Golden Shovel: Poetic Form

Earlier this year, I came across a mention of the “golden shovel” form created by Terrance Hayes and made a note to check it out. I’m so happy I did, because it’s a fun poetic form.

Here are the rules for the Golden Shovel:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as an end word in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

If it’s still kind of abstract, read these two poems to see how Terrance Hayes used a Gwendolyn Brooks poem to write the first golden shovel:

As you can see, the original golden shovel takes more than a line from the poem. In fact, it pulls every word from the Brooks poem, and it does it twice.

This form is sort of in the tradition of the cento and erasure, but it offers a lot more room for creativity than other found poetry.


Master Poetic Forms!

Learn how to write sestina, shadorma, haiku, monotetra, golden shovel, and more with The Writer’s Digest Guide to Poetic Forms, by Robert Lee Brewer.

This e-book covers more than 40 poetic forms and shares examples to illustrate how each form works. Discover a new universe of poetic possibilities and apply it to your poetry today!

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at a golden shovel:

“Aging Well,” by Robert Lee Brewer

-after Basho as translated by Allen Ginsberg

The funny thing about growing old
is you never know how to respond
until after the fact. Like a frog
that sits and then eventually jumps
there’s absolutely no thought given
to the process. You’re young; then, kerplunk!


Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). A former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, he’s been a featured poet at several events around the country, including recent appearances at the Austin International Poetry Festival and Poetry Hickory.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


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43 thoughts on “Golden Shovel: Poetic Form

  1. Avatarlina

    “on finding a blue butterfly”
    (based on “Dreams” by Langston Hughes)

    what kind of life,
    blue butterfly, is
    it to unfurl from a
    cocoon broken
    not earthly or bird?
    don’t fear. i’ll hold
    your tattered body fast
    and lift you to
    your dreams.

  2. Avataricandootoo

    “Keeping Faith” by Naomi Poe
    – After “’Faith’ is a Fine Invention” by Emily Dickenson

    The Preacher tells me “keep the faith,”
    as if my faith is
    Slate-gray lead, a
    pencil tip to sharpen. That’s fine
    for those who think their faith a rather smart invention,
    who wrap their god in packaging. For
    those of us (for Gentlemen)
    for questioners, like me, who
    wish to prove the provenance of things we cannot see,
    faith seems a losing proposition. But
    place your angels on a pin! For microscopes,
    you know, are magnificent inventions. The instruments are
    potent tools when used with comprehension by prudent
    men; and prudent men will always save the day. In
    summary: doctors like me will certainly agree that an
    appeal to higher ‘power’ is key in an emergency!

  3. Avataricandootoo

    “I Dare” by Naomi Poe
    – After “You and Your Whole Race” by Langston Hughes

    They call us. The movers, the shakers, the big music makers. I
    know who they are, what they want us to be. I dare
    them to find me, to bind me, but you
    you welcome them in, you dance while they grin, happy to
    do what they want you to do. Though we come
    from one history, one story, the mystery is how one
    of us broke away and got free, while the other one’s step
    faces backward. I flee from the past, while you draw it much nearer.
    We both see the truth, but I fight for the truth. While the evil
    you do is to prostitute you to a white colored/ black colored world.

  4. Avataricandootoo

    “Coffee Talk” by Naomi Poe
    – After “Pippa’s Song” by Robert Browning, Jr.

    On the news this morning: more bombings and
    a shooting in California. Cover-all’s
    on sale, half off, but you must order right
    now. They reassessed our property with
    the school being flat broke, and all; and the
    Middle East is threatening to tear apart the world.

  5. Avatarnightraine

    Nature’s Bounty

    Flower buds are nature’s
    finest work of art. The first
    blossom grows from stems of green,
    and Mr. Sun gives color that is
    Earth’s finest bounty of gold.

    Taken from the first line of Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay

  6. AvatarLinda.E.H

    Letter for my Husband
    after Nazim Hikmet

    If you grasp this poem by its ends, you’ll find I
    have hidden a secret message to you. I want
    it in print, a confession that might help you to
    more easily accept my own end of the line should I die
    this morning, tomorrow evening, or any time before
    you. This is my wish, my truth written for you.

    (lines taken from the poem “Letter to My Wife” – I want to die before you)

  7. Avatartaylor graham

    after “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Together up the path, my dog and
    I, neither questioning what-for
    because the morning’s blossoming all
    golden twittering, this
    new fledgling from its nest, Nature
    at her job which is
    joy on wings or wander-feet, and never
    lagging till the wind is spent.

  8. AvatarCathyBlogs

    What do we long for?
    Love, success, power, the
    weakness of another’s lapse
    and the hidden things within,
    a heart’s secrets that the
    light exposes; in this small moment
    you are clear as crystal
    and upon truth this life turns.

    ‘Geodes’ by Jared Carter

    1. AvatarCathyBlogs

      Heart Is a Geode

      What do we long for?
      Love, success, power, the
      weakness of another’s lapse
      and the hidden things within,
      a heart’s secrets that the
      light exposes; in this small moment
      you are clear as crystal
      and upon truth this life turns.

