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Poetry Forms: The Golden Shovel

Six gold-painted shovels stuck into dirtOne of the early forms of poetry I played around with was the golden shovel. The form takes its name from a Terrance Hayes poem, which took its name from a Gwendolyn Brooks poem, “We Real Cool,” that includes the line “The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel.” Using Gwendolyn Brooks poems as the basis for golden shovels is common but not mandatory.

The idea of the golden shovel is to take a poem or stanza of a poem and use its words as the last words of each line in your poem, in order. You can make some small tweaks to this, by hyphenating a word across lines (if the poem uses “walk,” you could use “walk” at the end of a line, but “-ing” at the beginning of the next line if needed to fit what you’re doing), or even potentially using the word as part of another word (Hayes does this when he turns “gin” into “again”).┬áThe form has similarities to the acrostic poem (as noted by this reviewer), but instead of only using letters, you’re using whole words.

The form is fun to play around with, particularly in taking well-known poems and either digging into their meaning, or taking them in a completely different direction. I’ve written one golden shovel that’s a multi-generational fantasy to sci-fi saga, and another that is a weird and funny sci-fi poem. I’m likely to play around with this one more, too, because there’s a sort of forced structure in having some of my words picked out for me already, and I like having that structure to build on!

If you want to give it a try, just pick a favorite poem, or even start with something as simple as a line from a poem or song.

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