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The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks Paperback – January 15, 2017
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“The Golden Shovel Anthology is quite simply a brilliant assembly of the work of poets I have admired for years and ones that I have just come to know and admire. I felt the thrill of creation reading it—the generative taking root, making me want to both read more and immerse myself in the form, in Brooks’s poems, and then write my own as these poets have done with remarkable range. This is an anthology that will be of great value to readers and writers of poetry for generations to come—just as Gwendolyn Brooks was, and is. What a way to honor her memory, her generosity of spirit, and her tremendous contributions to American poetry.”
—Natasha Trethewey, former US poet laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize
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The Golden Shovel poetic form is usually based on a line or verse from Brooks’ poetry – the last word of each line of a poem are the words taken from a line or verse of a Brooks poem. A Golden Shovel poem can literally be read in two ways – the standard way of reading a poem from left to right and reading the last word of each line downward, to read the verse or line from Brooks. The poem doesn’t have to be about a Brooks poem or even the subject she was writing about, but it can be and often is. And so you can read a Golden Shovel poem as either direct homage to Brooks and her poetry or as an acknowledgement to her ongoing influence.
To recognize the centenary of Brooks’ birth, The University of Arkansas Press has published “The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks.” Edited by poets Pater Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith, the anthology includes more than 300 poems that use the Golden Shovel form. The book includes a foreword by Hayes and his own Golden Shovel contribution to honor Brooks.
Only a partial list of the participating poets is possible, but the contributors include some of the best known poets writing today: Andrew Motion, Billy Collins, Sharon Olds, Jacob Polley, Nikki Giovanni, Don Share (editor of Poetry Magazine), Rita Dove, Kim Addonizio, Edward Hirsch, and more. What I particularly like is that the anthology also includes poems by lesser-known and relatively unknown poets, demonstrating that Brooks is continuing to have an impact on poets of later generations.
The collection is arranged alphabetically by the titles of the Brooks poems selected. A number of writers selected the same poem for their Golden Shovel; 14 poets, for example, chose “We Real Cool,” one of Brooks’ best-known poems and the one whose subtitle contains the original reference to the “Golden Shovel.” Other poems have only one Golden Shovel contribution, like Addonizio’s poem based on Brooks’ “Queen of the Blues.”
Here is poet David Wagoner’s contribution, based on Brooks’ “Boy Breaking Glass.” I’ve boldfaced the last word of each line to highlight the line from Brooks.
That Boy is Still Breaking Glass
That window was for nobody
but me, and nobody but me knew
what was on the other side or where
more light would be coming from till I
showed people where it was
and where it was going to be and,
look, that’s plain as day now.
You can come and watch because I
showed just how good I am
at opening eyes and ears, no
matter if nights seem longer
and darker for you out there.
“The Golden Shovel Anthology” is an extraordinarily fine way to honor Gwendolyn Brooks and her poetry. The form looks easier than it is to write, and some 300 poets made the effort because of who Brooks was and what she accomplished with her poetry.
Another type of homage poem is the cento, which is composed entirely of lines from other works. Sound easy? Just take lines from other poems and put them together? You will find yourself working very hard to plumb the deepest meanings of each word and each line in a way that uses these ideas from other works and yet creates something new of your own.
Even found poetry, where you pick up interesting and often picturesque, funny, sad or grotesque lines from popular culture or the environment can be seen as a tribute to contemporary culture.
These forms being considered, we soon see that the golden shovel, in which each line is based on an ending word from another poem, is not a new idea, and yet it is arguably the most flexible of the homage forms, working as it does with collocations of single words. Actually, shovels are so darned much fun to write that you will soon find yourself turning almost any section of text into a shovel! Just choose a line of poetry, write the words in a vertical line, and write a poem in which each line ends with a word from the original poem. You will then have a poem that can be read horizontally or vertically. Because you are bound only by single words, you will find you have a great deal of freedom in your own work, and yet you will be surprised by how often you can find reverberations of the original poem in your own.
Finally, I will say the selections in this book, The Golden Shovel Anthology, are wonderful. Because there are so many and such different poets writing these golden shovels, the variety in the work is rich and full. This is a book in which you can spend many hours of absorbed reading and forget that the poems are founded on a bit of word play. The authors are a distinguished selection of today’s major writers, and the work they offer in this book is a delight.
I received this book through NetGalley for a honest review. Thank you!