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Golden Shovel

January 2015

Terrance Hayes invented a poetry form he calls the Golden Shovel. You take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire, and use each word in the line (or lines) as an end word in your poem while maintaining the order. If you choose a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long.

This borrowing method is not without precedent in poetry. One similar form is quite ancient: the cento, in which you make a poem entirely from other poets' lines. Another form makes a new poem by removing lines from an existing poem - that is known as an erasure.

For my own first Golden Shovel attempt, I wrote a poem for my daily writing practice last year. I chose a poem by Gary Snyder called "Changing Diapers" and used his line "you and me and Geronimo." I wrote it in the ronka form that all my daily poems for 2014 used.

Geronimo [after Gary Snyder]

After the reading, talking briefly to you
and recalling another time – when I, Steve and
you shared coffee conversation – you remembered me.
A wonderful lie. We are men, and
we jump like paratroopers and shout Geronimo.

My poem came out of a brief encounter with Snyder recently when he read at the Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey. It also recalls a longer conversation we had at another Dodge Festival more than 20 years ago.

In what I believe must be the first Golden Shovel poem, Terrance Hayes used a Gwendolyn Brooks poem. He started with Brooks' often-anthologized poem, "We Real Cool." His poem is called "The Golden Shovel.".

"The rules" for this new form are:

Take a line(s) from a favorite poem

Use each word in the line (or lines) as an end word in your poem and
keep the end words in the order they appeared originally. That means that you could read the stanza at the right edge like an acrostic.

Give credit to the original poet (it can be in the title, an epigram or within the poem)
and for our prompt also include a note referencing the poem, though it doesn't have to be part of the poem itself. It would be great if you could include a link to the original poem online so that readers could see your inspiration.

The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the original poem, but it can be related.

We know how poets love to play by the rules. Mr. Hayes pushes a bit on his own rules by using more than a line and and using every word from the Brooks poem. Twice. Setting the bar rather high.

In his collection, Lighthead, he also has a poem using Elizabeth Alexander's poem, “Ladders” (for his "Last Train to Africa") and borrows lyrics from songs by Marvin Gaye and Louis Armstrong for others.

Terrance Hayes' poem “The Golden Shovel” is from Lighthead (2010, Penguin) which won the National Book Award. For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.

d'après Millay

When did chubby it become an I
a breath to freeze, a skin to burn,
a subject that could claim, imperious, my
bewitch with cants of bell and book and candle?

How learned it to suck toes no longer stared at,
find one hand could slap the other - and both
could make a pretty sound to loving ends ?
What fabulous force removed from realms of it?
What power embedded power in its will,
or which brain side could fathom, which could not?
And what determined fleeting memories last
and taught it feelings deep, or oh so bli-the
or heightened fears of dark, engulfing night?

Ilona Grieland

after “The Green Roads” by Edward Thomas

I climb the forest road to see it rising green, to
find it free at the edge of town, tatter-show
of commerce. A crow flaps over, his
black glitter in winter sun. I follow a track
that skirts a homeless camp, but
no one is at home except the crow. He
pecks at human litter until he has
enough. The earth is strewn with crystal – never
have I seen such sun-flash in stone. Glories come
underfoot and we tramp on, turning our back.

Taylor Graham

after Ralph Waldo Emerson's “Concord Hymn”

A glimpse through the fog and down
the path where light is absorbed by the
boy with green eyes and hair so very dark.
Wings upon his back that delve into the stream
to retrieve the misplaced and forgotten creatures which
no longer carry hope. They slip between his feathers and travel seaward.
As they are tugged beneath waves, he is reminded that upon his fingers, death creeps.

Mary Bach

after ‘Perfect’ by Bo Burnham

You and I, we started with trust.
With you dropping your heart, and me
catching it, clutching the perfect
rhythmic drum that I should
not play with, but rather I should try
not to break what is already bruised, to
duct tape it up, and hope that you will be
just fine when I return it to you.

Asta Geil


after "It Is Dark in Here" by Shel Silverstein

Alone stands i
where i am
there is writing
found on these
scraps once poems
i yell from
on the inside
where there is a
fearsome lion
curious and
horrible its
face glows rather
bright in the dark
from deep within
the gloom found here

Melanie Rajpal

after “Passing Time” by Maya Angelou

He is the only one
Sitting in his room. He paints
what life should be like in the
new world of a new beginning.
The colors remind him of
harmonies from a
piano playing a certain
melody as his night comes to an end.

Tiffany Harvey

after Shinji Moon's “It Took Time”

minutes before class is over i wonder what is time
this makes me daydream through the window which is
roaring with rain creating a comforting lullaby and i am falling
into a deeper hole traveling in my mind through
endless images of memories from past moments and the
entirety of everything is that it is just an intriguing black hole
that i cannot seem to find a way out of or in
but the bell rings and i check the time but my
watch seems to be broken so i smile and place it back into my pocket

Kimberly Stanczak

after "I was thinking..." by Elena Shvarts, translated from the Russian by Stephanie Sandler

This hollowed field, this shallow ground, you and I
passing each other silently, like it was
eternity and we're both thinking
that we are finally going to see God.
Perhaps you already have, but he has
yet to come for me. My bones feel abandoned
to another place, a forgotten place, far from me.

Morton T. Pell

after Rabindranath Tagore's "Love is an endless mystery"

I question this thing called love,
what exactly it is.
It’s been sold as an an-
esthetic, a panacea to ease the endless
search and desire for mystery.
But what is love truly good for?
How can you quantify it?
No measurable value it has,
and nothing from nothing leaves nothing.
But perhaps I forget something else,
some mythical truth to hold on to,
facts that no one can explain
and therein lies the secret of it.

R. Bremner

after "The Shiny Deathtrap" by Anthony Watkins

Come, dark has risen. You and I
will go out in the ink of night and we will
find our two chairs and sit
and watch this sky that is so dark here
Strange to think it is so bright somewhere and
those under the bright cannot sit and watch and listen
round-eyed like us, to
the stars singing lullabies
Even in the dark the stars are so easy to forget and
ignore. From the nursery
we are taught that control and order and rhymes
are all that we need, but you and I
we know that all we need will
be to sit
and watch this sky that is so bright here
bright with these songs and
with the freckles of the sky’s skin. Listen
to the songs they are singing to
us, our lullabies
we will not forget and
ignore these songs, of globular clusters and the stellar nursery
that is telling us to forget the control and order and rhymes.

J. Evans