      ‘Geodes’ by Jared Carter

  9. AvatarSara McNulty

    She insisted the party take place here,
    although traveling was arduous for all. Where are
    my guests, she wondered, setting out plates.
    From long journeys on dusty roads, they arrived, but
    all they craved was ice cold water. No
    one ate the food. They lay on chairs, spent, no appetites.

    (from Museum, by Wistawa Szymborska)

  10. AvatarMarie Therese Knepper

    The Beauty
    credit to Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.

    I submit that nature’s
    beauty lies first
    in the variety of green
    palettes brushing the landscape. Is
    beauty found beneath the gold
    gently caressing her
    ample breast? So endures man’s hardest
    riddle. The fluorescent hue
    of moist skin compared to
    verdant rolling hills hold
    enchanted eyes gazing upon her
    sway; the luster of early
    autumn leafs
    drifting lazily towards a
    mossy bed hosting the single flower
    akin to the virgin’s boast, but
    this wanton beauty lasts only
    ’til winters chilly fingers wrinkle so
    callously and cruelly an
    unblemished gift. Her hour
    still comes to shock then
    tease, while Mother encrypts leaf
    as flora rests; one subsides
    while another flows to
    pique the reader to leaf
    through endless tomes so
    secret only Eden
    understood, then sank
    into debauchery. Still, to
    cling at Adam’s grief
    a vain attempt at best, so
    comes the never-ending dawn
    spreading light as season goes
    a’nesting, settling down
    in sweet repose. Are we to
    dread or greet the coming day,
    knowing well that nothing
    left of her but lifeless gold
    will jog remembrance? Can
    Mother make her stay?

  11. Avatartaylor graham

    after Maxine Kumin

    Beside you, awkward was I.
    Astride, I could think
    of knights in the lists, these
    books I read. And the real things –
    arroyos under untouched sky, each
    schoolday nicker-morning
    like an aubade I left you with
    my armloads of papers, to shovel
    grades from grammar and
    winnow words as with a hay-rake.
    And each evening drawing
    me closer to this, the
    black mare of memory risen,
    wintercoat tinged with brown.

  12. AvatarHoskingPoet

    If Only…

    To read a poem inside a
    poem, trying to echo voice
    looking at what another said
    I mean sit down and really look
    Can you say you truly know me?

    Words are written on the page in
    a frenzy, thoughts spill out the
    question posed, gazing at the stars

    I am not confident they will tell

    Perplexed, I look within me
    Is it possible to truly
    know all the thoughts men
    will voice over coffee of
    all the poems written on earth

    Powerful two letters holds all
    we have ever pondered in the
    cosmos, we tremble soul-and-body
    lingering on what-ifs scars

    There are many people who were
    consumed pondering the universe, not
    one poet questioned life or love too

    If Rudyard Kipling failed to
    write his verse what loss we’d pay
    searching echoes to answer for
    the confidence of birth

    A Question

    A voice said, Look me in the stars
    And tell me truly, men of earth,
    If all the soul-and-body scars
    Were not too much to pay for birth.
    Robert Frost

    This was the day 5 prompt back in April.

  13. Avatartaylor graham

    after Linda Gregg’s “The Lamb”

    This clouded photo – what is it of?
    As if a jigsaw puzzle undone, or rubble
    of a landscape after – what? Memory walks
    the remnants of a creek, its banks a
    tatter and tangle of vines with a single
    shudder of leaves, of living life. One lamb
    emerges, disappears. Then overhead, tilting
    wings, the buzzard too high to discern its
    saving beak and talons, and the head
    so tiny, only the wings – the curious
    circling soar and lazy spirals of unafraid
    search tatting the sky delicately, hungry.

  14. AvatarBezBawni

    based on “Weary, Whirled” by De Jackson (a.k.a. whimsygizmo)
    The moon:
    a simple silver box,
    filled with borrowed light.

    no one to ask but the moon
    and it tells me a simple
    truth about a silver
    lining in a velvet box

    so many hearts would be filled
    with joy and laced with
    old, new, blue and borrowed
    the ring in my hands feels light

  15. AvatarMarie Therese Knepper

    An Epiphany

    The beggar asks how
    not what he can do.
    He wants and I
    need. Show him love
    that he might follow thee,
    or not. Let
    the gods pardon me,
    for little count
    him much worth; the
    fates have their ways.

    credit to Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  16. AvatarRuthieShev

    Golden Shovel Poem
    I used the last two lines of my favorite poet who motivated me to write poetry when I was a young girl. Joyce Kilmer – Poems are made by fools like me,
    But only God can make a tree.

    I genuinely love to write poems
    Although I am not sure they are
    The best attempt I could have made
    And as I get older and time goes by
    I wonder if my inner self fools
    Me into thinking I can write like
    Famous poets much better than me
    When I should write but
    Simpler things that are only
    short though with help from God
    Maybe I actually can
    One day a full poetry book make
    Out of words written on a
    Piece of paper made from a tree
    Byy Ruth Crowell Shevock

  17. Avatartaylor graham


    Together up the path, my dog and
    I neither questioning what-for
    because the morning blossomed all
    golden twittering, this
    new fledgling from its nest, Nature
    at her job which is
    joy on wings or wander-feet, and never
    lagging till the wind is spent.

