The Golden Shovel poetic form, a creative innovation developed by acclaimed poet Terrance Hayes, finds its roots in Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool.” In 2010, Hayes penned a poem titled “The Golden Shovel” as a tribute to Brooks, where he used each word from her poem as the ending word in his lines.
The name “Golden Shovel” itself is a nod to the line in Brooks’ poem. Over the years, this form has gained popularity in the poetry community, inspiring poets to experiment with existing texts and create new, unique works while honoring the source material. It stands as a testament to the way poetry evolves, each generation building upon the foundations laid by those before, and highlights the enduring influence of literary pioneers like Gwendolyn Brooks.
Rules of the Golden Shovel
1. The last word in each line is a word from another poem
2. You may use part or all of a poem as source material
3. Transform as much or as little of the source material as you like
Examples of the Form
The Golden Shovel by Terrance Hayes (Inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks)
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.
Read the full poem here.
And here is the poem it is based on. Notice the last words in Hayes’ poem recreate Brooks’ poem.
We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks
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