Gwendolyn Brooks published the poem, “We Real Cool,” in 1963. In 2010, Terrance Hayes published a poem called, “The Golden Shovel.” If I was teaching a poetry unit, I would have my students read both poems and see what they notice before suggesting a direct relationship. Students would probably immediately recognize the title of Hayes’ poem appears in the second line of Brooks’. But it would be fun to see how long it takes them to see that Terrance Hayes actually structured his poem around Brooks’ by making each word in her poem the last word in each line of his poem — in order.
With “The Golden Shovel,” Hayes created a new poetic form, and it’s one of those challenges that compels and delights students with its opportunity for creativity through constraint. Take your favorite poem, favorite sentence from a book, or favorite passage from an article, even a newspaper headline and use each word, in order, as the last word for each line in your new poem. Be sure to credit the original author, but don’t limit yourself to their subject. You can see a perfect video explanation from the North Vancouver City Library for their “Teen Tuesday” series of how to write a Golden Shovel poem here. The Poetry Society offers a good lesson plan here.
Here is another example of a Golden Shovel poem, written by Michelle Kogan, and built from the words of the poem, “I Dream a World,” by Langston Hughes. If you want to see some work from actual students, this page shares some Golden Shovel poetry written by 5th and 6th graders based on poems by Gwendolyn Brooks.
Golden Shovel Poetry reminds me of the Found and Parallel Poetry that I used to do with my students, often resulting in pieces that surprised all of us with their insight. I’ll definitely be adding this link to my Poetry Wakelet Collection, and I would love to see any examples that your students write!
Side note: Wouldn’t it be fun to do a Poetry Out Loud presentation or something similar, and award one or two students these cute little golden shovel utensils?