    (based on “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

  18. AvatarSusan Schoeffield


    From where they sit, there is nothing
    to focus their thoughts on except
    the shrouded hand of death.
    They see their travels coming to a close and,
    filled with fear, they obsess on the
    road ahead. Yet some cannot even remember the rain,
    how it smells or how it feels, and
    would trade places for one more memory of tomorrow.

    © Susan Schoeffield

    (from the last line in “A Fence” by Carl Sandburg:
    nothing except Death and the Rain and To-morrow)

  19. Avatarlionetravail

    “I Wish I Were As Bold And Confident”
    (From Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners”)

    I am certain there’s a way to tell
    how his visit affected them,
    but they are enigmatic, and I
    don’t know how. When he came
    to their moonlit door, and
    no head from leaf-fringed sill, no
    welcoming descent from one
    of the listeners, answered
    his knock, he smote upon that
    lonely door thrice and called to them. I
    might have been intimidated and kept
    silent. His bold certainty is heraldic, while my
    own hesitant course through life seems a shaky word
    on a page. I wish that I were as brave a traveler as he,
    bold and declarative, when all is done and said.

  20. AvatarJRSimmang

    i walk St Petersburg

    for the last time, enjoying the
    cool comfort and whispering ice of a White Russian
    in my fist; this once pristine iron-clad elevator
    fingers to trace my memory.

    From Mark Halperin’s “Notes on the Russian Elevator.”
    -JR Simmang

  21. AvatarPressOn


    When you are near
    I am not far,
    then love is near
    I would not be far,
    for only there would I
    know that where I am
    is home, where I am happy;
    only there is where
    love resides: there, where you

    using lines from Ogden Nash’s Tin Wedding Whistle:

    “Near and far, near and far,
    I am happy where you are.”

  22. AvatarRJ Clarken

    The Not-So-Funny Funny Bone

    The other night, I
    slammed my elbow (the not-so-funny funny bone part) on the doorjamb while sit-
    ting in the loo. I’d reached forward to put my cell phone on the counter; then leant back. And in
    that moment, moved with such force that the
    stars didn’t circle my head, but rather a seriously bruised arm-bone. Dusk-
    y words flew from my mouth. You see, f-bombs are not what I
    normally would ever say, but when pain am-
    asses like that, all
    you can do is let those evil voices out. Still, I thought I was safe, since I was alone
    in the privy. But no. As I exited the W.C. room and enter-
    ed the hallway, a
    loud, gusty laugh came unbidden, as if from a child.
    (It was actually two children and my husband.) And
    after politely inquiring as to my health, they grinned at each other, as an
    awful heated blush spread straight across my face. My husband suggested ice
    to take away the swelling, as well as some pain-relief cream.
    Then, they all burst forth with a soul-awakening gleam, that struck perchance the farthest cone.


    For the Golden Shovel:

    I sit in the dusk. I am all alone.
    Enter a child and an ice-cream cone.

    -from Tableau at Twilight by Ogden Nash

    The final line is from:

    Lament of Mary, Queen of Scots, on the Eve of a New Year, by William Wordsworth

  23. Avatargrcran

    garden of the fishhouse
    (after Elizabeth Bishop)

    new love is like an innocent waif
    it chafes, delights, bedevils, insights, excites you
    terribly wasted if untasted
    so when, if, you get around to it,
    you’ll see it in its birthday suit
    so cute so good you would
    not believe that it could first taste bitter,
    and then
    you immerse yourself in the briny,
    as a proper heathen
    should do, all clear and true, surely
    full of heat too, don’t burn your tongue.
    As Adam and Eve found it
    in that famous garden, it went like this
    apple-d seduction, surprise climax, guilt-like
    response to you-don’t-even-know-what
    beyond anything they could imagine
    and thus, new love gives knowledge
    whether or not you want it to
    and gives way, and lets us, be.

    by gpr crane

    (original poem: At the Fishhouses, by Elizabeth Bishop, I used the first half of this set of lines from near the end of her poem:
    “If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
    then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
    It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
    Dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
    drawn from the cold hard mouth
    of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
    forever, flowing and drawn”)

  24. Avatarjasonlmartin

    Children are passing from our lives

    We cheer them on when they jog
    across the field to kick the ball, toes
    pointed, kicking, then slipping
    down on grass, failing by one step.

    I am magic. I can smell
    their blood before the cut, smell
    the tears before they’re shed. A hole
    is not really a hole until they trip, cut fingers.

    It’s not like I can see in their intestines,
    but I swear I know in my dreams
    before they know they have to go. Marbles
    of poop look like pontoons for flies.

    It’s all about those little consumers
    for the candy and toy makers, making eyes
    with superheroes, dolls, and whatever a boy
    and girl can convince Santa to believe

    they need more than anything. I’ll fall
    on my sword for them, lose my big toe
    to keep them from cutting theirs and to squeal
    no more from their pain. The housewife

    on television
    talks about what a beast
    it is to clean her kids’ teeth.
    If parenting were only that easy! She’s a pig.

    (based on Philip Levine’s “Animals are passing from our lives”)


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