“The Banjo Player” by Fenton Johnson (Read by L. Lamar Wilson)



my name is Elle Lamarr Wilson I'm a poet based in Charlotte North Carolina and I'm going to be reading Fenton Johnson's poem the banjo player I'm interested in how this gaze on black artistry makes the artist field and I'm also interested in the fact that this poem was written by a poet who was probably the first african-american poet in poetry magazine I'm still trying to investigate that I've been asking the editors and of poetry magazine to help me on earth that but the fact that most people don't know who Fenton Johnson is the banjo player by fenton Johnson there is music in me the music of a peasant people I wonder through the levee picking my banjo and singing my songs of the cabin and the field at the last chance saloon I am is welcome as the violence in March there's always food and drink for me there and the dimes of those who love honest music behind the railroad tracks the little children clapped their hands and love me as they love Kris Kringle but I fear that I am a failure last night a woman called me a troubadour what is a troubadour for a long long time it was just a poem that I love that sort of captures and a nun attacking way the complexity of everyday folk people and that this idea of folk music that is attached to the banjo which is linked to save flood slave culture in the 19th century in the 20th and 21st century is not so how do we get here historically from a place where the banjo player the essential banjo player was this african-american Sambo to now Joan Baez and and other people who don't look like him and so this is a poem that I feel like it's a timeless poem that captures the complexity of the African American artistic experience of trying to connect with an audience and being misunderstood even as its complement because the troubadour culture is you know historical and very valued goes back very very far in Europe but is not necessarily linked to the african-american experience in a way that this person probably from Chicago where Johnson was from would know so he feels miss name I think for me it just captures what you feel like when someone comes up to you and says I really love what you do but you know they don't fully understand who you are yet they feel they understand who you are they have concretize who you are it's package' belitz a troubadour it's something they can name we and our culture want to name things and often the names that we give one another in love and in an effort to connect can make one feel misunderstood or a failure to feel like you fail to make that connection and I feel like that's a timeless artistic experience you know that's what we're doing when we write poems we want to connect with other people and feeling like you failed at doing that is the worst feeling in the world and so I felt that before many many times I've had people come up to me at readings and say similar things like oh I love I love that you sing in your poems but is that really a poem you know or like or i love i love your i love your songs instead of new you're thinking of them as a poem and so there's this this is always already especially for black bodies is especially for black artists this desire to reach out to a world that has always sort of had a strange relationship to it the body the voice and the experience that it represents in our country it's connection to some horrific things that have happened in our country and the desire for that connection that is often missed you

1 thought on ““The Banjo Player” by Fenton Johnson (Read by L. Lamar Wilson)

  1. Amen. I had just read a poem to an audience at a library. I was an ant on a pile of sugar. Afterwards I went to get some refreshments. A Caucasian woman approached me. She said she liked my poetry. She also so said she was not expecting that kind of poetry to come from me. I said what kind of poetry were you expecting. She said you know black poetry.

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