the golden shovel


The Golden Shovel

The following is written by Jan Hutchinson:
The Golden Shovel is a poetic form readers might not — yet — be “familiar
with. It was devised recently by Terrance Hayes in homage to Gwendolyn
Brooks…. The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in
order, words from a line or lines taken often, but not invariably, from a
Brooks poem. The results of this technique can be quite different in
subject, tone, and texture from the source poem, depending upon the
ingenuity and imagination of the poet who undertakes to compose one.
(Don Share)

Here is the original poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. I heard her read it at Berkshire
School in Sheffield, Massachusetts only weeks before she died. She read it once
like jazz and again as rap. She’d had already suffered a stroke and was wobbly
but sharp as a tack:

We Real Cool

The pool players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

(Try reading this so it is a rap. Watch the tempo.)

(Then try reading it as jazz. play the sax.)

Here is Terrance Hayes’ first Golden Shovel poem:
The Golden Shovel
I. 1981
When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we

drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school

I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk

of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we

watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight

Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing

his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.
The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We

watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.
He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.

He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We
stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,

how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June
the boy would be locked upstate. That night we

got down on our knees in my room. If I should die
before I wake. Da said to me, it will be too soon.

Terrance Hayes
after Gwendolyn Brooks


I’m going to try my first golden shovel poem tonight. See you tomorrow!

Definition #184 Ars Poetica

An Ars Poetica poem

talks about the art of writing poetry,

presents the poet’s views on what a poem is

and how it should be written.

Tea in Maine

A poem is sound:       Ruth Grierson plays  violin.

A poem is memory:      Scottish jigs & ballads;

A poem is taste:            all kinds of music but rap!!!!!!

A poem is smell:            while we sip English Tea

A poem is a stage:        at the library;

A poem is a story:         hear about:

the ceremonial burning

                                        of old buildings that need replacement
the Fire of 1947;

                                      that stopped when the fireball hit the sea!
the flames brought forth

                                              the aspen, birch and new seeds that burst in the heat!

I’m Apt to Adapt

I’m apt to adapt
When slapped by an app
That raps and raves
Upon my brave behind:

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