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Golden Shovel: Poetic Form

Learn how to write the golden shovel poetic form created by Terrance Hayes and inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks.

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.

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The Complete Guide of Poetic Forms

Poetic Forms by Robert Lee Brewer

Play with poetic forms!

Poetic forms are fun poetic games, and this digital guide collects more than 100 poetic forms, including more established poetic forms (like sestinas and sonnets) and newer invented forms (like golden shovels and fibs).

Click to continue.

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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!

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