration. It is to begrudge those who say, “life is cheap,” without the PTSD to back it up. All of us relate to isolation in one way or another; occasionally we wish it on others in order to ease the loneliness.
From Hell in a Box
I want to gift wrap hell for you
I want to put it in the little box and wrap it
with expensive colored paper and bows
And then, what liars are as unrelenting or cunning as drug addicts? Realist Rivera has dealt with the North Face of deceit: “my foot hurts, give me pain meds.” As an ambulance jockey, what but the heights of addiction’s treacheries and tragedies must one climb every day?
While I don’t share the entirety of Rivera’s sentiments, I couldn’t help but keep turning pages to see what other old coats he’s cast out that might fit as if they were made for me.
From my favorite, Car Wrecks Sent from Heaven
god does not work in mysterious ways
god does not send pickup trucks careening into ice cream parlors
to collect the souls of three-year-olds
Through and through, Realist Rivera is his own man, his own (Broken Sword) publisher, and his cruelest critic:
From Drowning Again
Bitter family members.
Everything I should have said.
The sense of personal and societal discontent in these pages is palpable, but when you see and feel things most have the privilege of turning away from with a wave of the “can’t stand the sight of blood” card, it can not only single you out, it can you question why you’ve been chosen to withstand alarm, dread, and horror. It’s difficult not to wonder what’s so special about you, only to review the history of your life and answer, “Nothing.” Yet that sense of being different never goes away, so you hold yourself up to a higher standard. If you don’t live up to that standard, judgment turns in on you. This, in addition to Rivera’s cutting cultural observations, was my take away.
I do wish Rivera had included more ambulance stories, but the only real criticism I can offer in the face of such earnest, ferocious morality is in the book’s title.
It was also at age 14 that I discovered the indignation that accompanies spelling America with consecutive letter “K”s. I respected the power of that word and played with it a little, but I eventually backed away.
I believe, for those unfamiliar with this spelling or those privileged enough to play the “I’m not cynical” card (really just an excuse to remain ill-informed), that some explanation of it would have been cool.
See, we don’t specifically find the Americans in question inAmerikkkan Stories; other than painting the record with the broad (albeit inarguable) stroke of liberty and justice for some,we find mostly implications and middle fingers.
It’s clear that Insurrectionist Rivera has more to offer, so his take on his title, or considerations on the word’s origins would’ve complimented the writer’s thought-crimes. Plus it would have taken some of those sniveling privilege card holders to school.
Then again, Amerikkkan Stories; may have been written for the initiated only, the bruised, for the hardcore.
I know couple of 14-year-olds who are getting copies for their birthdays.
– John Nelson
I just wanted to add a couple of afterthoughts about the killer review that John did. For one thing, I am never not shocked when people isolate certain things that I’ve put on the page and then forgotten about. I’m the kind of writer that puts something on the page as a ritual of exorcism and then forgets about it. I am thankful for that.
John mentioned the bullets in the drawer with names on them and it’s funny because I remembered that people have mentioned that before…and never in a ‘feel good’ way. It’s a jarring image, I realize. I also remember that many people have commented that it’s difficult to draw the line between fiction and reality with my stuff. I do that on purpose.
I put a piece in AmeriKKKan Stories called Cancer and it’s about wanting to cut all of the nasty and black shit out of my head (see the bullets in the drawer) with an X-acto knife. But here’s the rub – I do that with my writing.
What you see on the page is all the nasty and fucked up shit in my head that I am able to vomit out, be it violent, sexually deviant, hateful, whatever. I am thankful that I’m able to do this because I’m convinced that were I not able to do that, it would manifest itself in other ways. But that’s what you’re getting in my books with a lot of stuff. Call it therapy, call it what you want, it’s helps.
Also, John is right on the money about the title. I think it’s a powerful title and it sums up how I feel about a lot of things today. Hell, you see “AmeriKKKan” used all over the place now but that wasn’t always so. I’d like to think I helped push it a little bit.
I explained the reasoning behind it a little bit in the preface but not enough, I realize. When I was writing this book I was still experiencing culture shock in the American Southeast. As of this writing, Northeast Florida is still home base and I’ve experienced things here I never knew possible in the Southwest. Waiter! Check, please!
My intent was to put the blood spatter from a shotgun blast murder scene at a KKK rally on the page. I think I succeeded in doing that.
Many of these things relate to the deeply ingrained racism that flows through city gutters and to the wires of each home down here “where Florida begins.” I saw and heard things here that I could only put on the page. So, much of what you read in the book was culled directly from the streets of Jacksonville, Florida – which is still the murder capital of Florida all these years later.
It’s also more than that. It’s memories, personal turmoil, family stuff, political and cultural critique, Xicano struggle y mucho mas. But it is uniquely AmeriKKKan – blood on the page.
But one of the reasons I called it “AmeriKKKan” is because I remember that term as an angry kid in Denver, Colorado, watching Ice Cube wax poetic about America’s brutality against Black and Brown in the 90s. That stuck with me all these years, mostly because I have the mental scars to remember it by. What do you call it when you’re treated as an enemy, an other, a piece of shit in a system that grinds us out like so much hamburger meat? How do you record that? If you had to bundle together every instance of police brutality and corruption into a single poetic entity, what would you call it?
Anyway, I’m rambling but John is right in questioning the title. I did not explain the background enough and only hinted at the true meaning, which is many things. I always write for myself and never an audience so I’m thankful when my message comes across to you guys, even if it’s fragmented. As John puts it, maybe it was written for the initiated only – the hardcore. He could not be more right.
I’m extremely proud of this book. There’s a lot of material in there! This review has given me ideas for a second edition of AmeriKKKan Stories sometime in the future. Thank you, John.