Breakdown: Banjo Poems

cover of Breakdown: Banjo PoemsSeven Kitchens Press, 2013. Number Nine in the Keystone Chapbook Series, selected by Sascha Feinstein as co-winner of the 2011 Keystone Chapbook Prize.

PRINT: 26 pages, $9.00. Cover painting: What I Did Last Summer #11 by Steven Sherrill. Order from the publisher here.

A series of poems exploring the fraught history and often contradictory associations of that most American of instruments.

Judge’s statement

“These captivating poems unfurl from associative narratives about banjos, yet the series far exceeds merely clever variations on a theme. Since no instrument can choose its player, music connects humanity at its most diverse, and these poems take full advantage of that simple truth. Through unusual settings, believable personification, and strong movement, these banjo poems invite us to consider the origins of the instrument and its history, the diversity of its players, the politics of race and religion, and a great deal more. It’s a concert that’ll make you say, ‘Oh yeah’ and ‘Wow.'”
Sascha Feinstein, author of Misterioso and Adjanta’s Ledge

Other reviews

“Dave Bonta considers the banjo with just the right mix of seriousness and humor in his latest chapbook, Breakdown: Banjo Poems (Seven Kitchens Press). These poems take the reader on a little history of the instrument, both literal and imaginative. […] A breakdown may be an instrumental (e.g., Foggy Mt Breakdown) or a break in a vocal song. This collection is an extended piece, with theme & variation — history, dream, myth, wonder.”
James Collins in Love During Wartime

“[T]his collection poses as a sermon of sorts, ‘the one true book of matches’ (“The Silent Banjo”), an effort to reform our understanding of the banjo in American culture. We think of banjos as belonging to the world of the American South, the chosen instrument of bluegrass and folk music. But like so much in American culture, this kind of music and the instrument used to play it has its roots in Africa and the African-Americans who were brought over as slaves. […] Though we may have not appreciated the banjo’s significance or much of the music that it has produced, this brief collection helps us to understand what we have been missing, remarking that [it is] ‘Rare as an heirloom, / particular as an orchid, / miraculous as spring water / flowing from a tap / and durable as a razor strop / is the banjo player’s ear’ (‘Out of Tune’).”
Robbi Nester in Switchback

Videopoem series

Twelve videos in the order I made them (doesn’t follow the order of the poems in the book):