The golden shovel is a poetic form wherein each word of one line from another poem serves as the end word of each line for a newly constructed poem.

More about the Golden Shovel

This contemporary poetic form was inspired by paying homage to Gwendolyn Brooks and was introduced by Terrance Hayes in his poem “The Golden Shovel” wherein every end word of his poem is each word in Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool.” Hayes’s “Golden Shovel” is featured in his National Book Award-winning collection Lighthead (Penguin Books, 2010). The golden shovel incorporates elements of found poetry, in particular, the cento and erasure forms, and is in some way always in conversation with the original text, yet the golden shovel poem can vary drastically in subject matter and tone from the original poem. 

Examples of the Golden Shovel

The golden shovel has been embraced by many poets. In 2017, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks was edited by Peter Kahn and Ravi Shankar and published by the University of Arkansas Press. This book solely features contemporary poets honoring Brooks by using the golden shovel form.

Poets have also used the golden shovel to pay homage and to be in conversation with other poets and musicians, as well as to respond to historical speeches. To create a golden shovel, one can use an excerpt of the found text. For instance, “[The whale already]” by Kimiko Hahn is taken from a line by Yosa Buson, translated by Hiroaki Sato: “The whale already taken got away: the moon alone:

            What is endangered, the
rest of us ignore. The whale,
            loved by children and cartoonists, already
            dwindles. Bycatch has taken
            them. The tiny creatures they consume haven’t got
            a chance to outlast the warming. A way
            to safeguard whales is to deny ourselves the
            discs and car exhaust. The moon
            sees us at all cost alone.

An example of using the golden shovel with music text and doubling the form is “Don’t You Wanna” by Patricia Smith wherein the beginning and end word of each line are the same and are the lyrics of “Sweet Home Chicago” by the blues musician Magic Sam:

            C’mon in, out of that wretched hot, out of the hammer of heat, c’mon!
            Baby, don’t you let these blistering Chi streets put the dead on you. Baby,
            don’t you hear that gravel groan, all those wails of been-done-wrong, don’t
            you wanna dance, just once, with your backside ’gainst the floor? Don’t you
            want to know how grown folk handle heartbroke? You know the boys want
            to see all your sugarbottom dripping off a piece of barstool, they want to
            go a little crazy with a lotta you on the dance floor. Loose that swivel! Go! ...

Another example of using the golden shovel with a speech and making it acrostic is “America is Loving Me to Death” by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Each word is a letter spelling out the title of the poem, and every end word is a word taken from “The Pledge of Allegiance:”

            America is loving me to death, loving me to death slowly, and I
            Mainly try not to be disappeared here, knowing she won’t pledge
            Even tolerance in return. Dear God, I can’t offer allegiance.
            Right now, 400 years ago, far into the future―it’s difficult to
            Ignore or forgive how despised I am and have been in the
            Centuries I’ve been here—despised in the design of the flag
            And in the fealty it demands (lest I be made an example of).
            In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The
            Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
            Like truths are as self-evident as the Declaration states

The golden shovel is a form whose configuration allows the poet to be in conversation with not only the found text and other poets but also with other poetic forms. From using acrostic to doubling the form, the golden shovel pays homage and can participate in the discourse on a variety of subjects.