Poem: Breaking (a Golden Shovel, after Jennifer Maiden)

The Golden Shovel is super effective.

Some poetry friends have been posting on Facebook about the Golden Shovel, so went to investigate further – and discovered a deceptively simple new form that both inspires and challenges the writer, and also lends itself superbly as the basis of a workshop exercise.

Here’s a good introduction to where the Golden Shovel came from, but in summary: you take the words of an existing line / stanza of poetry, and each one becomes the final word of successive lines of your poem. Here’s the original: ‘The Golden Shovel’, by Terrance Hayes – you’ll see that each line ends with the words from Gwendolyn Brooks classic ‘We Real Cool’.

Unbidden, a student wrote this haiku

A great challenge for a writer! In a workshop, this is a great way to get students writing: they don’t have the fear of a blank page, and you can indirectly work on a particular theme if you pick the original poems well. I was in a school last week running poetry workshops themed around Europe, so I found five lines from very different poets (like Walcott, Auden, Tempest…) that mentioned Europe somewhere. The results were really impressive – in just 45 minutes, each pupil had produced a decent first draft, with many of the poems being impressively solid and well-formed.

It’s good to model the process for students, so I wrote this based on the first few lines of Jennifer Maiden’s poem ‘Old Europe Stared At Her Breakfast’. End words italicised, so if you read down you’ll spot the original line that inspired this piece.

Breaking (a Golden Shovel, after Jennifer Maiden)

Suddenly, I feel old:
a night watching the hollowing out of Europe.

The TV looked at me; I just stared
the calm surface of pundits’ faces at
last broke like waves against coastal barriers. Her
tired eyes lost in mine over breakfast
the right bread buttered
as she put together her
things for another day of work, grabbing a croissant
on the way out, as she sipped
a glass of orange juice, I put on the coffee.

Italian roast gurgling into the pot which
always left a burn mark and tasted
bittersweet, like
the way things always are, a
kiss goodbye, and the door shuts like a fired gun.



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